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totally top five 2019: reading

I read 42 books in 2019! Let’s talk about the ones I liked the most, yeah? In no particular order!


Drew Magary’s The Hike was the absolute weirdest book I read in 2019 and I had such a great time doing it. It was one of my three favorite things in June and I’ve been babbling about its weirdness since I finished it. It really helped me realize that the things I like most in the world are often things that are allowed to just be weird without extensive reasoning. The Hike sets up the rules of the universe as it goes and never forces itself into an explanation. It just is and I really love that about it. The biggest reason it’s on the list, however, is that I have been totally unable to stop thinking about it. I think about it whenever I am confronted by the idea of crabs, obviously, but it also just pops into my head randomly and I get that nice, satisfied feeling you have when you bump into an old friend and that’s got to be sign of a book I really loved.


Mary Renault’s The Charioteer was really beautiful and stunningly written with the kind of concision and delicacy that makes tiny motions into unbearable romantic (and sometimes erotic!) gestures. I had a lot to say about this one when I finished it and I stand by everything I said. It has beautiful writing and engaging characters and a lovely, painful sense of melancholy that didn’t feel hopeless. I was so invested in this book that I actually left my house under false pretenses while we had someone staying with us so that I could sit somewhere quiet for thirty minutes and finish it. If a willingness to abandon your loved ones in order to read isn’t a sign of a good book, I’m not sure what is.


Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August absolutely kicked my ass intellectually and emotionally and I would not have had it any other way. It was one of my favorite things in May and thinking about the book makes me feel completely unhinged in a way that I love. (If I think too hard about the conceit, my head starts to hurt, but I kind of like it.) It was one of the books I thought the most about this year after I’d finished it. The world North creates is brain-breaking for me, but also really engaging and interesting, and I still can’t believe how much I loved spending time with Harry and his friends. Her writing is beautiful and Harry is a wonderful narrator and also, to reiterate, the line “He enjoyed toying with me, and, in my way, I enjoyed being toyed with.” is still one of the horniest things I’ve ever read.


C.S. Pacat’s Captive Prince Trilogy was so, so, so unbelievably good and fun and satisfying and an unbelievably good distraction while we were dealing with a family medical emergency. These books had the ability to drag me away from fear, anxiety, frustration, even sobbing misery, and to put me into a completely different place where I could just focus on a story and disappear into it until I had to deal with real life again. I read these really, really fast — all three in less than a month — and they make a really nice, solid set with a nice-sized story and a really satisfying arc. I love these characters and she even managed to engage me with the political maneuvering of the “actual” “plot” of the story behind the romantic entanglement and extremely good sex. Also, it’s the only thing I read this year that inspired the text message, “THIS IS WHY I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH!!!!!!” and that’s hard to beat.


Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name was so good that as soon as I had finished it, I went to Ebay to order a hardback copy to put on my Favorite Books Shelf. The characters are incredible, the atmosphere is dreamy and sensual, and the writing! God! Infuriatingly good. Like most of the people I know who read and loved it, I, too, wish he had quit while he was ahead re: where to land the ending, but even when I look back on it now, I don’t actually feel like it disappointed me in any way. This felt like being seventeen and in your own head about your feelings, constantly convinced that you are the only person who has ever felt this way, except if your seventeen-year-old thoughts were really beautiful and articulate and also taking place in a breathtaking version of Italy that probably doesn’t actually exist.


Honorable Mentions

philippe besson, lie with me   sj goslee, how not to ask a boy to prom   jessica knoll, luckiest girl alive   kj charles, band sinister   amy spalding, the summer of jordi perez


Previously

2K12 | 2K13 | 2K14 | 2K15 | 2K16 | 2K17 | 2018

totally top three: august 2019

August was… below average. Here’s to September and a lurking, early fall and this stuff I managed to like despite circumstances conspiring against me.


Through whatever algorithmic magic occurred this month, I finally heard a Billie Eilish song and it was pretty good! So then I listened to When We all Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?! And that was really good! And, were I still compelled to tweet with the frequency and volume I once did, I would have tweeted ‘i finally listened to billie eilish and i enjoyed it am i young again now’ because through the alchemical magic of pop culture, I did kind of feel young! I like “bad guy” A LOT because of the dramatic tempo change (One of my musical weaknesses!) and “you should see me in a crown” is extremely good and I got pretty appropriately obsessed with “my strange addiction” and I love the unsettling opening of “all the good girls go to hell” and its echo-y chorus too. “bury a friend” is also a jam and “listen before i go” is lovely. I really like the layering and reverb and bass drop stuff here and I love that it never feels like it’s hiding either her lyrics or voice. The kids are alright.


