Friday, December 16, 2016

My favorite things I've read in 2016

Best of lists suck. Can we be honest about that? Empirical judgement about taste is nearly futile, yet we do it all the time. Writers--especially any of us with a journalistic bent--are the most egregious offenders.

But, like the call of a Quarter-Pounder, I can't resist. I will give my twist on this and instead of calling anything the best of something,  I will simply say that these are my favorite things I've read in 2016.

And in no order than as I think of them.

1. Brian Keene's "End of the Road" columns, CemeteryDance.com

Keene, one of the authors (if not THE author) who got the zombie craze rolling in 2004, has been writing about his 2016 "farewell" tour for publisher Cemetery Dance. The columns are not only capsules of an author tour but also windows into the state of the country during this tumultuous year. Keene gets political and personal. He will fill you with rage and wonder, and more than once, will break your heart. A particular favorite of mine is when he talks about his friend (and one of my favorite writers) Tom Piccirilli.

2. "Nothing is Promised Us, But Death" by Michelle Kilmer

Michelle has become one of my favorite writers. Her work is lyrical but grounded in a reality only a few degrees separate from our own.

This story, which placed in the Crypticon writing contest sponsored by my publisher Blysster Press is about families and the results of trying to move on when a loved one dies. Within are monsters who were once beloved people, a father who has to protect his children above his own emotional grief, and some seriously gnarly sea-based descriptions that will make the hairs on your neck stand up. You can get a copy of it here in the 2016 contest anthology.

3. Thom Carnell's "366 in 366" 

Many people try this challenge: to watch and review one film for every day on the calendar. Tom has just about wrapped up his year. These are quick-hit reviews with little filler. The brief nature of them suits Thom's style. (That isn't to say he can't write long and do it well. For a bonus, you can get his collection "Moonlight Serenades" here.) The brevity allows Thom to do what he does best: cut the bullshit and get to the point. If he doesn't like something, he doesn't hold back. But there is more to it than, "This sucks," if something sucks.

Here's a taste, from a recent 1 out of 5 star review: "I mean, for example, towards the end, we have a woman who has JUST given birth seen rapidly climbing up a mountain with her newborn baby in her arms. It just don’t make sense - just from an anatomy standpoint alone."

Do not, however, make the mistake that far too many people do and assume Thom hates everything. (Seriously, Thom doesn't hate everything; he hates shit that wastes his time.) There are a proper smattering of 4- and 5-star films, but most movies fall somewhere in the middle of dogshit and solid gold. The great part is that Thom embeds YouTube links for movies that are fully available there.

4. "Patton Oswald's Year of Magical Parenting"

This one is tough. Earlier this year, comedian Patton Oswalt lost his wife, crime writer Michelle McNamara, when she died in her sleep. Their daughter is seven years old. In this brief essay, Oswalt talks about how he's dealt with his grief and focused on his daughter. It is a reminder that in troubled times, there are people who still need us to keep doing the day-to-day things in life and that, while grief is real and palpable, it is not the end of the world.

5. The email telling me I was accepted to the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp

Hey, what can I say? Not everything on this list is going to be available to you. 

Here's the deal: I applied on a whim. You know what I mean? It was one of those things were I had some time in the day, saw a notice that applications were closing, and I threw a dart at the target. The dart stuck and now I'm looking at heading to Baltimore in just over a month to spend three days with Tom Monteleone and company. Said company includes special guest instructor Peter Straub. 

6. Notes, emails, texts, and Facebook messages from my wife

See number five above. I told you this was a list of my favorite things I've read this year. 

7. The introduction to Neil Gaiman's "The View From the Cheap Seats"

I've only recently acquired said book, so I can't tell you if the whole thing will be a favorite from the year, or if I will even be able to finish it this year. The intro, however...

"I fled, or at least, backed awkwardly away from journalism because I wanted the freedom to make things up. I did not want to be nailed to the truth; or to be more accurate, I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts."

That is paragraph one. 

8. The work of the student journalists I have had the pleasure of advising this year

Given the previous entry, this might sound weird. I can't help it. I'm proud of my students, even when I know they could do better. The reporters, photographers, editors, designers, page readers... the whole lot of them. If you want to take a dive into it, check out The Argonaut and BLOT 

This list probably won't make your list of favorite things from this year, but if any of my works reaches you and makes you feel something (joy and/or anger are acceptable), leave a comment and let me hear it.

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