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My Open ‘Dear John’ Letter to the Tournament of Books

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s not me; it’s you.

Like all hot-and-heavy romances, ours was fated to burn brightly, if only briefly.

But now, I fear it is over.

When I first saw you, I was stunned by the sheer audacity of combining something I adore about sports—the head-to-head, single-elimination tournament—with discussion about books. It would not be too much to say I was simply awestruck and immediately knew we were a perfect match.

As one does in such situations, I dived in without reservation or consideration, wildly throwing 16 titles into my Seattle Public Library queue with bold disregard for whatever any information available about the books themselves, allowing infatuation to set-aside book-selection processes that had served me relatively well over the course of a reading lifetime. If you loved it, then I wanted to love it, too. 

It’s easy to see now how this was bound to lead to this, but isn’t it always thus?

Then, you put “Lightning Rods” in my hands. 

I admit, I wondered whether something wasn’t up right then and there. There was no waiting for the book from the library, which is never a good sign. Nor is it favorable when I’ve not somehow read about or heard of the book, considering how much book-centric media I absorb on a daily basis. 

BUT! We only work if we trust each other, yeah? 

So I read.

It were as if, on the first time you cooked dinner for me, I thought I saw you not wash your hands after handling raw poultry and, rather than thinking that maybe I need to slow it down for my own benefit, I tried to dismiss it as over-thinking the situation and happily eat.

We know now, of course, that I got really, really sick after that meal. Can I blame the hand-washing incident explicitly? Maybe not, but…here we are.

Don’t get me wrong; we had some great times. “The Sisters Brothers,” “The Art of Fielding,”  “The Tiger’s Wife,” and, of course, the lovely March romp of book-battle discussion.

We’ll always have March!

Eventually, I wrote-off the “Lightning Rods” incident and the slightly less-offensive failure of “Open City” to meet my tastes to the point where it all still seemed as fresh and exciting as day one by the time I was faced with a long stretch apart from my new crush.

This year, you came along a little earlier than last with even more titles than before. I didn’t ask myself “Why?” you felt the need to tart it up a bit. Rather, I was simply happy to see you here, and it was January 2012 all over again. 

And, truly, it was the same thing all over again, except that, this time, maybe my eyes were open just a wee bit more.

Like “Lightning Rods” last year, I managed to get one of the entries this year almost immediately due to it being sold at a deep-discount as an ebook on the day I heard the titles announced. Again, I jumped to the “buy” button, not reading the description of “Song of Achilles,” nor any reviews or discussion around it. 

This time, however, it felt like true deceit, even with all the disclaimers about how the final list of competitors are not ever meant to be definitive of the best 16 (this year, 18) books from the previous year. I wanted desperately to be wrong about the novel, but no matter how I looked at it, I felt I had been conned into reading a glorified romance novel, once you looked past the obvious appeal of a retelling some great Greek mythology with a contemporary prosaic style. 

And the realization stung.

Stung enough that I went back to re-examine things more deeply.

Suddenly, the new play-in round in which three novels will compete for a place among the final 16 didn’t seem like such an innocent little quirk, when considering the unlikelihood of the three novels in question all being set around the same topic (war in the Middle East) having been the three novels between which a panel could not decide for the final seat at the table.

Then I take a quick count of author gender and see a nearly even split between women and men, and, rather than thinking it sheer happenstance, wonder whether the panel didn’t tinker to make sure the tournament didn’t find itself yet another target of those who’ve questioned loudly the last few years the dominance of male-written pieces in some forums. 

And, if such politically correct tinkering is taking place, how on Earth did you end up with such a predominantly white collection of authors?!

Maybe it IS my fault for not looking beyond the surface before charging in, but I’m always going to resent feeling manipulated. While trying to remember only the good times, I probably don’t really want to know what you were doing, what your real motivations were. 

But, it’s over. I have been shocked back into remembering who I am. 

We can still be friends, though. Cool?


Randall Cooks: Smoked Salmon Chowder

June 10, 2012 3 comments

Bacon, smoked salmon, potatoes, cream, wine…there is pretty much no way this wouldn’t be good, right?

I’m sure had I followed the recipe from April Bloomfield’s “A Girl and Her Pig” more closely, it would have turned out even better, but I didn’t have smoked haddock; I had smoked salmon.

Fancy cookin’? Of course not!

It might be a disservice to Chef Bloomfield to simply call my dish a Pacific-Northwesterner’s take on her “Smoked Haddock Chowder,” but I didn’t stray too far from what she wrote other than type of fish used and the obvious skill gap between her and I in all things culinary.

