Monday, December 28, 2015

BestReads2015: My Favorite Books I Read in 2015

My favorite thing about BestReads is remembering how many special books I encountered in a year. It's easy to take great literature and fun stories for granted, but when I put them side-by-side like this, I feel privileged.

My picks are not ranked. Ranking is generally ridiculous for the arts, but obscene when you're compiling what art moved you the most. As always, the rules are you can list whatever you read for the time this year. You're not limited to what came out this year, as my first pick shows.

If you do your own BestReads2015 post, hit me up in the comments and I'll link you at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve Puzzle: Guess the Book!

I have a tradition with my brother. He likes to figure out what's in his Christmas presents, so I give him a book. Unable to figure out which book just by shaking and groping it, I give him clues to the plot, subject and title. It's also tradition that I post all the clues on this website.

This year's title is eleven letters long, so you get eleven clues, one per letter. If you're stuck in an airport, bored waiting for your date, or need something to play with your family for the holiday, feel free to guess along. Post any answers or guesses to the eleven clues below. Some years commenters have cracked this together long ahead of Dave.

1. This record company released more of his albums than any other. They deliberately mis-spelled their name, and this is the only letter than appears twice in it. Hint: see 11.

2. One of the first movies he appeared in never made it to theaters because he allegedly destroyed the negative himself. It was sensitively titled "_____ Tom's Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals " This is the first letter in the missing word.

3. The last letter in the last proper album he recorded with his label, and his second-to-last stand-up album ever. Compilations and anthology releases came later, but this was it, a one-word title referencing a superhero movie he appeared in that same year. He was a villain.

4. He was born in this Midwestern state. It's the most populous. The first letter of that state goes here.

5. This letter occurs three times in the title. This is the first time the letter occurs, though.

6. This vowel occurs twice in the title.

7. He wrote for this sitcom, titled after its two main characters whose names both started with the same letter. That letter goes here.

8. This is the first letter in a drug he was famous for doing. It's not much of a hint given how many American entertainers have done it, but few set themselves on fire while under its influence. He was a trailblazer.

9. Comedy Central once spent three hours by counting down the hundred greatest comedians of all time. This is the first letter in the number of where he ranked. Hint: he was in the top seven.

10. If a cop asks if you've committed crimes before, they might ask if you have any "prior ____." This is the first letter in the missing word.

11. This record company released more of his albums than any other. The first letter in their four-letter name goes here. The letter also occurs twice in the name of his home state.

Happy guessing!

Monday, December 14, 2015

My Mom's Six Reactions to Seeing Star Wars for the First Time

My mom doesn't really like Fantasy and Science Fiction. She barely reads what I write, preferring more grounded dramas like No Country for Old Men and The Ghost Writer. It's hard for her in a way nerd kids struggle to understand, because like many of our parents, she grew up without much access to cartoons or Fantasy books, and so didn't develop the taste that we have. She knows I love the genres, but can't get into Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean. Or, she couldn't get into them until this year.

Earlier this year she watched LOST and started feeling like Genre Fiction could mean something to her. It had a blend of human stories along with its fantastic elements that made them approachable to her, something I'll probably write up later. In October, fresh out of European movies to watch, she binged all of Fringe, which was the true gateway drug for her. It's gotten me to start watching it, just to find out why it was the silver bullet.

That set her up, though. When the Force Awakens trailer hit, Mom called me up and asked something I'll cherish for years: "Can we watch Star Treks?"

Yes, Mom. We can always watch Star Treks.

She wanted to know about the cultural phenomenon she'd missed, about this weird collaboration between John Williams, the Jim Henson Company, and Harrison Ford. In preparation for the new movie, we watched Lucas's original trilogy. Watching her was more interesting to me than revisiting the films, and I had to share some of it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

#BestReads2015 Is Coming

It's December, which means it's Best Reads time. This is an annual event for bloggers asking what your favorite books were of the last year. BestReads2015 launches Monday, December 28th. That gets it out of the way of Christmas, and gives you a couple more weeks to finish your reading. I know I have five books I really want to polish off before I give up on 2015.

As opposed to Best of the Year lists, this can include any books you read for the first time this year. It includes anything from 2014 you only caught onto now (I presume The Martian will hit a few lists), as well as classics. As someone who's always catching up on older works, my list will probably be half things published over a decade ago. The Color Purple is fricking good.

The tradition is to list your favorite books of the year and write a little about them. You can list as many and write as much about each as you like - there is no mandated standard. A Dirty Dozen or a Top Three? Both work. If you post, let me know and I'll add your link to my post on the 28th. The easiest way is in the comments of one of these posts.

So think on it. What are your favorite books that you read this year? Not what was written or published in 2015, but that you personally read and loved for the first time. Fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry and sequential art are all welcome. You can handle the number and format as you like.

On Twitter, our hashtag will be #BestReads2015. Feel free to launch questions below. We'll field them together.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

KILL ME Props: Twitter, Jessica Jones, and a Thursday with Chronic Pain and Depression

It could be worse.

This is what it's like when it's bad.

Thursday is one of those nights. I intended to push four miles on the elliptical, but by dusk it feels like my spine is being pummeled whenever I sit up, and lying down makes it worse. The medication is definitely failing, so I can't even walk downstairs. My mind is thick with the fog of pain regulation, by all these alarms telling me to escape my own skin. I can't write or edit. I can barely make it through a couple paragraphs of anyone else's work. My friend's story beta will have to wait.