Speaking of kids, we watched Rim of the World which was less awful than I expected from McG and actually a very good time. I love when kids get to save the world! And I love and am terrified of aliens! And these had an actually pretty interesting design that didn’t feel like I’d seen it a thousand times (Humanoid aliens are boring!) even if the CGI was lackluster. The kids in this are really funny and charming and smart, especially considering they aren’t working with the greatest script ever produced, and I really appreciated that solving problems always came down to working together and doing the thing that needed to be done, even in the face of extreme fear. It also made me extremely homesick for southern California, despite the apocalyptic alien invasion.


I joke with Crystal all the time that when I conceptually attached myself to Ryland Blackinton way back in 2008 when he was with Cobra Starship (and I made a custom shirt for our three night tour following trip that said ‘RYLAND IS GOD’ on the back…) I really hung my hat on the right guy. He works a lot and every time he shares something new he worked on, I end up loving it. The newest is Goldroom’s Everybody’s Lonely EP which is extremely good, both chill and dance-able, and so far ceaselessly repeatable. Please immediately go listen to “U” and see if you’re capable of holding still when the bass comes in. The highest compliment I can give this EP is that it somehow sounds like electronic music from every decade from the 70s on, including a few we haven’t actually lived through yet. And I’d really like to rollerskate to it.


And five to look forward to…

it: chapter 2   julian winters, how to be remy cameron   villains   shaun hamill, a cosmology of monsters   3 from hell

you don't have to finish that thing

Today, I removed a TV show that I have not finished from the “To Watch” list I keep in my Wunderlist app.

It felt… good. It felt… free. It felt… transcendental.

It doesn’t matter at all what it was — I add like, everything to this list that sounds even remotely interesting when I see somebody talk about it — and it isn’t because I even think it’s “bad” or whatever (I don’t, actually. It’s good!) but just because I didn’t really want to watch anymore episodes. It just wasn’t a thing I needed to see through and for like, one of the first times in my entire dumb life I just… decided not to.

I have always been finicky about Finishing Things. (Well, watching/reading-type things. If only I could produce the same kind of energy for producing things instead of consuming them. The books I could finish writing! The screenplays! The chores!) I’ve only ever really given up on a book TWICE (Both of which were boring and pretty bad. One or the other… I stick those out constantly. I have been ”’reading”’ House of Leaves for fourteen years.) and I am constantly having the incredibly stupid thought, unbidden, that I have to take in an Entire Thing before I’m like, allowed to decide whether I liked it or not.

But the older I get, the more I realize that life is just TOO SHORT to finish every single thing I start. I have no idea how much time I get on this planet, why the hell do I keep wasting it on stuff that I’m not even that into?!

This feels like a real evolutionary moment for me. I can change! I can reclaim my time! And stop wasting it on things I don’t really care about!

And! I walked the talk and doused the stupid little burning need I had to tell everyone about how This Thing Was Just Not For Me because… Who cares? Lots of things aren’t for me! (That’s like, a product of being alive in a time where there is more content being created every day than in the one prior: not all of it can or should be made for everyone. That actually rules, knowing there is SO MUCH media being made, that like, you don’t have to care about kind of a lot of it at all. That’s awesome.)#

(It’s almost like… I can be the person I actually want to be? Sometimes? If I try? Sounds fake, but okay.)

So, in case you need it, I am here to tell you: You Do Not Have to Finish That Thing.

Whatever it is, no matter how good it is or how much you want to be part of the zeitgeist or which one of your amazing friends recommended it, you can just stop reading or watching or following it. And you don’t even have to tell anyone about it. Just Quietly Quit That Thing and On To The Next. Liberate yourself. Bask in that freedom. You deserve it.

