Books and Movies

Last Year’s Best in Books, Movies, Intentions, Etc.

2017. The hits. Let’s start with the unexpected: documentaries. My picks for best of the year:

Electric Boogaloo and The Toys That Made Us go hand in hand, if you’re in the mood for stories about mavericks who broke the rules and had great success doing so. Kedi is an amazing testament to humanity, of all things. Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond and David Bowie: The Last Five Years make for an exceptional double-feature about the power of art, how it shapes the life of the artist from start to finish. Best watch them on separate nights, though. They’ll both make you weep.

All of the above I saw on some streaming service, be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, or HBO NOW. Same goes for the TV below, my top 6 (because I couldn’t stop at 5):

We saw the return of Twin Peaks, a limited series event that blew our minds, defied all expectations, and broke our hearts. As a third season to Twin Peaks, it’s an utter failure. As an 18-hour experimental film, it’s a smashing success. Dark had me from the get-go, turned compulsive after the first episode. Stranger Things 2 didn’t disappoint — except that one episode (you know the one). And, hey, have you heard of Maria Bamford? If you haven’t, put your ear to the ground for Lady Dynamite. Master of None: Season 2 proved a comedy for romantic cinephiles, and Game of Thrones: Season 7 showed us the chilling meaning of “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Movies. Best I saw:

No, Golden Globes, Get Out is not a comedy. What it is is the best thriller to come out of Hollywood in a very long time. It’s also a horror film. The Shape of Water is achingly beautiful moviemaking. The Last Jedi isn’t perfect, but it’s great, nevertheless. Rian Johnson is the breath of fresh air the saga needed. The scariest movie I saw in 2017 was on Netflix: The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Wonder Woman left us all believing that superheroes might be super again. And the sweetest moment of the year in any movie goes to the most successful horror film of all time, when Beverly Marsh opens Ben Hanscom’s yearbook and finds the signature pages blank.

Speaking of horror, let’s talk books. Nonfiction first:

Skal’s biography of Bram Stoker is about as intimate as such a book can get, the highlight being Stoker’s letters to Walt Whitman, a friendship that was forged in words. Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson have reignited an old hobby with Paperbacks from Hell: my paperback collection grew considerably this year. And At Home with Monsters has served as a true inspiration, offering up Guillermo Del Toro’s very personal answers to the perennial question, “Does horror matter?” (Spoiler: of course it does.)

Here are a few great fiction writers who would agree with me.

I don’t read novellas often, but Mapping the Interior was a one-sitting blaze. This is a remarkable book by Stephen Graham Jones. Philip Fracassi’s Behold the Void came in the mail as a friendly thank-you from the author, and I couldn’t put it down. And while Michael Wehunt’s Greener Pastures may not have been published in 2017, that’s when I read it, and it remains the single greatest collection of modern literary horror I think I’ve read. The Changeling is a powerful novel about family and monsters, as is Kevin Catalano’s Where the Sun Shines Out, though his stories have no need of supernatural creatures. Kevin’s monsters are the plain old human kind, and plenty scary. Finally, I discovered Jeremy Robert Johnson’s fiction because I’ve been paying attention to the people I should be reading. In the River is mythic, poetic, and utterly terrifying.

Last of all, a brief note about best intentions for 2017:

These are just a few of the books I didn’t get around to, and the only reason for that is, well, what a busy a year it’s been. Still, I’m making these my priorities, and 2018 will see them read, among others not pictured, including those I’ve yet to buy that I don’t have room for. You know how it is, right?

Books and Movies

Finch v. Finch: or, the Strange Case of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN

So: it’s a little over forty hours after the release of Harper Lee’s new-old novel, Go Set a Watchman, and by now, like me, like the rest of the world, you’ve either read the book or an article (or even just a headline) from The New York Times or The Guardian, preparing you for the eventuality that you aren’t going to like the way the story shakes out.

Wherever you fall in the conversation, you’re no doubt attempting to make sense of a few things. Me, I read the novel over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, via iBooks, and my own initial reaction to the text itself hewed pretty close to the five stages of loss and grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance. Even now, having finished the book and numerous reviews, most of which are being mildly generous to the text, I can’t quite settle on any one emotion.

Ultimately, the only way I can join the conversation is from the perspective of a writer. With Go Set a Watchman, we find ourselves at a strange juncture between the literary past and the literary present, and the effect is a kind of reader’s vertigo. In a way, we’re through a looking-glass, and nothing is what it seems.