My Favorite Books of 2023

The sun has just about set on 2023, which means it’s time to look back at the books I’ve read this past year.

We’re about to look at some analytics first, so if you don’t give a shit about that and only want to see what my favorite books were, you can skip over this next bit by clicking here.

According to the Reading List, I read 26 books in 2023. Technically, the list shows 27 titles read, but the last two — FAUN by Joe Hill and A PSALM FOR THE WILD-BUILT by Becky Chambers — are novellas, which I count as half a book each for the purposes of this exercise.

26 books is fairly consistent with the amount I’ve read in the last few years. My average seems to be about one book every two weeks, a pace I am good with given all the other pulls at my time.  Here, have a chart.

As you can see, 2020 was an outlier by quite a bit. (It also illustrates why, when you’re looking at a dataset, it’s helpful to know the median as well as the average.) I chalk such a large number up to it being the early days of the pandemic, when I suddenly had more free time but before depression pulled a Christopher Columbus and colonized my brain. Depression, among many other delightful qualities, affects the ability of the brain to think and focus. 2021 was a bad year, mental health-wise, which is a major reason why I only managed to read 20 books.

I’m happy with having read 26 books this year, and I’ll be happy if I reach that number again in 2024.

Okay — enough with the data analysis. Onward to my favorite books of 2023!


(Published in 2023 and that I’ve never read before)

SILVER NITRATE, Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Look at that cover art. Should I ever be so blessed by satan to get a novel published, I would then commit several crimes to have cover art this cool.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia has become one of my favorite writers over the last few years. Not just because she writes great books — which, to be clear, she does — but because she switches up genres and eras with every book. 1970s noir? Check. Jazz Age fantasy involving Mayan gods and a road trip? Also check. Gothic horror on a Mexican estate? You got it. Historical romance reimagining of a classic scifi novel? Check and mate. And those are only the novels of hers that I’ve read so far.

SILVER NITRATE continues this trend: a thriller set in 1990s Mexico City, involving a cursed, lost Mexican horror movie and Nazi occultism. From the back cover:

Montserrat has always been overlooked. She’s a talented sound editor, but she’s left out of the boys’ club running the film industry in ’90s Mexico City. And she’s all but invisible to her best friend, Tristán, a charming if faded soap opera star, though she’s been in love with him since childhood.

Then Tristán discovers his new neighbor is the cult horror director Abel Urueta, and the legendary auteur claims he can change their lives—even if his tale of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into highly volatile silver nitrate stock sounds like sheer fantasy. The magic film was never finished, which is why, Urueta swears, his career vanished overnight. He is cursed.

Now the director wants Montserrat and Tristán to help him shoot the missing scene and lift the curse . . . but Montserrat soon notices a dark presence following her, and Tristán begins seeing the ghost of his ex-girlfriend. As they work together to unravel the mystery of the film and the obscure occultist who once roamed their city, Montserrat and Tristán may find that sorcerers and magic are not only the stuff of movies.

That description barely scratches the surface of this wonderful, deftly-told mystery. One of my favorite bits is a little easter egg that Moreno-Garcia casually drops in the middle (remember, the book is set in 1993 going on 1994) (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler):

Even though each of Moreno-Garcia’s books is wildly different from the others, there are a few common threads: 1) they are historical fiction, 2) they are set in Mexico, and 3) the protagonists are young women from varying socioeconomic backgrounds who all find their power through the course of the narrative. I love this because it gives a white dude like me a glimpse into Mexican culture through a multitude of eras. Combined with Moreno-Garcia’s superb storytelling, this makes every new book from her something to look forward to.


(Published before 2023 but I read it for the first time)

THE PRICE OF SALT, or CAROL, Patricia Highsmith

I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I finished it in January.