1.25 pounds potatoes (I was trying for 3/4 pound, but ended up having a rather heavy hand at the farmers market. Get a firm potato that won’t fall apart too easily when cooked.), peeled and diced

1 pint whole milk

1 pink heavy whipping cream

Put these three items in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil; cook until the potatoes are cooked through, but don’t fall apart too easily when you pinch them. Cooking time will depend on how large you dice the potatoes. Remove the pan from heat.

1/2 pound smoked salmon

Submerge the salmon in the milk mixture and let steep among the potatoes off the heat while you do the next few steps.

1/4 olive oil

1/4 pound bacon ends (again, purchased at farmers market and suggested by farmer as ideal for my purpose), diced smallish

2 carrots, cut into thick matchsticks

2 stalks celery, cut into thick matchsticks

1 yellow onion, diced

1/2 cup sauvignon blanc (Monkey Bay is what I used. Tasty!)

2 cups fish stock (also made with an April Bloomfield recipe, also found in her new book)

Heat the olive oil in a stockpot to smoking over medium heat. Fry the bacon in the hot oil briefly, just until the fat begins to render, 2 to 3 minutes.

Obligatory hipster bacon appeal…

Add the carrot, celery, and onion; keep cooking until the vegetables are tender, no more than 10 minutes more.

Pretty, non?

Deglaze with the wine. That is, pour the wine into the pot and scrape whatever you can from the bottom of the pot with a flat edged implement of some sort. I’ve some lovely bamboo spoons I got with some woks at one time that are perfectly suited for this move. Pour the fish stock into the pot; stir. Let the mixture simmer until the liquid reduces by about half.

Okay, NOW you can remove the salmon from the milk. Scoop about half the potatoes from the milk mixture and add to the stockpot. Puree the remaining half either in a blender or with an immersion blender (If you don’t have one, get one! They’re brilliant!). Add the pureed potatoes to the pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Break the salmon into chunks and add to the soup; stir. Cook until it’s all hot, about 5 minutes more. Garnish with some chopped fresh parsley.

Better cook than photographer


See? Wasn’t that hard. Not too fussy for having originated from a pretty accomplished and talented chef.

No, not me…HER!

Categories: Uncategorized

Randall Cooks: Homemade Paletas…or Ice Pops…Frozen Treats…

I know, because of my day job, the word “Popsicle®” is a registered trademark. Due to this, I do make an effort to use more generic term when referring to frozen treats on sticks.

“Paleta” made its way into my personal lexicon a few summers ago, upon attending the Pickathon music festival in Happy Valley, Oregon. Though we’d likely have tried them regardless of weather, the sun was particularly oppressive during the 2009 edition of the event, driving us to find any and all methods for keeping cool while enjoying our weekend.

Fortunately, the Pickathon folks commit to food and beverage offerings being local, affordable, and delicious. Drawing from the rich talent pool of the Portland area, you get a great variety of palate temptations. Among them during what would seem a fortuitously hot weekend were Sol Pops Paletas.

I won’t go into all the details of the difference between a “paleta” and what many of us in this country typically call a “popsicle.” Nor am I that interested in their assertion of “wellness” in regard to their particular product. When the numbers creep toward the triple digits, those are simply side-show attractions along the highway to refreshingly cold sweetness (on a stick!), and I drive really fast!

Note: I drive less fast these days than I did before I became “Daddy,” which allows me to reserve the “slow down, you lunatic!” reaction I instinctively have toward the teenagers always in a rush up and down the hill in our neighborhood.

They were carrying four or five varieties at the time. From their website, I see they’ve expanded their offerings by quite a bit. Because I have a weakness for the combination of sweet and spicy, I started with the “Cucumber Lime Jalapeno” paleta, before sampling my way through their entire menu throughout the weekend.

Not only did I come away with a new word for frozen treats on sticks that was NOT a trademark, I also was hit with the revelation that the making of such items is remarkably simple and not necessarily limited to the nasty, fake flavors offered commercially.

This really should not be a big discovery. Did I not try to freeze Kool-Aid(R) in ice cube trays with toothpicks suspended in them with the aid of a sheet of plastic wrap way back in the 1970’s? Yet, many years of living in the American consumer culture ultimately turned these into things you either bought at the store or didn’t eat, the magic of their creation best left to people with factories and machinery and distribution networks. I used to think the same of, say, salsa. Takes something to shake me from the disillusion of complexity, even now.