#: I hope it is obvious that this doesn’t apply to, like, diversity and representation in media. We always need more and everyone should be able to see themselves in the media they watch. This is a Mob Movies Aren’t For Me, not Movies Should Be For Straight White Cis People Only thing. Fuck white people. Including me.

totally top 3: june 2019


Holy crap did I love Good Omens. I read the book in college (200…4? I think) and loved it and have spent the ensuing years recommending it to lots and lots of people. A solid adaptation FULL!! of all the queer angel-demon love I could have dreamed of. I will miss the internet obsessively fan re-casting the story every few years and I maintain that they CERTAINLY could have casted it less white-ly, but we liked it enough to almost immediately watch the entire thing a second time anyway. I thought the narrative and the dialogue did a good job pulling the funny charm from the book into a visual medium and I thought the visuals and placemaking and costuming were ultimately very cool. I also thought it did a nice job of breaking the book up into episodes, though I could have watched a thousand more minutes of Aziraphale and Crowley begrudgingly becoming friends. I will be haunted by “You go to too fast for me, Crowley” for the rest of my life and I will love it.


I didn’t know anything about Drew Magary’s The Hike before I bought it (I have probably made it clear that I don’t ever know anything about what I read before I read it and yet I cannot stop repeating myself.) and even if I had, I don’t think I could have accurately imagined the off-the-charts level of weirdness in here. The writing in this is really solid and, as previously mentioned, really reflective of the passage of time and changes in the narrator. Ben is a solid narrator, but the stars here are really the secondary characters and the general bizarre nature of the story. The willingness to lean in to the strangeness of the premise and follow through with it was really refreshing and reminded me a lot of Unicorn Store, actually, and I thought the ending was similarly satisfying.


We were able to squeeze a viewing of Rocketman into a quick trip to the cities in June and I am SO GLAD. It was so big and fun and moving — making it a big fantasy musical was brilliant and fun and so fitting for Elton John’s music — and I ended up crying like, five times which I hadn’t really expected?? Taron Egerton is so, so, sooooooo unbelievably good. He makes acting look like it’s just having feelings on camera, right there all over his beautiful face, and he really drags you through them with him in the most satisfying way. Also, I had no idea Jamie Bell was in this before he popped up on screen and I kind of yelped in the theater and terrified all of the middle-aged couples that were there with us. As always, a beautiful, talented bitch. The “Your Song” bit is so good — two extremely talented actors just meaningfully, facially emoting at each other over a song I already loved so much — and I’m just going to think about it forever and ever.


And three to look forward to…

stranger things season 3   rory power, wilder girls   spider-man: far from home

totally top 3: may 2019


I absolutely loved Claire North’s, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. Like I said in my review, once I realized what I was reading, I wasn’t sure that I would like it, but even when it made me feel a little dumb, I enjoyed it. Harry is just an incredibly interesting narrator to hang around with, both because of what he is and also because of the dry way he relays his observations of the world around him. Though he’s never effusive, you can feel these wonderful tremors of joy and anxiety and fear and possibility with just the subtlest change to the narrative voice. Wonderful writing and world-building and a great, simmering queer subtext, and the wonderful line, “He enjoyed toying with me, and, in my way, I enjoyed being toyed with.” — one of the absolutely horniest things I’ve ever read.


I’ve been listening to Phantom Planet’s “BALISONG” and Big Data’s “Put Me to Work” on repeat a LOT all month long. “BALISONG” has this great chugging rhythm and Alex Greenwald’s hypnotic voice rising and falling in all kinds of interesting ways and it’s got me extremely hyped for a full-scale comeback. “Put Me to Work” is fucking great, extremely dance-y and perfectly current while also feeling a little flashback-y like all good synth music. Also, who doesn’t love a shout-y sing-a-long chorus?


I waited a long time to watch Call Me By Your Name because despite my Genuine! Best! Efforts! I am a jerk who sometimes ends up turned off of things because the hype has overwhelmed me! I don’t think it was necessary this time, but man, was it worth the wait anyway. What a lovely piece of moviemaking and storytelling. I’ve been trying to articulate a lot of things about it both as a movie I liked and as a Piece of Queer Media (especially a compare and contrast with Brokeback Mountain, oh man. There are even shirt parallels!) but mostly I keep being grateful (which says something really fucking shameful about pop culture) that this felt like a movie about a gay relationship that I was just able to enjoy as a romance because no one died a horrible death and the heartbreak was just nice regular heartbreak. Progress!?!??! Also, what a lovely story about family, too. (Shoutout to Reid, the tattoo artist I saw a couple of weeks ago who said it “really fucked him up” because I hadn’t seen it yet and couldn’t have a conversation about it, but you know what? Fucking same, dude.)


And three to look forward to…

late night   simon james green, alex in wonderland   the dead don't die