THE PRICE OF SALT chronicles the slow-burn romance between two women, Therese and Carol, in the 1950s United States, an era that was, uh, not exactly known for its progressiveness towards such relationships. Therese is a struggling young set designer who works by day in a large department store. It is there she first meets Carol, a customer looking for a Christmas toy for her daughter. They eventually become friends and then lovers. There is a road trip, an unhinged private investigator, and a lot of 1950s gender politics that should be hard to fathom but are still sadly relevant today.

The book was published in 1952. At the time, “lesbian novels” were not so much de rigueur as they were considered a career killer, especially for a well-known suspense writer such as Highsmith. As such, she published THE PRICE OF SALT under a nom de plume. Another byproduct of the era is that the novel’s romance and sex are not depicted outright but instead through subtext. Ironically, this works in the story’s favor by sending an undercurrent of sexual electricity through the interactions between Therese and Carol.

THE PRICE OF SALT was reprinted in 1990, this time under Highsmith’s own name, and retitled CAROL. In the Afterword of that edition, Highsmith shared an observation about one of the things she felt made her novel stand out at the time. It’s the perfect bit to close with.

The appeal of The Price of Salt was that it had a happy ending for its two main characters, or at least they were going to try to have a future together. Prior to this book, homosexuals male and female in American novels had had to pay for their deviation by cutting their wrists, drowning themselves in a swimming pool, or by switching to heterosexuality (so it was stated), or by collapsing—alone and miserable and shunned—into a depression equal to hell.


(Something I’ve read before and reread in 2023)

The JUMPER Series, Steven Gould

JUMPER is a perfect example of science fiction doing what it does best: asking a straightforward question — “What if I could teleport?” — and extrapolating from there.

Davy Rice is a 16-year-old kid living with a physically and emotionally abusive, alcoholic father. One day, at home and about to take a beating over some mild transgression, Davy closes his eyes but the blow doesn’t come. When he opens his eyes, he is in his local library. This is the first time Davy realizes he teleport — or “jump” as he calls it.

The first half of JUMPER details Davy’s escape from his dad and does all the things a 16-year-old kid would do if he discovered he could teleport (or at least the things I would have done and still would do): burgles a bank vault and sets himself up in a luxurious lifestyle. He also searches for his mom and meets a girl. Then in the middle of the book, the plot makes a sharp left turn that I will not discuss here because spoilers.

One of the things I love about JUMPER, and about Steven Gould’s books in general, and why I return to them again and again, is that Gould does a wonderful job at puzzling through the mechanics, the physics, the limitations of teleportation and solves for them in thoughtful ways that make sense. For example: later in the book, Davy decides to build an impenetrable home in a remote desert that only a jumper could reach. How would he go about getting lumber, furniture, electricity, plumbing, etc. into such a place? Fuck if I know — but Gould does, or at least fakes it well enough, and has Davy address these challenges one by one. And he does it in a way that’s compelling to read; it’s not just some infodump that you have to skip over five pages to get back to the story. That takes skill, gentle reader.

REFLEX is my least favorite of the series and the only one I’d never reread before. It’s still a good book, but upon rereading it I remembered why I’d not done so before, especially since I love the other books in the series so much. One of the two main plot threads involves Davy being imprisoned for pretty much the entire book. It’s interesting, sure, and Gould does a wonderful job of thinking through all the ways one might imprison a teleporter. But being stuck with Davy while he is methodically tortured and subjugated for half a book gets a little bleak, and then just becomes tedious. The other main plot thread involves Millie, Davy’s wife, who can also jump, tracking him down while avoiding the bad guys, and eventually pulling off a rescue. Millie is just as engaging a protagonist as Davy, if not moreso, and it’s ultimately her narrative that makes the book worth reading.

IMPULSE is set 15 years or so after REFLEX, and focuses on Millie and Davy’s teenage daughter, Cent. IMPULSE is just as good as JUMPER, and Gould begins to do interesting things with the concept of teleportation and extrapolating what else one might be able to do with the ability, like, say, flying. EXO, book four, takes the extrapolation even further and is essentially JUMPER . . . IN SPAAACE. Gould is working on a fifth JUMPER book and is also contracted for a sixth, so I imagine whenever those come out, I will probably read through the series again. Not because I will need to, but because I’ll want to.