Although our second trip to Pickathon was accompanied by weather much more typical of a Pacific Northwest summer, our need for paletas was bolstered by the addition of a seven-month-old toothless wonder. As we often thought throughout his first year-and-change with no teeth, we thought Owen might be teething and would benefit from sharing

These will ‘pay for themselves,’ but only if you’d otherwise buy your ice pops.

Though…he wasn’t really that interested in really sharing. Once he got a taste, it was all over.  He ended up eating the better part of two cantaloupe-flavored paletas in short order, which also foreshadowed cantaloupe proving to be one of his favorite foods.

While shopping for dinner provisions on a particularly warm (for Seattle) spring evening, I recalled the episode. Without any idea of a recipe other than knowing we had sugar, vanilla extract, yogurt, and coconut milk at home, I bought some “Tovolo Groovy Ice Pop Molds” and a cantaloupe (yes…organic…so what?!) and planned to deliver a surprise to my toddler son I figured would be at least as delicious as what I could buy for him, but also contain only a few ingredients and no chemical preservatives, colorings, or flavorings.

Ideally, I’d have a recipe to share.

I do not.

I got as much flesh from the cantaloupe as I could and combined it with whatever amount of low-fat Greek-style yogurt we had left in the container, a bit of sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract. From there, it was immersion blender, funnel, and paleta molds. It’s not science; it’s art. If it tastes good when it’s blended, it will taste good frozen.

The result?


Brain Freeze!

Sorry, son! Apparently I gave you the gift of something tasty enough for you to eat it as fast as you can, while maybe not having given you genetically the gift I enjoy for being able to absorb very cold things quickly without the dreaded “brain freeze.”

The rest of you, get to blending and freezing, but, enjoy at appropriate speeds.

Categories: Uncategorized

Randall Reads: “Deadwood” by Pete Dexter

April 4, 2012 1 comment

And “NO” it’s not that on which the HBO series of the same name was based.

Before you reach the table of contents, you do get a word from the author, saying:

“The large events and the settings of this novel–the fire that destroyed Deadwood, the assassinations of Bill Hickok and the China Doll, the weather, the life and travels of Charley Utter–are all real.
The Characters, with the exception of Malcolm Nash, are also real, and were in Deadwood at the time these events occurred.”

I know I read several times (granted, on the internets) before watching the first season of the television series or reading this book that Pete Dexter’s work was very much integral to the creation of the HBO series.

I’m not going to say I’ve done a whole lot of investigating since finishing the book this morning, but I wouldn’t even be all that surprised to know that nobody on the creative team had even opened the front cover of Dexter’s book, especially in light of the aforementioned quote. My sense is that both pieces of art were derived from researching real-life historic persons and events from that place in American history and invoking the creative spirit from there.

In other words, aside from some names, I don’t see much similar between the show and the book. Hence, they should be considered separately, other than that I would not likely have read the book had I not also recently enjoyed watching the beginning of the series (and then found a second-hand copy of the book during a timely visit to Pegasus Book Exchange).

My interest level in the old “wild west” was never that great, so my knowledge of people like Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane was of such a level that I’d not necessarily have even though of them in the context of Deadwood, South Dakota any more than I would have, say, western Texas. Charley Utter, who is the central character throughout the novel, is someone whose name I believe I had never even heard, and, if I had, I’d completely forgotten the context.

Because of this and, again, because I’d just watched 12 hours or so of the HBO series, I entered the world of Deadwood as described by Pete Dexter with some very strong conceptions about characters the second they appeared in writing.  Within the first few pages, you have met Charley, Wild Bill, and Al Swearingen. If you’ve seen the HBO show, you know how strongly drawn those characters are on the screen.

It’s of great credit to Mr. Dexter that, writing the book without the knowledge his words would one day be competing with HBO-strength characterizations of the same historical figures, it isn’t long before you’re (mostly) considering the characters anew. It’s not only that he clearly staked his claim to the fictionalization of the history of Deadwood in a completely different manner as did the people with the HBO production, but also that he writes his characters in a very lively fashion. Maybe that’s partly a benefit of working within a genre such as the western, but I doubt it’s that simple.

I also happen to be a bit of a sucker for strong character development, so there’s that.

The style can be a bit tricky in some spots. The word “peeder” appears repeatedly and failed not once to give me a stop. I also think the use of “could of/would of/should of” in place of the proper contractions probably was meant to do something other than remind me of the fact that 90% of the people on the internet actually type those for all to see publicly without intention, but that’s what I got, again making me pause each instance.

