Out with 2015! In with 2016!

horsehead cover1) Horsehead was the movie that most surprised me this year. I’d heard nobody talking about it, and when I sat down to watch it on the recommendation of my highly cinema-aware friend, Gregory, I took it on faith that it was going to be interesting. It was unexpectedly my favorite movie watched in 2015, vying for sheer delight with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

If you like horror, sumptuous visuals, surrealism, and shades of giallo, I recommend Horsehead wholeheartedly. Don’t waste time reading a summary; just watch it. This movie struck me as much more than the sum of its parts, and none of the writeups I saw really seem to capture the bits that I thought were magical. In future I’ll be on the lookout for more from Artsploitation Films.

cover of jeff long's the descent2) Twice this year I heard friends mention in passing The Descent, an unusual book that I read not long after it was published in 1998. Prior to 2015, I’d met virtually no one who had read it, and I hope the book finds new readers in 2016.

This book is a thriller, with airplane-reading pacing and the occasional plot hole, but it features an unusual depth of horror and worldbuilding that has to be read to be believed. No relation to the movie of the same name, but a fair bit of it does take place underground.

3) My friend Paul’s year-end reading summation is deep and rich, and an inspiration. Every time I see that sort of documentation, I itch to pick up a book, as well as to try things on the author’s list. I’d like to have a reading year more like that next year, so I’m starting a spreadsheet to track my consumption across various media (books, comics, movies, art, etc.), and to remind & inspire me when I’m in a lull. I assume there are apps or programs for this, but I wanted it done quickly, so I used Excel.

screenshot of spreadsheetI started by jotting down what I remembered from the last several weeks, but I didn’t get everything. As always for me, these sorts of efforts don’t tend to square well with things academical, which wind up being a combination of scanning, skimming, selective reading, and intense re-reading. This go-round I think I’m just going to set that aside as a concern. If it’s a book I read in toto, I’ll put it on the list starting in January, and if not… not. Likewise, I expect not to count most  individual stories, essays, posts, etc. read online, just as I’m ignoring random bits of TV—if it’s part of the Great Stew of Content, it probably doesn’t need to be counted.

Happy 2016!

Finding Sustenance at the Banquet

Here a Book, There a Book

Here a Book, There a Book

Used to be, you could look at my bookshelves and get a reasonable cross-section of my interests, from horror to languages to history to fantasy. Up until a few years ago, my books squared with who I was, but no longer. My recent diet in reading is part of the writing problems I’ve had recently.

Part of this is due to last year’s move. For a long time, my books were boxed, behind boxes, or otherwise inaccessible. Many of them are still in boxes, though things are improving in that regard. Our little Cape Cod is charming and quaint, but that comes at a price in terms of the house’s layout, and my office/studio isn’t optimized for bookcases. I plan to custom build in order to take maximum advantage of the space, but other projects are more urgent, and probably will be for at least a year.

Another part has been learning to cope with working in a library. I love my job, but having ready access to a substantial cross-section of the written word can be distracting. If an intellectual whim strikes me—Welsh etymology, exobiology, Kuru, Hans Memling, criticism of Wallace Stegner—satisfaction is either in or just outside my office. How many books have I dipped into and left unfinished as I surfed from whim to whim? Reader, you don’t want to know. I lived in the library as a kid, just like many of you, but eventually most people leave the library, bring the books home, and read them. I’m always standing in the river.

Speaking of surfing and rivers, Exhibit A: the Goddamn WWW. Need I say more?

What to do about all this, if anything, is the question. Whatever the answer, I think it has to involve focusing on joy. Not drudgery, homework, clicking, or snippets, but joy. Joy in story, language, and things dear to my heart. You’d think I would have learned this by now, but perhaps one of these days…