This piece ended up being a lot longer than I thought it would be. Next year I think I will break it up into several posts. If you stuck with me ‘til now, then know that I am impressed and you can picture me reenacting that meme of the bearded guy slowly nodding and smiling in approval.

Becoming an Arsonist

The other day, I posted this photo of Satipo from a LEGO Raiders of the Lost Ark set in the group chat, along with a comment:

A decent sliding-into-X-like style joke, no?

In response, my friend wrote:

That’s me coming out of 2023 but I refuse to enter 2024 like that. I’ll still have the torch, but I’ll be the arsonist.

I’ve been thinking about that comment a lot over the last few days. How the attitude conveyed with those few words, so casually typed out, is just . . . so completely at odds with what my attitude and mindset have been since 2020.

I’ve been in survival mode for so long, doing my goddamnedest to avoid defeat, in so many forms, that I’ve forgotten what my goal should be: to win. Because, to be honest, Honestly, I don’t know that what I’ve been doing could even be called “fighting off defeat”. That implies having fight within me, and exercising agency, even if it’s in a defensive capacity. What I’ve been doing feels more like . . . surrender. Resigned to dealing with whatever comes next.

It was an intense realization to arrive at and then sit with. I’m glad it happened, though. I needed it.

So, my intent going into 2024 is to ditch the defeatist attitude, find my joie de vivre again, and win.

Next year, I think I will be the arsonist.

Watching The Planets

We broke our unplanned summer hermithood not just once, but twice this week. On Thursday night we took part in what was billed as the World’s Largest Sound Bath and City-Wide Meditation — an hour of lying on yoga mats and blankets in the grass at Columbus Commons with a thousand other people, as we were bathed in waves of sound coming from an array of instruments. Some folks referred to this as an “ocean of harmony.”

Sound baths are purported to have some therapeutic effects, helping with stress, fatigue, and depression. I’d never heard of a sound bath before Thursday. After experiencing one, I am not fully sold on their curative powers. That said, was it peaceful to lie under a blanket, the sky overhead all big and black pierced only by the occasional star and aircraft running light, while ambient music was blasted at me? Absolutely.

Then on Friday, we went to another symphony, this one of the more traditional variety: Gustav Holst’s THE PLANETS, performed by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

So many people — myself included — think “classical music” and picture these dry, fusty chamber pieces made by long-dead white dudes wearing powdered wigs. You know, music that’s really great to fall asleep to. Well, Holst was a white dude and he has been dead for nearly a century, but, to the best of my knowledge, he never wore a powdered wig, and THE PLANETS has a frisson running through it that is anything but sleep-inducing. You listen to it and understand where generations of sci-fi film composers have drawn at least some inspiration.

“Mars, The Bringer of War” is a banger, thunderous and ferocious, and is easy to love. It’s my favorite suite, but “Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity” is a very close second. “Jupiter” feels less like an army is on its way to crush you, see you driven, etc., and more like you’re an adventurer off on some kind of star tr — uh, expedition.

My introduction to THE PLANETS was, of all things, an early episode of THE VENTURE BROS. Henchmen 21 and 24 sing “Mars, The Bringer of War” while they prepare to resume their henching jobs. It’s a funny scene and I was quite taken with “Mars,” so I downloaded a copy of THE PLANETS and gave it a listen. I’ve wanted to see it performed live ever since. I’m happy to report back to Past Josh: it was as cool as we’d always hoped it would be.

A visual tour of the Solar System, created by NASA, played above the orchestra, that followed the music as Holtz took us from planet to planet. It was unexpected but really cool. Photo by Jess.

