stuff i liked: 2023

It’s 2024! I want to get back to sharing stuff I liked! LFG!!

a picture of ash as a baby in a walker with their tongue hanging out and a potted pothos nearby

I read 120 books in 2023 — 31 of which I did DNF — and though I don’t put a lot of stake in star ratings generally, I did give four of those books five stars, basically meaning that I loved them a lot and also thought they were exceptionally well made.

Ryan Andrews’ This Is Our Pact is a graphic novel with a nice story about a kid getting lost in the woods and the fantastical things he encounters therein. It’s done in an extremely limited color palette and yet manages to be so unbelievably beautiful, I spent many long minutes just staring at panels in awe.

Parini Shroff’s Bandit Queens is the most fun I’ve had with a horrifying situation in a long time! I loved the premise as blurbed, but by the end of actually reading it I was just obsessed. Probably my most successfully and frequently recommended book this year.

Kevin Wilson’s Now Is Not the Time to Panic is the book I loved most that I was most surprised by because I thought the plot sounded a little thin, but the characters here are so compelling and the narrative voice so engaging that I ended up absolutely delighted.

Manon Steffan Ros’ The Blue Book of Nebo is the most emotional suffering I’ve endured in just 120 pages in my life. The narrative voices are great — and the alternating POVs worked exceptionally well — and the bit about the hare… Really enduringly painful.

Honorable mentions to Cat Sebastian’s Tommy Cabot Was Here, Isaac Blum’s The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen, Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, Kiku Hughes’ Displacement, Alice Winn’s In Memoriam, Stephanie Clifford’s The Farewell Tour, Sacha Lamb’s When the Angels Left the Old Country, Lisabeth Posthuma’s Baby and Solo, Clare Pooley’s Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, John Allison’s Giant Days series, and Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries, which I am still working my way through but enjoyed reading immensely to close out the year.

Also a full solo paragraph shoutout to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books. I read the first one in like, 2015, and for some reason got a bug up my ass to read the rest this year (probably because of Libby tbh!) and I had a fantastic time. These are not good books, though they are sometimes better than average, but I really loved Sookie and her goofy-ass world and even when the books were bad, I had a fun time. Nothing was a graver disappointment to me this year than watching True Blood and seeing how little of what made Harris’ books worth my time made it to screen.

I read a lot this year and I reviewed every single one of them, so I’d call 2023 a success! I only recently like, absorbed the fact that I guess a lot of people are weirdly competitive about the Goodreads yearly challenge? And/Or beat themselves up about it really badly? So I am here to tell you not to do that! Reading should be fun or challenging in a way you find satisfying, not a chore. I set a goal because I like reading and it makes me a better writer and it makes all my neurons feel more active and zippy, but I don’t feel bad if I don’t hit my goal. If you do, don’t set one! Or set a really low one! Reading good! Feeling bad bad!

I didn’t really watch anything at all in 2023 or at least nothing worth noting. I have been using Letterboxed like a good little person addicted to sharing their opinions compulsively on the internet, but it’s mostly me saying, “I watched this movie when I was twelve and it’s still pretty good,” so. I did watch Bros which I thought was really charming and funny, and also No One Will Save You, which I absolutely L-O-V-E-D. I thought Metal Lords was also a really great time that nailed being a teenager in a very specific way. Honorable mentions to The Dirt, Heaven Help Us, and My Bodyguard, which I also enjoyed a lot!

The only TV I watched this year was True Blood, as previously mentioned, and I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone, so. Alexander Skarsgård F-O-R-E-V-E-R though.

Oh wait, I also watched the second season of Shoresy which was fine if not as transcendental as the first, and also I think we watched some Game Changer, which I do genuinely love.

As surely you know if you’re reading this, I did make a playlist every month in 2023 — shoutout to March and July and October in particular — and I listened to a lot of music — 83,911 minutes as of Spotify Wrapped time supposedly — but not as much or as intentionally as is usual for me. (Something I’d like to change in 2024!) Mostly I just listened to “Naive” by the Kooks a lot and also “The Way You Do the Things You Do” by UB40 for some reason?

But I did get pretty into Screaming Females (who then broke up!) and Glass Animals a bit and Tigercub and the Linda Lindas and I think listened to “Ottawa Rockstar” by WHALESTALK way more than I think Spotify actually credited me with. Why they’d lie I don’t know but it’s suspicious. I also listened to Weezer and the Cure a lot, but Spotify said I listened to Fall Out Boy more than any other band but I don’t even remember listening to them almost at all (I didn’t like the new album, booooooo me.) so… What is the truth?