Small, niggling things, but they stand out in my head. Should be noted that’s a small price for what was otherwise a very enjoyable book.

The narrative is divided into five “parts,” the first four of which are named for a character around whom much of the action within revolves. The fifth is a rather short summary of Charley’s life after leaving Deadwood that, honestly, adds little (if anything) to the story beyond a bit of closure .

Malcolm Nash, the one completely fictional character in the novel, plays an interesting thread through the story, but his role is a bit thin in the middle bits, which makes one wonder at the reason for creating him at all. It’s not that he seems out of place, mind you. It’s more that I had a natural tendency to wonder a little more about the character seeing as it was mentioned right at the top that he was not in the historic records and was, hence, created out of whole ink. Perhaps it is a failure of the reader to have expected more from such an entry into the story, but I can’t see how anyone would look at it differently.

There’s also a very realistic chance I’ve just missed something important in my reading. Wouldn’t be the first time.

On the front cover of the paperback is a quote from Jonathan Franzen, saying “If you want to call Deadwood  a Western, you might as well call The House of Mirth chick lit.”

Not even having read the latter, I can say I understand what Franzen was getting at with this, and think it’s a valid consideration. Calling a book a “Western,” much as “chick lit” or “science fiction” does have that effect of “ghettoization” of the work into its genre and is somehow looked at as something less. Or, that’s the talk these days, isn’t it?

What I’m meaning to clarify as being important here is that nobody who enjoys a good book should pass on this one with a “but I don’t really like “Westerns.” The work itself will survive such an err, but is a huge disservice to the “serious reader” Mr. Franzen likes to concern himself about. Pete Dexter has written a serious book for serious readers of all sorts.

Even those who have cemented in their brain the image of Wild Bill Hickok as the brother of the guy from ‘Kung Fu.’

We can overcome.

Categories: Uncategorized

Lessons from a Toddler: How to Make a Man

February 4, 2012 Leave a comment

The internet, if not the larger world, is already pretty well overrun by stories of children’s precociousness.

Can’t see the harm in adding another to the canon.

My son turned two recently, which has no direct relevance on the story, but the event in question occurred first thing the morning after the birthday party we were throwing for him.

Owen always has a few commands/suggestions first thing in the morning. The list almost always begins with “no no change diaper” and “jammies on” (as opposed to putting on the sorts of clothing that might indicate a departure from the house and, hence, the loss of chance to see fulfilled other common items from the morning request repertoire, such as “watch ‘Dino Train,'” “play trains,” or even the occasional “eat, eat, eat…”

Maybe a bit more a creature of habit already like his father than Daddy would like to admit, Owen tends to not stray too far from those items or closely related variations on the topics.

This particular morning, however, it was “”poon? ‘poon?”

Not easy to decipher initially, I let him repeat it several times before I realized what he wanted was a spoon. Out of the context of sitting in front of some food, it seemed like a new word entirely. As most parents will recognize, once you land on what your child is saying, it seems like it should have been obvious. Plus, I think Owen picked up an early affinity for wooden spoons, first from watching me cooking (“Daddy making pood?”) a lot and later when he realized a spoon can be an excellent stand-in for a guitar.

Again, as many parents will recognize (I hope it’s not just me.), once such a simple item is discovered to have the power to deliver such joy, you make sure to buy a few to have around just for the baby.

That being said, it had been a while since Owen had really requested a spoon outside of the context of eating. Once I figured it, it was easy enough to hand him a large wooden spoon.

From there, Owen went in search of his red plastic fire chief helmet before asking me where he might find “the boy.”

“The boy” is a very simple plastic figure which came seated in the plastic construction vehicle Owen had received as a gift the day prior. Rather than pluck it out of the truck for him, which is precisely where he’d left it shortly before bed time only ten hours ago, I asked him where he thought the boy might be.

Turns out it was all a ruse, because he knew exactly where the boy was. Don’t be fooled; for all the cuteness and charm, the perceived innocence is a tool for their use to get you to do their bidding. Everyone tends to think their child is especially smart, but I think maybe they’re not as smart as you think in the way you’re thinking of “smart,” while being incredibly smart in ways you would prefer to disbelieve.

The boy was immediately plucked from the truck (steam shovel? I was never the kid who was interested in construction machines or police or firemen or cars or anything stereotypical of young boys’ interest and, hence, sometimes don’t really know the basics.) and plopped into the helmet. Owen then took a seat in the middle of the living room and started stirring with the big wooden spoon.

“What are you doing, Owen?”