My Friend, Stephen

In 2018, back in the Before Time, when dinosaurs, not COVID, ruled the earth, and I still worked in an office full-time, I was introduced to this peculiar, older white gentleman. He had a strong Bahstahn accent and bore an uncanny resemblance — in appearance, attitude, and temperament — to BREAKING BAD’s Mike Ehrmantraut. His name was Stephen, and he was hired to lead a department adjacent to mine. After a couple of interactions, a few things about Stephen quickly became apparent: he was wickedly funny, loved to challenge people to think differently, neither suffered fools nor tolerated bullies, and was fiercely protective of his people. Over time, it would be my great privilege to become one of “Stephen’s people.”

Stephen Flannery died a little over a month ago, unexpectedly, and under circumstances that have made his death even harder to reconcile than it already would have been otherwise — but those circumstances are not mine to share. It’s been five weeks, and it still feels surreal.

We had a “celebration of life” for Stephen at work last week — a phrase and event Stephen would have professed to loathe, even though on the inside he would secretly be flattered and happy. Over a hundred people from multiple states attended in person and another 150 called in on Teams — all of them showing up to share stories about a man who’d been gone from the organization for six months. That was the kind of figure Stephen was. Nearly everyone there cherished Stephen in some fashion. I say “nearly” because I do not doubt that a few folks secretly showed up just to make sure Stephen was, in fact, dead. This makes sense when you understand how someone once described Stephen as the best friend you could ever hope for or the worst enemy you could be confronted with. I remember how delighted Stephen was when he related that story to me. Because that was Stephen — a man for whom there was very little middle ground.

Within six months of meeting Stephen, the department in which I worked experienced several sudden upheavals. I made it six months before staying in my position became untenable. That’s when Stephen offered me the opportunity to come work for him in an entirely different part of the organization, one which I knew fuck-all about. I pointed this out and he told me he wasn’t hiring me for my subject matter expertise, he was hiring me because I was a good leader. It was the best career move I ever made.

Over the next five years, I got to know Stephen better as he progressed from colleague to mentor, to one of the best leaders — and people — for whom I’ve ever worked. Somewhere along the way, we also became friends.

As I noted earlier, Stephen left the organization in January 2023. This should have been a major bummer, but our small team was strong and Stephen’s successor appeared to be (and was) a good fit. There was also the hint that Stephen would one day ask me to come work for him again. Stephen and I actually ended up talking more after his departure than when we worked together, an unexpected but delightful turn of events. We still had weekly 1:1s, but the frequency of our texts increased to multiple times a day: sharing Words With Friends scores, sending profanely funny TikToks back and forth, sharing recommendations and commentary on books and movies, plus the normal, everyday life shit. He would randomly send me books he thought I would like, including the Folio Society editions of JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD mentioned in this post. (I sent him a very nice thank you note and told him not to do it again.) Stephen was a major encourager of my writing, even offering a few months ago to put me up in his house for my own personal writing retreat. I never had the chance to take him up on it.

I’ll close out this ramble by sharing a message Stephen sent me a couple of months back, that I have scribbled down on a post-it note inside my desk.

I never tire of your writing. Check. I so look forward to your writing. Paternally proud. Fraternally envious. Keep inspiring.

Stephen was a lion of a man; a mentor, a devil, and my friend. I miss him.

Paint the Town Pink

Few things bring me greater joy in this life than a reason to dress up in a thematically appropriate outfit. Give me a themed event, the more offbeat or outré, the better, and I will hurl myself at it with reckless sartorial abandon. Doesn’t matter what the theme is, really: post-apocalypse, Jersey Shore, film noir, CRYBABY, Adventurers Society, Tarantinoverse, James Bond/spy, une fête en blanc, space luau, Dolly-Parton-banned-books… the list goes on. And that’s not including Halloween.

So when something like BARBIE comes around, bringing with it the opportunity to dress up and paint the town pink with a few comrades…? Well, let’s just say I show up.

We saw BARBIE at The Neon in Dayton, of course. The magnificent Barbie Box is a creation of local Dayton shop The Stoney Cottage and was conveniently located outside The Neon. This Barbie Box was cooler and more fun than any studio-provided cardboard display could ever dream of being.