Other stuff: these shorts from Target, traditional Carmex in the jar, the Edmonton Oilers, birria tacos, letting Crystal cut my hair, NARS soft matte tinted lip balm, seeing the nothern lights from my backyard, sourdough toast with fig jam and salami, getting back into comics some, sitting in a bathtub staring at MPLS when the Panthers eliminated the Bruins, Donut County, being cancer free enough that my doctor said she could – quote- ‘start treating me like a regular patient’ – unquote, Good and Gather Double Chocolate Chunk Granola with Noosa Vanilla, checking out books from the library via Libby, paying $50 a year for a Queens Public Library card (though because of bullshit budget cuts the benefits have decreased significantly), tteokbokki, Unpacking (which, to be fair, I might have played in 2022), being able to ask Crystal to draw me stuff because she’s gotten so good, meeting two of my favorite friends IRL for the first time and getting to surprise them with hockey tickets right behind the bench, Odd Mart, and the Savannah Bananas.

Okay, thank you for joining me on this journey! I know I will enjoy many more things to come in 2024 and hopefully I will, like, actually share them! ♥

grief

my aunt died a year ago and this is something i wrote immediately after that i still feel acutely now, we love you, sisi, happy birthday

grief is so ugly and stupid

the way you can feel so normal and divert your thoughts from it without even trying, how you can even talk about it or the person without it hitting you and then how it will come out of nowhere anyway and hit you so hard you can’t breathe, and you’re crying in your car when you didn’t even feel sad ten minutes ago

i don’t want my aunt sisi to be dead. that’s what grief is. i don’t want this, i don’t know how to accept this, i don’t know how to be in a world where she’s gone and there’s no option but to

she was my closest relative for a long time, i had my family and then my aunt and cousin and uncle and then all the other ones were on a ring outside of that, and she was smart and weird and opinionated and i don’t have any of those awful lingering memories of her that i do of other relatives, times they made me feel stupid or small, because she didn’t do that, she wasn’t like that

we moved away and i wasn’t good at keeping up, it got worse when i left facebook for my own sanity, i’m not good at phones or texts, i don’t reach out, i have a weird sense of humiliation around first contact even when i want to connect with people, a bad friend, a bad family member

but i texted her on her birthday and she was already gone, even though we didn’t know, and she died alone, and it was just one of those things, she’d just turned 69 and some combination of the things that made her body go simply stopped, she was too young, but that’s how it goes sometimes, i think she’d be sad but she’d say that too, that sometimes life is unfair and short but she got to have people who loved her and grandkids who adored her and she helped make me and my sister who we are, she was vital to us, and she was proud of us, and i already missed her, living so far away, but she was in the world and now she isn’t and it’s unfair and it hurts and it sucks, it’s a worse world without her in it

she was really curious as a person and she had lots of spiritual beliefs that seemed goofy to me because i’m not a spiritual person, but i think she’s facing this next part with curiosity, with interest in what’s next, and i hope those things are true for her, i hope there are mountains and pit bulls and art glass where she is, i hope she knows how much i loved her, how much i love her, how special she was, and how i wouldn’t be who i am without her, and how grateful i am for that

totally top five: 2021

It really seemed like things were getting better there for a minute, didn’t it?

Anyway! In the spaces between my brain going, “We :) are :) living :) through :) a :) plague :),” I have tried to compile some of the stuff I loved best this year! I did a lot of music listening and a lot of reading and not a lot of much else, so let’s see where 2021 shook out!


I didn’t read my first KJ Charles this year, but I did get very into Spectred Isle and Slippery Creatures which I did read in 2021. Charles has a masterful way with both worldbuilding — something I don’t usually care about since I’m not a supernatural/historical/scifi/fantasy person! — and romantic tension, but also manages dialogue that’s fun and snappy without feeling forced between characters that are likable and interesting.


My most listened to artist according to Spotify this year was The Tragically Hip which is absolutely true, and I got into quite a few other artists this year — Goat Girl, Deaf Poets, Father John Misty, Shakey Graves, Tyler Childers, Meg Myers — but I think the album I listened to most — and often started over from the beginning as soon as it ended — was Miya Folick’s Premonitions. Every song is great and the album as a whole works incredibly well and I couldn’t be more grateful to the algorithm serving it to me, even if it was a couple years late. I’d be remiss not to shoutout the live version of “Thingamajig” which puts me through an emotional blender every. single. time.