Twitter is something I shouldn't check when the pain is like this. Most often when people are happy, they enjoy the moment and neglect social media. You have more time for wifi when you're bored or angry. It shows.

Tonight people are outraged about anti-Muslim sentiments in America and Europe. Islamophobia will kill more innocents by the end of the year than all the terrorists attacks of the last month, but I can't get my brain to form cogent comments on it. Tweets cluster around the House's bigoted bill to prevent more Syrians from taking refuge here, but most tweets are just pissed in general. I want to support them because this could landslide, but am tag-teamed by the mental exhaustion of the pain, and the sense of worthlessness that depression always uses to dissolve good intentions.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Great Things I Read in November

My November reading got cut short by some health problems, but I still crossed several amazing short pieces. Since October, I've started a tradition of linking to the best free short fiction and non-fiction pieces I read in a given month. Most of these were published in November (naturally), but selections can come from anytime, so long as there is no paywall between the reader and the story.

I'm always looking for more great stories. If you have anything you've been loving, please link me up in the comments.

Also, this feature needs a better title. Please rattle off ideas if you have them.

"The Game of Smash and Recovery" by Kelly Link at Strange Horizons 
-That Link magic kicks in after half a paragraph, when you realize Anat isn't just an adoring little sister, but a flamethrower-wielding vampire hunter. Possibly part of the last duo on earth. In such short scenes it alternates between dark and funny (the vampires might be stranded aliens?), bittersweet (she longs to meet her absent parents, and dreads her brother disappearing), and legitimately sweet (those birthdays, though). I adore how all the bits come together. Link remains one of the greatest short story writers I've ever read, doubly admirable for continually trying the hard things and making them look easy.

"Dispatches From a Hole in the World" by Sunny Moraine at Nightmare Magazine
-Trigger Warning for Suicide. This is a story about a viral epidemic of suicides that science has so far failed to figure out or combat. The grant student goes through case after gruesome case, gradually being worn down by the awful things she studies, and we fear she'll be infected by whatever this thing is. Could despair itself be a villain of Horror?

"The Customer Is Always Right" by Anna Salonen at Mothership Zeta 
-One of those successful all-dialogue stories that pulls off the sense of things actually happening while all you get is chatter. Also, death rays! It's the story of a customer service call for a malfunctioning death ray and just gets funnier as it goes along.

"Horror Story" by Carmen Maria Machado at Granta
-After all the Horror I've read, why did I relish a short that's mostly about figuring out what creepy crawly was stalking their apartment? Because Machado's story uses those tropes to deliver something else entirely at the end. She unfurls her idea slowly and assuredly, through gradual hints of a drain malfunctioning, of escalating blame, in a tight package that hands off to an abrupt and highly unusual ending.

"Everything is Miscellaneous: Why Publishing Needs Tagging" by Michael R. Underwood at Boing Boing
-There are more books in print today than you could ever read, so we need better methods of discoverability. Underwood recommends adopting fanfic-like tagging systems, with idea clouds identifying this novel has Dinosaurs, Coca Cola Product Placement, and Steamy Sex Scenes. It works for Trigger Warnings (hold your outrage; they're useful to people with actual psychological triggers), but are also greatly useful in finding books to meet your specific mood. Amazon has pushed its sub-categories, but the book-space still needs more robust discoverability options. It's an excellent proposal.

"How to be a Genderqueer Feminist" by Laurie Penny at Buzzfeed
-Feminism is supposed to be about equity for all, but historically has had trouble supporting anyone but cis white women. It's getting better, and discussions like this one are why. Here is a beautiful article about someone who identifies as neither male nor female, who believes passionately in some of Feminism, but whose identity is met with hostility by many adherents. It's food for compassion and expanding dogmas.

"Indonesia plans prison guarded by crocodiles for drug convicts" by Kesavan Unnikrishnah at Digital Journal
-"It’s not a human rights violation when a crocodile does the killing," says Slamet Pribadi, proposing a prison guarded by crocodiles. If you want to read it and gape in horror or laugh at the absurdity, it works for both. This, the Inodesian government believes, will be safer because unlike human guards, crocodiles can't be bribed.

"Campus Activists Weaponize 'Safe Space'" by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic
-Breaking down the recorded instance of Tim Tai, an Asian American photographer who was bullied by a crowd of fellow students into not photographing events in a public space. They demanded he not touch them while marching towards him, said he had no right to photograph them (and ignored when he explained the First Amendment), and claimed the space was only for students despite the photographer being a student at the university. Tai was contracted for the work by ESPN, an outlet the protesters dislike, and so bent every rule available to themselves to intimidate him. Safe Space policies are necessary and indispensable, but it's important to consider how they can be abused as we move forward.

-The Binding of Isaac is a videogame that's gained a cult following for being weird, but its latest expansion took that further. Fans suspected there were hidden levels, enemies, and characters locked away with no sign of how to reach them. Players dug up files from inside the game itself and followed the developer's cryptic tweets until they were combing real-life wilderness and amusement parks for clues over what was in the game. You dream of engaging with your audience that profoundly.
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