After the movie: drinks, dinner, and more drinks at Salar, followed by an impromptu arm-wrestling match and an ill-advised footrace down the middle of Fifth Street (which I’m pretty sure I saw someone filming).

But what about the movie itself? Could it possibly have lived up to all the hype?

Honestly? It’s a work of art.

This isn’t me being hyperbolic or ironic. Writer-director Greta Gerwig took a three-score-old fashion doll and somehow turned it into an intelligent, self-aware, feminist, patriarchy-critiquing, and subversive film that also is both slyly and overtly hilarious, and in general a frankly bonkers piece of cinema. If that ain’t art, I’m not sure what is.

That a big corporation like Mattel, which owns the right to Barbie, allowed Gerwig to make this film, which also lampoons Mattel in the film – Will Ferrell playing Mattel’s CEO is exactly what one would expect out of Will Ferrell — is nothing short of incredible. I wish more corporations would let artists take similar risks with their IP. Sure, there would no doubt be some whiffs, but the hits could be so big. At the very least, we would get interesting films out of it.

I would be shocked if BARBIE didn’t walk away with at least one Oscar nomination for acting – looking at you, Ryan Gosling, for somehow bringing pathos to Ken — and another for Best Screenplay. It’s the perfect populist vehicle to inject some energy into awards season.

By no means is BARBIE not without its flaws. There are a few times where the film calls itself out in a way that, while funny and self-effacing, also feels a bit like the filmmakers are doing it before someone else does. The end of the third act also gets a little too weirdly meta in a way that didn’t fully work for me. Thankfully, the film almost immediately makes up for this in the denouement, with Margot Robbie delivering the final line of dialogue that is both extremely funny and the perfect note on which to end things.

So yes, BARBIE is not a perfect film — but what work of art is?

What BARBIE is, though, is a delightful way to spend two hours in a movie theater, surrounded by your pals and a bunch of other weirdos dressed in pink.

Jenny Lewis in the Land of Cleve

We spent a few days up in Cleveland this week to catch the Jenny Lewis show at the House of Blues and see friends. Got a posh Airbnb from which we could work during the day on Thursday and Friday, then went to see Jenny Lewis on Thursday night followed by a cookout on Friday night.

It was during the early days of the pandemic when I became a diehard Jenny Lewis fan. Her albums THE VOYAGER and ON THE LINE got me through many a day spent driving to and from vet appointments and waiting in my car in vet clinic parking lots and not thinking about dogs dying inside vet clinics. I’m not sure why I connected so hard with her music, then, but I did, and I am grateful for it.

So it’s no small thing when I say that finally seeing Lewis perform live was a sublime experience – one every bit as good as I knew it would be.

Hold tight now – crappy iPhone show photos incoming:

Jenny Lewis and the band playing on stage.
Jenny Lewis on stage singing, in profile, pointing into the distance.

READING: TRUE GRIT, Charles Portis

LAST WATCHED: One of my low-key goals is to watch every film and TV adaptation of John le Carré’s novels. Last night’s viewing was THE RUSSIA HOUSE, a spy film set in Russia during Glasnost, with Sir Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer playing the leads. It was good, if a bit uneven at times, though it was fun seeing Connery in a spy film playing a very non-James-Bond-like character.

LISTENING: Outside of Jenny Lewis, “I Hope Your Husband Dies” by Amigo the Devil has been stuck in my head.

KIRBY: Not caring that drinking this stuff might stunt his growth (it’s a joke, there’s no coffee in that mug (it’s actually vodka) (also a joke)).

Kirby with his snoot buried into a Luke's Cafe coffee mug, trying to lap up the last vestiges of milk.

