Let’s keep this Best Of 2019 thing going! So far, I’ve covered my favorite classic horror movie viewings of last year and now I’m on to books. I keep this rad super hero wall-mounted shelf in my office and stack up the physical books I’ve read throughout the year. As you can see in this photo, I also have a list next to it that I can put digital and library conquests on as well. It sure makes it simple to do a list like this!
It’ll probably come as no surprise that, as I did last year, I tackled a whole bunch of Stephen King tomes last year. I didn’t check as many off as I did in 2018, but I sure enjoyed reading the final Bill Hodges book End Of Watch as well as his latest The Institute. I still can’t get over how much I don’t just like, but love his stories from the last decade or so. It’s not often you see an artist pick things back up and go on to kick even more ass (as long as you don’t mind forgiving the slip-ups that come from an older person writing young characters).
At some point in the year I had stalled out in my reading, so I decided to finish off a bunch of short story collections I had lying around. As with most of my plans, that fell away when the next shiny thing came along, but I did finally finish off King’s Night Shift and Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts. For the former, it was cool dropping back in on the worlds of ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand, but even more to see all the different creepy places King took me to in shorter bursts. This one features giant rats, haunted machines, killer toys as well as the source material for films like Maximum Overdrive, Sometimes They Come Back, Children Of The Corn and more than a few anthology entries. It’s incredible to see how influential this one collection is. Better yet, you get pure, high-test King who doesn’t meander and explores all sorts of settings including big cities that show he can do more than weird Maine or Ohio towns.
It’s nice to say that the quality short story apple didn’t fall far from the writing tree when it comes King and Hill. I’d actually started 20th Century Ghosts YEARS prior (eight, apparently) but finally took the time to finish it off last year. I was absolutely blown away by all of the unique places Hill took me in this collection, which came out before his first book, the excellent Heart-Shaped Box. Just in finishing up the last few vignettes in this collection, I found myself experiencing a love story brewing on the set of Dawn Of The Dead, a dread-inducing cabin excursion and the most astounding cardboard basement maze of all time. Of the batch, “Voluntary Committal” still pops up in my mind every now and then because I adore that tale.
The wheels may have fallen off of my short story rotation bus, but I did get one more scary book in last year, Grady Hendrix’s HorrorStor, which I read both digitally and by way of a library borrow. I’d heard a few interviews with the author over the years, mostly on Killer POV/Shock Waves and even more recently on Teen Creeps, so I’ve collected as many of his books as possible via Kindle. While it took me a while to really get into this novel, I’m SO glad I stuck with it because it turns into this emotional journey for a main character who starts off almost completely shut off from her co-workers at an Ikea-like furniture store. Without giving too much away, it turns out that the store is built on the same location as a very bad place which doesn’t appreciate being covered up and forgotten. And, I swear, I didn’t just like it because it was set in Ohio (though that’s definitely a plus in my book!
I also absorbed the audiobook version of Brad Meltzer’s The Escape Artist read by Scott Brick. I’ve been a fan of Meltzer’s ever since I read The Millionaires way back when and am happy to say he’s become a favorite of my wife and I, especially when we go on long car rides, which is why we listened to this one! Escape Artist is another break-neck adventure that jumps between a coroner trying to prove that the woman on his table is not the same girl who saved his daughter’s life and said woman who lived a hard life. He also does his usual incredible job of incorporating all sorts of in-depth research in a way that kept me super entertained and maybe even a little educated.
From there I explored a handful of non-fiction titles that were all quite good. Speaking of escape artists, I very much enjoyed Penn Jillette’s book Presto, which documents how he lost a ton of weight by becoming vegan. I’m a big fan of his podcast Penn’s Sunday School, so it wasn’t much of a leap to read another one of his books, but it was very interesting to get a mix of his delightful stories, unique insights and science-based information about how poorly most of us eat. It didn’t make me go completely vegan, but I’ve definitely incorporated a few lessons from the book and try to get a few vegan recipes into the menu each week.
In addition to his own book, Penn also lead me to borrow Kory Stamper’s book Word By Word from the library. In it she not only explains how she came to define words for Merriam-Webster, but also the history of dictionaries. I get if that doesn’t sound all too interesting, but I found the idea completely fascinating. Then again, I also watched an entire documentary about one font and dug it. I’m always down to find out the process by which complex works are completed and this book does exactly that. It also turned around my perspective a bit on the idea of being a word snob. I like the idea that she proposes that a dictionary should document the way words are used at the time it’s published and not present a set of rules that need to be followed.
A few years back, after reading his book on Cary Grant, I ordered a few other Marc Eliot biographies, including the perfectly titled Burt! With the gut-punching news that he passed away in 2018 stinging a bit less, I pulled this book out and gave it a read. Knowing almost nothing about the man besides what he put into his fantastic movies (watch Smokey And The Bandit RIGHT NOW, if you haven’t seen it in a while…or even if you have), I was totally sucked in by the story of a guy who a big time football star until he got in a car accident that almost killed him. I had no idea about his early Hollywood friendship with Clint Eastwood or how much they both struggled to become the big-deal mega stars they both became. There’s so much in this book that I was blown away by and it only covers his life up until the early 80s when it was published. I also picked up one of Burt’s autobiographies, but haven’t cracked it quite yet.
Finally, I’ve got to talk about one of the more unusual reading experiences I’ve ever had and that’s with the book Zardoz by John Boorman. Now, this isn’t simply an adaptation of the 1974 head-trip of a film — also written and directed by Boorman — starring Sean Connery, but kind of an expansion. Let me rewind just a bit. This year, I did a massive re-listen of my favorite podcast How Did This Get Made and they covered the film in not one, but two episodes. With that, I picked up a copy when I ordered a bunch of stuff from Arrow Video and also got a copy of the book off of eBay. Within a week, I watched the film and read the novel. The former action left me confounded, but also incredibly intrigued. I wanted to know more and that’s exactly what the book gives you. It’s almost like a guide that touches all the same story points as the film, but also digs deeper. However, it’s not the most well-written of tomes, so it really helps to have seen the film to help establish the look and feel of the world. In other words, if you’re looking for the complete Zardoz experience, watch the film, then read this fairly short book as soon as you can afterwards and you’ll get about 73% of what Boorman was going for (or thereabouts).
And there you have it! I wish I’d gotten through more books last year, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I’m actually making my way through three books right now which is not the best way to go, but so far I’m having a pretty great time with King’s Doctor Sleep and Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady From The Black Lagoon…and I’m trudging through R.L. Stine’s Fear Hall: The Beginning which is very short, but also so packed with fake scares and cliffhangers that I’m getting whiplash. Hopefully, I can power through, though.