Year in Review: 2015

‘Tis the season for lists, yes? And mine at this time of year, they’re always skewed by my terrible recall—the books and films &etc that just happened always seem to get higher billing. Still, in an effort to be even-handed, I did scroll back a few places, just to refresh, refresh (that’s a story joke) (which is hilarious), and here’s where I land, more or less. This time with pictures, and, yes, this time including books by friends, because, I mean, a lot of them write some pretty excellent stuff:

Solid Novels

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I put Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts up backwards because this blurb-set will, on the trade paperback, get way eclipsed by a certain Stephen King blurb, I suspect. And, Dare Me: this was my third read of it, I think? And it still hits me just right. Was it on my list last year too? (nope; no excuse) And, Skullcrack City, man. Here‘s my original write-up. And, Joshua Gaylord’s When We Were Animals. I’m working on a theory that he wrote this book especially for me. That there’s a way to decode the dedication such that it actually says for Stephen, who needs this story. One of the most intense werewolf stories I’ve read. Which is maybe saying something, since there aren’t really any werewolves in it. I never would have stumbled onto this one if not for Paul Tremblay, either (he also turned me on to Murcheston: the Wolf’s Tale, which I verymuch like, now). Which is to say: trust Paul. And, The Dead Lands, man; how not to love a novel with giant albino bats? It’s one of those novels that I remember as having happened, even though it’s post-apocalyptic, and the rational part of my mind (continually losing ground) kind of even knows it didn’t happen. As for Ready Player One, instead of me fawning all over it again, here‘s the write-up I did way back when, upon reading it (so long after the rest of the world). And Bird Box, man: is it the horror novel we’ve all been waiting for? Could be. It’s got heart, and the tension never lets up, and it legit-creeps you out. How a lot of horror novels hit the terror button over and over? This one just steadily cranks the dread. And The Martian, wow. It’s the science, yeah, but it’s the sardonic narrator, too. Or, the real magic? I think it’s that it lets us imagine that, if we were stranded on Mars like that, we’d be just as level-headed, just as innovative. I mean, I know that’s a lie—I’d panic, die pretty much immediately—but, for the duration of this read, I thought otherwise. That’s what I always want from a story.

Also, a couple I plan to have on this list, if I get enough time to read them in the next four days:

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Also, one I reread this year as well, that everyone should fall into facefirst:



Just a couple-three for me, one of which I got a sneak peak at (it’ll be on all the 2016 lists ), one of which got me considering new things, one of which is . . . kind of a dramatization? But with a wonderful escalation, in keeping with the third act of The Legos Movie:

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Liar, man, it manages to ball up all my concussion &etc fears (and certainties) into one narrative pill, then, by its very form, make me swallow it, keep it inside like the pearl I don’t want. Naked at Lunch got me reconsidering not wearing clothes—not against not wearing clothes, but most places I go, it’s kind of just what you do—but the importance of clothes to proto-human development. When Mark talks about how wonderful the naked skin is at regulating temperature, it got me thinking about that in that big evolutionary scope (involving body lice and needle & thread technology, all of that). And Green River Killer, that’s that wonderful kind of slow, procedural burn that, as a reader, you’re always waiting for. And then it becomes something else. A narrative shuffle I wish I’d done first.

Oh, and before I almost forget again:


Re-read this for a . . . third time, I think? And am still completely in awe of its precision, and its clarity. It changed how I write. Thank you, Steven Pinker. Even if you spell your front-name wrong.

And, now that I halfway remember, there’s also:

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Which reminds me: if I had a category here for the absolute coolest thing to happen in 2015? It would almost be the rumors of GnR getting back together for a concert. Almost. Really, though, it’s got to be:


If that doesn’t get your heart just nearly pounding right out of your chest, then you may be dead, sorry.

Solid Comics

I know, ‘graphic novel’ is supposed to be the term, but, I mean, to me, that term’s always seemed to be a medium grasping for respect, which is to say, admitting it has no respect but really really wants it. I prefer just to be proud about ‘comic books.’ I kept up with a lot of titles in 2015—more than I have for a few years—but these were the four always getting me antsy on Tuesday, because I knew (via my fancy inductive reasoning muscles) that Wednesday was more than likely going to be next:

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With comic books, my preference, always (of course), is for work that uses every tool the comic book creator has at hand—and then makes up more, as needed. Which puts me in mind of this, which wrapped this year, and was amazing as well, and, to be fair, probably eclipses most of what-else was happening:


But, man, those others: Lady Killer revels in the fun that can be had on the page—so much blood, so much polite smiling, so many round-cornered refrigerators—and Ei8ht (which I always have so much difficulty typing—it’s a very Scre4m title) is one of the better science-fiction stories I’ve read, lately. Doesn’t hurt that it’s so beautifully done, either. And, I would say Percy’s giving us a new Green Arrow, but, really? I wasn’t reading Green Arrow before. But, I will say I’m liking this Green Arrow a lot. Had no idea Percy knew storytelling in this mode. Good for us he does. And, Starve: could there be a series less in-line with my tastes? I mean, this is a reality show about cooking. Not only do I despise and actively revile (not even real sure what that exactly means, but it feels right) reality programming, but cooking is an activity or an art that I really, really do not engage at any meaningful level. I like Burger King Whoppers, usually, but, because I don’t want too much taste, I get them with only ketchup. The blander the food, to me, the better. I just want fuel, not taste. So, Starve shouldn’t work for me. But neither should Tin Cup (golf? seriously, dude?). But it’s not the content that matters, finally. It’s the storytelling. It’s the execution. And Starve has Brian Wood, and some artists/colorists I somehow don’t know, but definitely should, as they’re doing maybe the best work I’ve seen since Scalped (Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart).

Oh, and wait, I’m almost forgetting maybe the most amazing and powerful and touching book I read in the whole decade, not just 2015:


Seriously, this? It’s what comic-booking is all about. Only stories I’d put alongside it would be I Kill Giants, maybe. And Whedon’s X-Men run. Okay, and The Long Halloween and Watchmen and Maus and Underwater Welder and Local and JtHM and Essex County and this is about to get out of hand so /stop.


So happy to have a couple kids, who play cool music, which I follow through the house, ask them about, then buy. I mean, left to my own meager devices, I either listen to my Bob Seger playlists or my country station on Pandora, and am completely, absolutely, happy. Well, so long as I cycle in some Steely Dan and Def Leppard. But, without my kids, I’d have never ran the needle all the way through AWOLnation this year (and maybe last year, too). And Milky Chance, Arctic Monkeys, all the bands from what I reductively would consider ‘that set.’ But that’s just because I’m old, I know.


Also, via Tod Goldberg, I found and am forever in love with this song, which I’ll just go ahead and embed here. I would say it’s only seven minutes of your life, but, really? It’s like seventeen days, cumulatively speaking. And the rest of Sun Kil Moon’s stuff is right up there with it. Seriously impressed. Makes me wonder what-all else I’ve been missing.

Anyway, aside from AWOLnation (I even writing that right?) and “Carissa,” the other act I listened to the most this year, by far-far, was this dude:


Coming up, I had his cassettes in the front pocket of my saddleblanket seatcovers, of course, but would always play Waylon instead, or Don Williams, or David Allan Coe, or Conway Twitty. Merle’s stuff was always kind of slow and waltzy, to me. But, coming up on forty-four, now, I don’t know; it feels just about perfect. Can’t get enough. Who knows: one of these years I may even get into Johnny Cash, finally.

Solid Films

What’s the difference in ‘film’ and ‘movie,’ anybody know? I get the sense that ‘film’ is so-called art whereas ‘movie’ is just entertainment (as if being entertaining is beneath film), but who knows. Anyway, it was a good year to be at the cineplex, yes?

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Here‘s my initial write-up on It Follows. Don’t think I did write-ups for the rest, though—I’ve had deadlines, yeah? Anyway, quickly:

  • Victoria: ten minutes in, you forget the one-shot/Birdman conceit. It’s the story, here. And it’s amazing, and amazingly told.
  • Inside-Out: it’s because of movies like this that I always bring sunglasses to the theater. Will never not love this story.
  • Deathgasm: this story hits every note perfectly. It’s kind of the movie I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
  • Harlock: the Arcadia is my new Yamato. I could watch this one back-to-back all day, I think.
  • Creed: good grief. Happy I saw this one alone. There were very many embarrassing moments. And, I know zilch about boxing, understand.
  • Mad Max: go for the trucks, stay for the redemption.
  • Kristy: a Lifetime TV slasher? Really. Yes, really. This rings all the bells, and, man, this final girl, she’s got it, she’s serious, she’s so You’re Next.
  • Cub: I went into this for a good ‘boy scouts camping in the woods and all getting killed’-time, but I came out kind of nervous and concerned, about many things. Which is how horror works, when horror’s really working.
  • What We Do in the Shadows: “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.”
  • Star Wars: Rey is my new hero. Rey Rey Rey. I’ll follow this franchise wherever, now, so long as she’s leading it.

My Television

The one show I return to year after year? This one:


I remember one Thanksgiving in grad school, all us proto-writers had got together for food at someone’s apartment, and we were watching . . . I don’t know: something (I want to say Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, but this would have been 97, about). And then this came on, at which point everybody practically dove outside, lest they accidentally watch it. Except me and my wife. We’re still watching. It never fails to satisfy. All I ask of it is for somebody to get stupid with a pogo stick, or a skateboard, or a trampoline, or for somebody to pop out of a box and surprise someone holding coffee, and my night is made. Stuff like this—does it get any better?