“Making….making a man.”

Of course.

ESPN: Those Guys Want All the Credit

January 18, 2012 Leave a comment

This begins with a confession: I am a long-time sports fan and, hence, absorber of ESPN through multiple media.

In fact, the primary thing with which I’m going to take from having read this book will be just how much the growth and transformation of ESPN as a brand has influenced the sports-fan facet of my personality. The timing of it, as well as the way they targeted sports fans, was perfect.

BUT, does that mean you can publish 745 pages of “oral history” about the place without it becoming a bit of a slog?

Maybe you can, but that was not achieved here.

Only sheer determination to get to the juicy bits with Keith Olbermann, Dan Patrick, Tony Kornheiser, Bill Simmons, etc. got me through the first few hundred pages (yes, the first few hundred pages), in which all these executive types (I tend to call them “rich white dudes”) do battle over who is taking too much credit for what, while also establishing just how large a role each of them had in many important developments early on in the lifespan of the network. Eventually, the scope widens to allow on-air talent to also take part in the credit-grabbing dialog.

Along the way, you get some pretty interesting looks at some of the interpersonal dynamics behind the scenes.

Well, it’s interesting to a degree and likely only if you’re interested in the people and topic. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who doesn’t know who Chris Berman or Stuart Scott is.

I had enjoyed “Live from New York” several years ago, which is an oral history of Saturday Night Live written by these same two authors: James A. Miller and Tom Shales. It was similarly long, but the nature of the cast and writers, in my opinion, made for a lot more-interesting reading. The ESPN book, in my opinion, could have been trimmed by about 300 pages and not lost much. Then again, I do know a lot more about ESPN’s history than I did.

“Did you know?” (to borrow an old Sportscenter segment title)

  • Mike Tirico was pretty creepy in a sexual-harassment sense, acting somewhat like a stalker at times?
  • Almost nobody likes Keith Olbermann, but everyone pretty much regards him as a ‘genius?’
  • Multiple on-air personalities have been suspended for having used Adolf Hitler in comparative analysis of sports figures and events?
  • The network sat on the Ben Roethlisberger rape allegations until it was so widely reported that they just appeared to be either slow or hoping it would blow over?
  • Rush Limbaugh still believes anything and everything he said in regard to Donovan McNabb was fine and/or taken out-of-context and that everyone agrees with him but those conspiring against him and that he truly believes in a color-blind society? (As truly a “HOLY SHIT THIS GUY!” moment as I’ve ever had reading anything ever)

All of those and more are revealed within and, ultimately, made the tome worth lugging around for two weeks while I worked my way through it on bus and water taxi rides to work, as well as holding it above my head before bed time in a bit of derring-do as I would sometimes fall asleep (of being tired, not bored), putting myself in danger of breaking my nose when dropping it on my face.

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My Year in Reading: The Version with Lists

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Because, really, we all love to hate those end-of-year lists that are EVERYWHERE this time of year. I mean, that means we love them too, right?

In 2011, I finished 54 titles. I don’t know how that ranks with the reading rates of most readers, but it feels a bit on the slow side. I’m guessing people who are not habitual readers would find that to be a staggeringly impossible number. Having seen the pace at which my wife can put away a book (She read the entire “A Song of Ice and Fire” saga in less than a month this summer, and that is at her new slower post-baby clip), I figure a good number of folk simply scoff at such a weak number.

What I do know is that I didn’t read nearly enough of 2011’s newly published works to have it make any sense to attempt a “best of” sort of list with aspirations of comprehensiveness. Hence, I’ve broken the 54 books into a few different categories, which were then organized into some fashion to indicate overall value to me in some way or other.

(Relatively) Recent Fiction

Turns out that 20 of the books I read were fictional novels published in either 2010 or 2011. I liked the roundness of 20, so I did a simple order of preference for those.  I’m sure the Franzen and Eugenides books would/should be in there, if only I had read them…

  1. Embassytown by China Mieville
  2. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
  3. The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
  4. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
  5. The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
  6. Low Town by Daniel Polansky
  7. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
  8. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
  9. The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
  10. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  11. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  12. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  13. The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
  14. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  15. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu
  16. Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  17. Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
  18. The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
  19. Red on Red by Edward Conlon
  20. Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve no desire to defend my decisions to anyone, really. It’s just about personal preference. Besides, I have to admit, when I was asked earlier what my favorite novel of the year was, I replied with “The Art of Fielding” having forgotten entirely about “Embassytown.” But, really, I’m all about the Mieville. It’s AMAZING!