My favorite book this year was Elif Batuman’s The Idiot which took me almost two years to finish, but only due to a mix of personal problems and the whole world going to hell. It’s an exceptional book, somehow about nothing and everything simultaneously, funny and really heartfelt, thoughtful about the experiences of a young adulthood that looked nothing like mine and yet still managed to be incredibly relatable. As previously noted on Twitter, I cannot properly express how hard or how many times I’ve laughed at, “Dracula had a totally different experience at the zoo from that of other people.”


I read a ton of queer sports romances this year, both while on my Unlimited Summer 2021 journey and not, and though most of them were fine to very bad, I did read quite a few that were great.

            

Rachel Reid’s books are all very solid, but I was particularly fond of Heated Rivalry and Role Model and I think Ilya Rozanov is going to go down as one of my favorite characters in the last five years, easily. A.L. Heard’s Hockey Bois was the best book with a bad title I read this year, charming and sweet and very much about the romance of adult domesticity. Ashlyn Kane and Morgan James’ Winging It was also really charming with a fun cast and some good hockey cameos. Cait Nary’s Season’s Change was a dream, one of my favorite reads this year, full of characters I loved and cared about and with sharp writing better than basically everything else I’ve seen in the genre. Sorry you have to wait ’til February to read it!


Some other stuff I’ve loved this year, both new and more deeply: this vertical mouse, All or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs, these maxi dresses, sitting the fuck down whenever humanly possible, these food storage containers, Flipped, this goofy light, baseball — particularly the Dodgers and the Padres, Kringle Cream, Fear Street: 1994, these reusable water bottles, Walking Alice on YouTube, sleeping under this weighted blanket, laying down on the floor in a pile of pillows, Paramount+, these sweaters and these cropped hoodies from Target, and the Minnesota Wild.


Happy almost New Year! Here’s to high hopes and low expectations for 2022! I hope this year treats you kinder than the last and I hope you’re kinder to yourself than you ever have been before. I love you! Be safe! ♥

totally top five: 2020

You ever spend at least five or six minutes a day staring into the middle distance and trying to process that we’re all living through like, three to five global catastrophes simultaneously? And then get up and put your clothes on and go to work anyway? Oh yeah of course you have that’s what 2020 was all about.

I know that, functionally and realistically, absolutely nothing is going to change between December 31, 2020 and January 1, 2021, but holy shit am I be glad to close the door on this shitshow of a year regardless.

My attention span went to hell this year, amongst other attributes, and I pretty much ceased watching or reading anything after about… August? I did continue to listen to new music as without it I die, but everything else was just a barren field of nothingness. My Goodreads year-end roundup felt particularly pointed this year, but what can you do, right?

ANYWAY, here’s my top five for the year. Just the one list, categories be damned.

Orville Peck was my most listened-to artist this year. Crystal gave me Pony at the start of the year when she did her annual comb-through of all the year-end lists; I was hooked from the jump and I stand by everything I said about it in January. Peck’s voice is so easy to listen to even though it’s deeply emotional and there’s something really magical about his arrangements. I’ve loved everything he’s done this year as well — the cover of “Smalltown Boy” is one of my favorite pieces of music from 2020 and “No Glory in the West” just absolutely kicked my ass across the prairie — and I also have to blame and thank him for really opening me up to country music this year. I had, obviously, moved away from my youthful “everything but country” attitude to music, but the algorithm responded to my listening habits and offered up a ton of new music I wouldn’t have necessarily been interested in before because it was country or country adjacent including some new legit favorites like Colter Wall and Evil and Sunny War.

Sarah Henstra’s We Contain Multitudes is still really the only piece of media I consumed this year that really fucked me up emotionally in exactly the way I like to be fucked up emotionally. My Goodreads review is still right on and what I said in May here still stands as well. This is just a really lovely story with characters it’s easy to care about and get invested in with complex life experiences that complicate how they relate to one another. I’ve bought, I think, almost ten copies of this book for other people since I finished reading it and if that’s not a ringing recommendation, I don’t know what possibly could be.