Anyway, aside from that kind of golden perfection, this is the year I got hooked on:


Where ‘hooked on’ means ‘in love with, forever.’ I thought I’d forgot how to watch sitcoms—after Cheers and Seinfeld and Newsradio and Arrested Development, I don’t think I’ve watched any (does Gravity Falls count? Phineas and Ferb?)—but this proved me stupid. The problem, actually, was I wasn’t finding the right one. This is that one. Now, just let it last forever, please.

Also, I mainlined just a whole lot of this in 2015:


Really? I can’t think of another series that’s held together for this long a run. It’s like we’re living in a fantasy world, where Bo and Luke didn’t ask for so much money that their cousins had to replace them. Right now I’m at the end of season 9, and I can’t even start to suspect how the Winchesters and Cass are going to deal with Metatron. Also? Supernatural is my new carrot: when I write X amount, I then get to watch another episode.

And, of course, superhero-TV is all the rage, and I was and am right there with it:

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If I had to pick a favorite of those three? The Flash. Easy call for me. It’s got heart to spare. But I dig them all. And, no Arrow, right? Even though I’m reading a version? I know. The crossover stuff with The Flash tells me it’s solid, but  how to ever catch up, at this late hour? I mean, I can’t even find time for the the remaining eps of Jessica Jones, so far.

And, these two, they kept me happy:

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Turns out Harper’s Island isn’t the only serial TV slasher we’re going to get. And I’m loving it. Nearly as much as I loved Harper’s Island. Granted, I was waiting every week for Scream, while Scream Queens took something like five pr six eps for me to finally commit (Chad did it). But I’m glad I did, finally.  More important: it got me. I didn’t know who the killer was. Scream, though. I can’t wait to see what happens with it next season. It’s got the tone and the stance I like in a slasher.

As for my favorite single ep of anything in 2015?


It explained so, so much. The dents in the car, the painting over the couch—everything. Really, really worked. You can tell it hit me by how I can’t even find good modifiers, so just keep stacking the same ones. And, I mean, I like it having not liked Boyhood that much (I thought Mud did the same story better). But if that movie gave us this episode, then I now like it.


First, I should say, the only sport I kind of watch is NBA. I don’t root for any teams, am in it for the highlights, not the grind, not the teamwork, and I evidently don’t ‘really’ love the sport, since I don’t keep up with college hoops. And, I say ‘kind of’ watch because, really, I haven’t watched a whole game yet in 2015. I get bored so immediately, and have books to write, and books to read, and bikes to ride. If I can DVR it, though, then, yeah, I’ll burn through about midnight, cue over all the talk and drivel and analysis. As-is, the NBA I mostly watch is AppleTV’s ‘game highlights’ thing. It keeps me up to date, and there’s hardly any boring stuff. However, the athlete that gets all my attention whenever he’s got the ball—that’s easy, and obvious, and surely I’m not the only one:


Don’t get me wrong, I dig Kobe jacking up threes from wherever and whenever on his farewell tour—I dig it when JR Smith does, too—and I like to watch Deandre Jordan try to Darryl Dawkins the backboard, and I love it when Blake Griffin gets that look in his eye like nobody can get in his way, but Westbrook, the ball comes alive in his hands. And then he tries to kill it. Every single time up the court. Is watching sports really about the vicarious thrill? If so, then, had I the knees and ankles and back anymore, not to mention the skill and drive and discipline and just flat-out talent, then I like to imagine that I would play like Russell Westbrook does. That we’re, I think, the same height, it allows me to sometimes almost even believe this. In what used to be secret.


What I’m looking forward to this coming year:

  • finding some time to get some meat in the freezer. This year I was in Salt Lake City for the fall, so couldn’t hunt (also, couldn’t get it scheduled). Result: no elk on the table, no deer on the plate. Just eating boring old soul-less beef, which I don’t think is good for your karmic situation, finally.
  • seeing “The Elvis Room” short film make the circuit. It’s currently in post-production. I slipped out to Hollywood for a day of shooting, and it was cool (also, it’s true what they say about a set, about a shoot: it’s all standing around, waiting).
  • getting a new engine in my new truck, maybe some new wheels, too. Going to sell my 1970 C-10, I think (hard to park four vehicles around a place, in town), turn it into parts and labor for the 1972 Cheyenne. More on all that here. Though I should maybe note that the 72, it’s currently parked in Park City, as its tires weren’t up to a drive across Wyoming in the blowing snow last week. Last pic I saw of it, it was door-handle deep in snow. Quite a surprise for a Georgia truck. Breaks my heart, too. That’s my dream truck, right there.
  • And—but you knew this was coming, yes?—this is the big thing I’m excited for, for 2016:
click to pre-order


Author: SGJ