Yes, I had to ‘shout’ that bit.

And, then in what must seem like a preemptive bout of defensiveness, I should at least point out I do tend to prefer my fiction with fantastical and/or science-fiction elements. Despite knowing that about myself, I was a little surprised to see the Graham Joyce and Daniel Polansky books as high on that list as they are, but then remembered what a blast I had reading them; the same can simply not be said for the last five books on the list, each of which was a challenge to finish for me.

But, I DID finish them, unlike…

Simply could NOT do it!

  1. What We Do is Secret by Thorn Kief Hillsbury
  2. Last Man Through the Gate by Tim C. Taylor
  3. Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

One might argue that three books I did not finish shouldn’t be listed among “books I finished.” My counter-point would be that I am finished with them, whether I read them to completion or no.

I do feel a little dirty about having gotten only to the seventh page of the Hillsbury book and counting it, but I knew by then I was going to maybe set either it or myself on fire before I could ever get through it. It had a weird spoken-word vibe to it that simply doesn’t work for me. “Last Man Through the Gate” was a freebie e-book; anyone who has read many of those knows how entirely hit-or-(most likely) miss those can be.

The Kim Stanley Robinson book was a disappointment for me. The premise, wherein the same group of characters are reincarnated throughout an alternate history of world civilization, was a complete hit for me. Unfortunately, I just ran out of steam with it. It’s a long book and, without a strong central narrative, just lost me.

Graphic Novels

  1. Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraftby Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  2. Locke & Key, Volume 2: Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  3. Locke & Key, Volume 3: Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
  4. The Walking Dead, Volume 1: Days Gone By by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore
  5. Priest: Genesis, Volumes 1-3 by Min-Woo Hyung

I generally don’t read graphic novels because, truly, the artwork is completely lost on me. I find myself rushing through them to get the story, but I know that, in order to really appreciate them, I should slow it down a bit and observe the work of the illustrator.

But I don’t and won’t.

Despite that, I was completely sucked in by the Locke & Key series and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a good haunted house tale.

The other two I could have done without reading.


  1. Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock
  2. Granta 117: Horror by John Freman (editor)
  3. Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason by Mike Sacks

Simply put, Knockemstiff was one of the most-compelling things I’ve ever read. It probably could have been listed among the fiction novels, but it really is a collection of related short stories. Though, now that I think on it, it’s probably less disjointed than Egan’s “Goon Squad,” the format of which leaves me baffled as to how it garnered the crazy amounts of regard it did.

And, it’s definitely more cohesive than King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” which is a collection of novellas.

Oh well. What’s done is done. Pollock is so good, he deserves his own category anyhow.

The Sacks is meant to be funny. I didn’t think it was funny. Is there anything more subjective than comedy? Not sure there is.


  1. WAR by Sebastian Junger
  2. Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann
  3. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
  4. I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 2o Years Away by Bill Bryson
  5. The Egg & I by Betty MacDonald
  6. Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
  7. Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O’Conner
  8. No Touch Monkey: and Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late  by Ayun Halliday
  9. The Game From Where I Stand: A Ballplayer’s Inside View by Doug Glanville

Only now that I’ve typed this list am I aware of the consistent practice of spiking the title of non-fiction books with a colon and a clarification of the book’s subject matter, which I do find slightly odd.

At any rate, I’m fairly fond of saying that I don’t read much non-fiction, so I’m a little baffled when I realize non-fiction made up of nearly 17% of my total haul for the year. That percentage is actually higher if I were to flesh it out to account for magazine articles and news and what not, but I’d never have guessed it were even this high for just the books.

And it shouldn’t be, because this list is dominated by books I found sincerely lacking. Really, only the first two would I say were truly compelling. The Pollan book is great, but isn’t really much of a book, as it’s a bunch of short items on (re)defining food in an era where food products has become the norm of the American diet. I love it, but it is what it is.

The other six books I either just didn’t enjoy or actively hated. The Hamilton memoir was really a let-down as it was highly praised, but, to me, it quickly turned into a long lament/complaint piece. If a friend gets a little whiny on Facebook, I’ll hide them from my feed, but this? I got tricked into a few hundred pages of “Oh, it’s all so sad, really.” I actively hated it by the end, which should tell you something about the books I rate below it.

The Glanville book is remarkably boring when you consider the guy played major-league baseball for several years and that I really like baseball. I didn’t hate it, but can’t remember one thing I read in it that I could say was worth the effort. Tremendously boring, which is quite an accomplishment when writing about a subject I quite enjoy.

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