I joked earlier this year that since Crystal had decided to attempt to claim her Canadian citizenship, I was going to try to get into The Tragically Hip so that I could be adequately prepared for whatever it meant to live with a Canadian, but it turns out that they’re great and I was just missing out all these years. (Not that I necessarily assumed they weren’t good but like, you know… Canadians, right?) I would start listing the favorites I’ve accumulated here, but there are just too many to be honest. I do have a favorites playlist but it is incomplete, so tread with that in mind. Truly, RIP Gord Downie, and thanks for the boss tunes.

Letterkenny ended up being one of the only media experiences we had this year and I still stand by every word I said about it in March. Just thinking about it can make me laugh and we’ve held off on watching the new episodes specifically because we want to have something to look forward to. Crystal and I had a long conversation the other day that meandered over a bunch of media and it ultimately came down to the idea that not enough weird shit is getting made. Everything is a remake or re-adaptation or a sequel and I know we’ve all been screaming about that for more than a decade at this point, but it’s nice to watch something like Letterkenny that is weird and funny and has a big heart too.

As previously discussed at length (kinda), I watch hockey now! Again! Regularly for the first time since I was a youth. This was an exceptionally weird season in which to get invested in sports of any kind and by the end of it I had attached myself to thirteen teams (seven “primaries and six “auxiliaries” because I certainly cannot do anything normally) and several of those teams went to the playoffs, some of them deep, and one of them all the way to the Cup final! Which was rad, but also sucked because they lost, though it was tempered by my enthusiasm for the finals being between teams from non-traditional hockey markets! Anyway, I think cishet men should be banned from talking about sports where other people can see it, but otherwise I’ve been having a spectacular time and can’t wait for the new season even though having it happen under the current conditions of the world also terrifies me. The grueling mechanism of capitalism, etc etc.

      

Happy New Year! Here’s to high hopes and low expectations for 2021! I hope this year treats you kinder than the last and I hope you’re kinder to yourself than you ever have been before. I love you! Be safe!

totally top three: april 2020

Remember how March was approximately 12.5 years long? Remember how April wasn’t even like, its normal number of days long? What the hell is that about?


In March, even before isolation started, I changed the configuration of how I use Spotify on my desktop computer at work and home so that I could see the little Friend Activity tab while I was doing other things and started sort of paying attention to what people were listening to, partly because I’m p voyeuristic by nature, partly because I thought it might be funny (I feel about 97% confident that I know a complete stranger’s sex playlist now!) and I ended up getting super into it and playing Spotify Chase while dicking around on the internet and half-assing something I’m supposed to be doing.

By Spotify Chase, I mean, hitting the songs that people are listening to that I don’t know and adding to them my queue and seeing what’s what. I canNOT recommend it enough as both a way to get to know friends and strangers better, but also because you will find some jams! And a lot of them will probably not be anything you would have found otherwise! Unless all your friends are boring or have identical taste to you, I guess, but that’s a You Problem, so sort that shit out on your own time.

ANYWAY, I have discovered a lot of jams this way!

The first album it gave to me is 070 Shake’s Modus Vivendi which is not something that the algorithm could have served me, so big thanks to the kid I went to high school with but only interacted with maybe twice and I don’t think liked me AT ALL, but for some reason has been my friend on various internet platforms post-graduation all the way back to like, XANGA. Also, I’ve seen Ryland Blackinton listening to it like, three times now, so that’s got to be a good sign.

The album is great, chill and artful and with a nice pace from beginning to end and it’s somehow something that I can both put on and forget about and something I can pay attention to the entire way through. That’s magic, man.

It also gave me Atoms for Peace, AMOK, which is a Thom Yorke fronted ~supergroup project from 2013 that I don’t think would have ever reached me algorithmically based on how much I don’t listen to Radiohead. This is also a well-paced album that I can drift with or focus on, but the real star is “Ingenue” which I have listened to on repeat for long stretches of time more than once.

My last album for the month — because I truly didn’t manage to do… anything in all of April except listen to music and write 50k words that will never actually go anywhere — was not served to me by either the Algorithm or Spotify Chase, but instead is an old fave’s new one I was greatly anticipating. Pokey LaFarge’s Rock Bottom Rhapsody is so, so, so good and satisfying. It feels almost like a movie score except it also feels like it’s telling a story. we were supposed to be seeing Pokey in June in Minneapolis, but it’s been rescheduled for 2021 already, which seems so far away as to be impossible, while also seeming so soon as to be hopelessly optimistic about the state of things. Life and art in quarantine, eh?


And three to look forward to…

the half of it   mia mercado, weird but normal   valley girl