Best of 2018: Books


Of the books I read in 2019, three of the best were actually written by people I know, including Strange Frequencies, Peter Bebergal's intriguing exploration of the intersection between technology and the supernatural (from spirit photography and automatons to the legend of the golem).

Speaking of golems, Maxwell Bauman offers a helpful recipe for creating your very own magical skinhead-bashing defender in his frequently hilarious and occasionally unnerving collection of short stories, The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook (and I eagerly await the erotic adventures of Kitty Knish in 2019)!

Meanwhile, Stephen King and numerous year-end lists have touted Scott Von Doviak's chronological pretzel twist of a heist thriller Charlesgate Confidential from Hard Case Crime, but I also had an opportunity to read a sneak preview of another of the author's upcoming novels, an engrossing Texas caper called Red River Burning to watch for in a future timeline.

And as for the rest of my 2018 reading list, my favorites included...

All the Pieces Matter by Jonathan Abrams is an oral history of what many consider the greatest TV series of all time, and the individual cast and crew voices bring fresh perspectives to stories recounted in previous books (see: The Wire: Truth Be Told, The Revolution Was Televised, and Difficult Men) while inevitably stoking interest in a rewatch binge of all five seasons of HBO's groundbreaking autopsy of the American dream.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (creator of the Fargo TV series) is a meditative mystery novel about the victims and survivors of a small plane crash off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Fox-style conspiracy theories, the astonishing physical prowess of fitness icon Jack LaLanne, and the intractable divide between the rich and the rest of us in 21st century America.

The Big Picture is Ben Fritz's fascinating (and fairly depressing) examination of the sorry modern state of American filmmaking.

Black Hammer (Volume 1: Secret Origins) by Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston is an entertaining take on the "superheroes as dysfunctional family" subgenre, with enough enigmatic riddles and character chemistry to hook my interest for the eventual Volume 2 edition.

Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman vilifies its subject as much as it praises him, yet the deep-dive analysis also provides a fairly satisfying survey class overview of Letterman's career and paradigm-shifting impact on the late night landscape specifically and the ironicification of American culture in general.

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost is hardly essential reading, even for Peaks fans, but nevertheless served a useful function in 2018 as pop culture methadone for those of us still jonesing for just one more hit of David Lynch's astonishing 2017 reboot of his astonishing Showtime phantasmagoria.

You're On a Plane by Parker Posey is wisely framed by the title conceit, as if the author were chatting you up on a flight with a frequently rambling yet generally amusing stream of consciousness series of musings and anecdotes about Dazed and Confused, working with Louis CK, and the perils of being famous but infrequently unemployed in an industry which values repetitive mediocrity over eccentric individuality.

Will Probably Get Back to Sometime in 2019:

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell & Mike Feehan reimagines Hanna-Barbera's foppish pink cougar as a barely closeted 1950s playwright targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee...a great (and beautifully illustrated) idea which somehow isn't quite as page-turning or hard-hitting as it should be in the age of Trump. And while we're on the subject of His Royal Orangeness...

Probably Won't Get Back to in 2019:

The Year of Voting Dangerously by Maureen Dowd occasionally has some interesting things to say about the 2016 election but mostly hammers repeated gripes about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton while basically just laughing off the racist, sexist, truth-challenged and occasionally illegal pre-election behavior of that irascible scamp, Donald J. Trump...which is fine if you like that sort of thing. Personally, I did not.


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