Summer Break Ya Neck

I’ve been thinking about summer vacation this week, and how it’s so conceptually at odds with how we think about work in this country. I mean, when you’re a kid, having summers off from school isn’t regarded as some kind of radical notion — it’s just the way things are. It’s normal. But as soon as you exit the education-industrial complex, the societal expectation is that you are going to work at least 40 hours a week for the next 50 to 60 years of your life, with a couple of weeks off a year. And that’s if you’re lucky. Too many people have to work two jobs just to pay the bills and survive, working weekends, overtime, second shifts, third shifts, split shifts. As an adult, the notion of taking leave from one’s responsibilities for two to three months in the middle of the year — ostensibly to rest, to relax — is antithetical to capitalist ideology. Offer such a proposal out loud with any degree of real ingenuousness, and most people will look at you like you’re a goddamn crank, or — gasp — a socialist.

What a person does for work monopolizes so much space in our self-identity that it overshadows almost everything else about us. Think about it: when you meet someone for the first time, odds are one of the first get-to-know-you questions they will ask is: “So, what do you do?” You’ll instantly know what they mean, because that’s how we’ve been conditioned to think, and you’ll respond with something like: “I manage a team of developers at The Rabbit Company.” Your answer won’t be: “Well, I’m a gardener, and I spend most of my weekends in my backyard tending to the 15 types of produce I grow. Oh, I also pay my bills working being a middle manager at a company that peddles vibrators. But I loathe that place and Ted, my colossal anus of a boss, so instead I prefer instead to talk about how well my cucumbers and tomatoes are doing this year.” Because if you say that to a stranger, they are not going to think, Wow, this guy’s radical candor is so refreshing. Let’s be friends! Instead, they will smile and nod, and describe you later to their loved ones using adjectives like “weird” and “off-putting.”

It’s an extreme example, yeah, but I bet you’d never think to describe yourself as a gardener — your passion, hobby, etc. — first, and a manager of whatever — the thing you do to stay alive — second.

We give so much of our time and energy to our jobs, wrapping our identity and self-worth around what we do, what we produce. It’s dumb and sad, and so many of us do it, even if we don’t want to and try not to, because… that’s the capitalist society in which we live.

I’m not suggesting that one can’t or shouldn’t strive to find a job they like. If you’re going to spend at least one-third of your life at Job, ideally you should find one you like, or at least don’t hate. I really like my job, a circumstance that I never take for granted. It’s okay to like your job. And, in the very unlikely event you think you love your job — that’s okay, too. So long as you always keep this one immutable fact in mind: A corporation doesn’t care about you. You are a means to an end for it. You and a corporation are not “fambly.” The moment the cost of employing you becomes less than the perceived value of what you produce, the sand in the hourglass that is your current employment starts trickling down. 

So consider this affirmation. Repeat it to yourself every day: You are not your job. You are so much more than “what you do.” And never, ever forget (to paraphrase the labor writer Sarah Jaffe):

Work will never love you back. 

Columbus Pride was yesterday. It was nice to march with our friends in the ECLA and show our support. The turnout was amazing. Watchers along the parade route were six or seven people deep the whole way. I espied only one small group of sad bigots that were protesting. The hate emanating from their shitty PA was subsumed by the cheering and happy noise of the crowd.

On Friday, I went to my first Creative Mornings Columbus event. The guest speaker was Karen Hewitt, who gave a talk on the topic of “Reverie.” It was a really fun and fascinating talk. Karen’s ideas on the difference between dreaming and dream execution, and how each requires different tools, resonated with me quite a bit.

All of this shit — thoughts on summer break, Karen’s take on creativity, plus the normal rotgut my brain generates — has been swirling in my head of late, so I’ve decided that, beginning tomorrow, josh bales [dot] net is going on summer vacation for the next month. (Yeah, it’s not two to three months, but a shorter break feels right, so I’m going with my gut.) For the next four weeks, my hope is to redirect the creative energy I typically put in here to other writing projects. My goals are to clean up and try to publish the essay I alluded to last week, and to finish a short story that has been languishing in my brain for a while.

See y’all on July 23rd.

Even with no eyes, you can always tell when Kirby is staring at you.

