Books I Loved in 2020

Among the many other challenges presented this year, my reading has dropped significantly. As of writing this, I’ve finished reading a total of 40 books this year — certainly not bad in the grand scheme of things, but far below my personal average of 90-100 books from a few years ago.

Though, I can’t blame the drop entirely on 2020 (for all it’s anxiety and stress), since my reading has been dropping each year. In general, I’ve had a more difficult time focusing on reading, particularly longer books. So, I’ve shifted somewhat to shorter, quicker reads.

Nevertheless, I’ve read many fantastic books this year — more than I can fit on this list. Lately, I’ve been wanting to get back into reading more of the horror genre (which I’ve been writing lately as well). Horror seems to hit a certain intellectual itch in me, providing a safe means to explore and process my anxieties. So, it’s no surprise that horror fiction makes up a large portion of the works mentioned here.

(ETA: If you want to know the movies, shows, and other media I loved this year, check out my post on Medium.)

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Book Love – From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards

From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards

Medicinal shows once toured Europe and America. So called doctors would drive wagons from town to town, offering miracle elixers and other entertainments. My knowledge of medicine shows come from pop culture, the image of a man more entertainer than doctor purporting to sell cures. The man stands on his box or makeshift stage and with a flourish presents a bottle with some strange liquid inside. Is it medicine, a placebo, or poison?

B.C. Edwards’ From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes has the same feel of such medicinal shows, with the author himself presenting an assemblage of recipes and concoctions. Each of the poems in this book is an adaptation of a recipe found in a collection of household instructions originally published in 1901 by Frederick J. Drake and Company — recipes to make pure spirits, to cure distemper in horses, to restore burnt steel, to destroy the stumps of trees.

“Ask them how much it hurts. Really.
Drive spikes inward. Ask them.
Go on.
Every part until you have a porcupine,
the monster from Hellraiser
and now ask them how much it hurts.”

— From No. 674. Cure for Earache.

What unfolds is poetry as chemistry, words reacting with words to form new strange mixtures. Each time I pull the cork off a new poem, I’m not sure what I’ll get. Maybe it will evoke the ache of love, the sweetness of longing, the pain of lingering hope. Or maybe I’ll enjoy a contemplation on the nature of coffee, the preservation of birds and other animals.

“We are mostly concerned about being left alone.
We send text to each other
passed back and forth like fine sand
sifted charcoal back and forth
like we are archeologists with enormous screens
for sifting relics out of dirt.”

— From No. 757. How to make a Composition for Roofs.

As a fan of alchemy and medicinal shows and other feats of pseudo-miraculous science and a lover of poetry, this book is exactly my aesthetic. The recipes are surprising profound, strange, and compelling. Is it medicine, a placebo, or poison? What am I drinking down when I read these poems? I’m not entirely sure, but I loved the experience.

Exploring the Horrors of Being Human with Junji Ito

Junji Ito-No Longer Human

Junji Ito is a master of horror storytelling. His beautifully illustrated comics offer deeply disturbing, strange tales, exploring cosmic and body horror. Fantastic though these stories generally are — in my experience — they tend not to focus on character development, as much as they reveal the bizarre ways the world can be twisted into utterly horrifying experiences.

In this way, No Longer Human is somewhat of a departure from his previous work. While it contains the same level of gorgeous artwork combined with incredibly unsettling horrors, it’s more grounded, focusing on the life and experiences of Yozo Oba.

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On Turning 40 – and My Birthday Book Haul

It was my birthday this week — and I am now 40 years old. I’ve crossed a threshold.

Though to be honest, the day itself never seems to mark any kind of dramatic change. Rather, I’ve been experiencing an ongoing feeling of transition over the past several months, and I’m sure it’s a feeling that will continue over the forthcoming months.

I can’t say for sure what is transitioning or what that transition will look like in the end. Sometimes change happens overnight with a bang. Sometimes, as in this case, change comes on slowly and almost imperceptibly.

Apart of this change has been my increased abundance of creative endeavors that I’ve been working on lately. Another part of if may come from the fact that I’m working on my mind and body lately, with more exercise and meditation than previously.

There’s also the fact (and this is a big one) that the world as a whole is going through massive transition right now — and we’re not entirely sure how things are going to look on the other side.  The future is ambivalent, it seems to me. I simultaneously see signs that things are getting worse and signs that good people are fighting and working to make things better. I certainly hope we lean towards the later.

Anyway, shifting away from such heavy thoughts. For my birthday, I decided to gift myself a stack of books that I’m eager to read — and my wonderful brother contributed to the pile as well. So, I made a fun little video highlighting my haul.

Thank you for hanging with me, and I hope you enjoy it.


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On Reading and the Writing Life

Apparently, there’s communities of folks making Book and Authortube videos, in which they essentially talk about books, writing, and publishing. Since I’ve been wanting to get back into making videos, these community topics seemed a good way to focus my ideas around.

One of the things that a lot of folks in this community do is the Newbie Tag  — which is essentially a list of questions about you and your interests as a means of introduction. It sounded like fun, so I thought I’d go for it — although with my own flare.

Booktube and Authortube each have their own unique set of questions (listed below), created by Brenda C. and Jenna Streety, respectively. Rather than making them as two separate videos, I decided to incorporate them together, editing to avoid repeated questions and (hopefully) making things flow.

I hope you enjoy the video, and if you decide to do your own newbie tag, please let me know. I’d be happy to check it out.

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