You Can’t Outrun ‘Em

I started writing something this week that was supposed to be small but unexpectedly morphed into a longer essay. It needs time to marinate before I do a proper edit, so it’ll probably go up next week.

In the meantime, how about some links?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unprecedented, marvelous (har har) achievement — one that’s engulfed Hollywood and is choking the film industry.

Even if the Marvel movies aren’t your bag, this is a fascinating history of how the MCU came to be.

Sometime during the last couple of years, I realized that I no longer needed to see every piece of intellectual property Marvel puts out. As much as I enjoyed A VERY HAWKEYE CHRISTMAS and THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY CHRISTMAS SPECIAL, WAKANDA FOREVER and THOR FOUR were not good, had bloated runtimes, and committed the worst cinema sin of them all: being boring. Will I watch LOKI season 2 and GOTG VOL. 3 whenever they show up on Disney+? Yes. But the next AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA, et al.? Not likely.

So a whistleblower from inside the right genre of government agency, the super-secretive National Reconnaissance Office — a long-time employee who absolutely radiates “credible source” energy — turns over classified information to Congress about how the U.S. government has in its possession “recovered intact and partially intact craft of non-human origin,” and there’s hardly a blip about it in the media. Fucking wild.

Grusch said the recoveries of partial fragments through and up to intact vehicles have been made for decades through the present day by the government, its allies, and defense contractors. Analysis has determined that the objects retrieved are “of exotic origin (non-human intelligence, whether extraterrestrial or unknown origin) based on the vehicle morphologies and material science testing and the possession of unique atomic arrangements and radiological signatures,” he said.

“We are not talking about prosaic origins or identities,” Grusch said, referencing information he provided Congress and the current ICIG. “The material includes intact and partially intact vehicles.”

Ceramic weapons, hand-painted to look like the dishes in your grandma’s cabinet.

The morning star in particular would look handsome in my kitchen.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.


The latest Trump indictment. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

  • Trump knowingly took boxes of classified documents from the White House.
  • Trump stored those boxes of classified documents, some of which were so full that papers were spilling out of them, in an unsecured bathroom at Mar-a-Lago.
  • During an interview for an upcoming book, Trump shared a classified plan of attack on Iran.
  • Trump allowed himself to be recorded during that interview and said that he knew this plan of attack on Iran was classified and that as POTUS he could have declassified it, but as a former POTUS he could in fact not declassify it: “See as president I could have declassified it. Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
  • Trump repeatedly lied and obstructed, over and over again, about having the classified documents in his possession to the government agencies tasked with collecting said classified documents, for a period of about a year and a half.

The full indictment makes for a fascinating and infuriating read. It’s one thing to read a summary in a news article, but reading the transcript of a conversation where he casually and openly admits his guilt is another. I can only imagine how it will land for the jurors to hear the actual audio of his distinctive voice.

If after this you still think Donald Trump should be the next president, then you are not the patriotic American you probably think you are.


Each month, the Drexel screens a series of films based on a certain theme or a director’s oeuvre. Last month, it was the films of David Lynch. This month, the theme is “Seduction Cinema”: erotic thrillers from the 80s and 90s, full of low-life protagonists and the most fatale of femme fatales. So… right up my alley. BODY HEAT played last week. Tomorrow is BASIC INSTINCT. My hope is to see all four films.

BODY HEAT is a nearly perfect film, expertly written and directed, but its greatest virtue is the talent in front of the camera. I mean – just look at this cast! Kathleen Turner is the star of this show, and she smolders so much on screen that it’s a wonder the film reel never caught fire. Even the supporting cast is fabulous. Mickey Rourke, baby-faced and radiating charisma during his few brief scenes. A dancing Ted Danson. And Richard Crenna, clearly having a blast as Turner’s character’s bastard of a husband. So good!


To Jenny Lewis’s new album, JOY’ALL, which dropped Friday. I haven’t given it a full listen yet, but the few songs I have listened to are, unsurprisingly, catchy as hell. “Psychos” in particular has been stuck in my head.

And Kirby:

We had an unexpected visitor last weekend. While I was outside with Kirby, this adorable “little” puppy wandered into our yard, somehow managing to squeeze her sizable melon in between the bars of the wrought iron fence.

She wasn’t wearing a collar, so we didn’t know her name or where she was from. We assumed she was local, so we posted in our neighborhood’s Facebook group and on Nextdoor, then waited. She was very sweet and well-behaved and stayed with us for several hours, where she drank a lot of water and napped on the floor in the library. We eventually reunited her with her humans, who informed us that the wee lassie’s name is Shorty.

How did Kirby handle having a guest dog in the house? Benign indifference is how I would describe his attitude. He was fine with her. A little curious. It probably helped that Shorty didn’t try to come between him and his mom. If she had, I’m not quite sure how our old-man little mama’s boy would’ve handled it.

Out of Office, But

I am gifting josh bales [dot] net and myself a bye week today — look! I used a sports term — but I did want to briefly pop in because today my parents are celebrating a special milestone: their 46th wedding anniversary.

Happy Anniversary, Mark and Lori. Thanks for always trying to model the best example of a successful marriage, even when y’all are pissed at each other. Here’s to another 46 years.

Previously, on josh bales [dot] net…

How is it that the first day back to work following a long weekend is so much harder than a regular Monday? I spent my first working hour slurping coffee, responding to easy emails, and trying and failing to learn a new-to-me Excel trick. Then my first meetings of the day involved a bunch of us sitting around, staring morosely at each other. Today felt like a hangover; not one of the body but of the soul.

Which begs the question: what then is the spiritual equivalent to Pedialyte?

Here’s what I’ve been up to this week.


Fan-BLEEPING-tastic: Merriam-Webster on “expletive infixations.”

Finally finished BEYOND THE HALLOWED SKY. You can clearly tell that it is Book One of a trilogy because you get to the end of the final chapter and the narrative just… stops. I’ll probably read the next book, but this is for sure not my favorite style of trilogy.


Finished season 2 of EUPHORIA and the first season of THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME. EUPHORIA is so good, but this season damn near broke me emotionally. Fezco and Lexi became my two favorite characters this season. Lexi’s play? Fucking bananas in the best way possible. But how things went down for Fezco and Ashtray almost made me cry, and reader — I am not a crier by nature.

I really wanted to like THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME, but the show made it so hard. The cast was okay but they had terrible material to work with. The mystery wasn’t very interesting, and its unwinding was poorly executed, the pacing was wildly uneven, and Garner and Angourie Rice, who played Garner’s character’s stepdaughter, had the chemistry of two potatoes sitting in a bin at Kroger. Jess and my sister both liked the show and the book upon which it is based, so it’s possible I am just the sole inhabitant of Asshole Island here. Victor Garber has a fun role in one episode, and it was nice to see Sydney and Jack Bristow reunited for a few minutes.

More than anything, THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME made me want to rewatch PEPPERMINT, the film in which Garner essentially plays The Punisher and absolutely murders everyone who was remotely involved in the death of her family. Maybe that’s what was missing from THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME: Jennifer Garner PEPPERMINTing her way through the mystery of why her husband disappeared.


A writing retreat. A week someplace quiet, just me, no distractions, where I can really kick off this novel that’s been simmering now for a while. Ideally, somewhere where I can go for walks. Comfortable patio or porch.A grocery store, maybe a couple of restaurants within a 15-minute drive. The woods would be okay, but it couldn’t be too isolated. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT ruined me on being alone at night in the woods. For that, I would need to be armed with a short-barrelled shotgun and a bat’leth.


3 Hours of Relaxing Super Nintendo Music.

And Kirby:

He’s feeling better, but still having some issues. Hoping we will have them figured out soon.

The white dot is a piece of rice affixed adorably upon his snoot.