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!


FAVORITE NEW BOOK

(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.

FAVORITE NEW-TO-ME BOOK

(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.

FAVORITE REREAD

(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.

Mother’s Day, 2023

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms and mom-like figures out there, but especially to my mom. We will be celebrating as we usually do on this day, by going out for Mexican for lunch.

She hates pictures of herself, but tough shit, Lori — this one is cute.

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

Reading:

Two-thirds of the way through BEYOND THE HALLOWED SKY, by Ken MacLeod. I don’t read many space operas these days, but it was favorably mentioned in one of the 800 newsletters to which I subscribe, so I figured I’d give it a shot. (That it’s only 320 pages was also attractive.)

The plot summary per Goodreads:

When a brilliant scientist gets a letter from herself about faster-than-light travel, she doesn’t know what to believe. The equations work, but her paper is discredited – and soon the criticism is more than scientific. Exiled by the establishment, she gets an offer to build her starship from an unlikely source. But in the heights of Venus and on a planet of another star, a secret is already being uncovered that will shake humanity to its foundations.

I’m enjoying this one quite a bit. There are a bunch of characters, as one would suspect from a sweeping space opera, but their characterizations are distinct enough and interesting that it’s been easy for me to keep track of who is who. The plot is engaging and MacLeod never gets too infodump-y with the worldbuilding and the science/engineering bits. HALLOWED SKY is apparently the first in a trilogy, so unless the last third of this book goes completely off the rails, I am planning to read book 2.

Watching:

For my birthday this year, my sister got me a membership to the Drexel, one of Columbus’s indie theaters. We used that membership for the first time to see POLITE SOCIETY last week. The story follows Ria, a young martial artist and aspiring stunt woman, as she attempts to rescue her older sister Lena from marrying Salim, a rich and slimy chud. The plot is a little insane in the best way possible. Lots of ridiculous fights, humor that actually made me LOL, plus a talented and charming cast, and – most importantly – the runtime is only 104 minutes.

We also watched VIGIL, a murder-mystery set aboard a British nuclear submarine, the HMS Vigil. This one was so good that I actually stayed up past my bedtime – on a school night, no less! – to finish it.

Wanting:

This Steelcase Series 1 Work Office Chair, in canary. I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but for a while now the skin on my current office chair has been peeling off like it’s a character in a HELLRAISER movie. It needs replacing, but I can’t quite bring myself to pay $548 for a chair. Sure, my current chair has served me well for ten years, and I spend >9 hours a day with my ass planted on it, so, like with buying a bed, if I’m going to spend a third of my life (god, that’s depressing lol) using something, it probably makes sense to invest in something that will be comfortable and supportive to the old meat bag. I’m just not there yet.

Listening:

The most recent Hardcore History, HH 69* – The Twilight of the Aesir.

*Nice.

And Kirby:

I shared this on Instagram, but am also going to put it here, because 1) he’s just so darn cute, and 2) to illustrate why his nickname is Kirby Roo.

Warm Nights, Chill Vibes

Programming note: after this week’s edition, josh bales [dot] net will be out of office for the remainder of April, returning on May 7. My aim is to be off-screen as much as possible during our retreat to the Florida panhandle, but there will no doubt be some posting on Instagram. So if you want to see pictures of my dog and the ocean, feel to follow along there.


In Dayton this weekend to see comrades both old and new.

The new comrade – like two-weeks-old new – I was honored to hold for several hours yesterday, something less awkward for me now than it would have been a few years ago, before I became accustomed to holding a geriatric dachshund in the same manner. Then dinner at Salar last night, several perfect hours spent on their back patio, the air warm but the vibe chill, with many drinks and foods consumed.

Today we see a few more people, including attending a birthday fête for Sarah.

I have adjusted to being a Columboner for the most part and generally enjoy it, though it’s always wonderful coming back home to Dayton, a city I love and where (most of) my people are.

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

Reading:

I don’t often give up on books, but I am with THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS. As much as I liked LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, its sequel is just not working for me. Once upon a time, I would have felt guilty about setting a book aside. Now, though, my philosophy is that life is too short to power through something I am not enjoying.

…I feel like this should apply to more than just books.

Watching:

Uh, nothing this week. I’m not even sure I turned the TV on. Oh, wait! I watched DREDD the other night. I wanted something short and delightfully violent, and DREDD was streaming. It’s a terse, fun film. I’m bummed they never got to make more of these.

Wanting:

To bleach my hair platinum blonde. Something like this. I’ve been wanting to properly do it for years, ever since I sort of did it fifteen years ago and it turned out mostly orange. My grandma had dark hair, and when it began to gray, she went blonde. So, to my haters, I say: if it was good enough for Grandma Millie, it’s good enough for me.

Listening:

The sun has been out in full force and the weather warm, which for some reason correlates to wanting to listen to punk records. One such record I’ve replayed several times this week is Screeching Weasel’s EMO. I know this is not every Weasel fan’s favorite record, but it’s one of mine. It’s earnest in a way that feels authentic, while also being hella catchy. This one doesn’t have a bad song, but “Passion” and “Last Night” are two of my favorite tracks.

Their cover of the Cranberries’ “Linger” is also fantastic, but, alas, it’s not on Bandcamp.

And Kirby:

Enjoying that wagon life.

Plus a bonus! Molly:

This picture of Molly came up in one of Jess’s memory things, and I had to share it. She could somehow make even the bitchiest of resting bitch faces look sweet. I miss her.

In German, San Diego Means

I flew home from San Diego this past Tuesday. It was a smooth and easy travel day, especially in comparison to my outbound trip the week before, which was full of things like bad weather! canceled flights! unscheduled stops in Phoenix for fuel! dropped pretzel bites from Auntie Anne’s! In the end, the important thing is I did make it there and back again. The rest of this week has been about easing my way back into the real world. Coming home to Jess and Kirby helps.

This was my first time in San Diego since 2019. Up til that point, I had been at least once a year since 2012. I was scheduled to make my annual jaunt on March 19, 2020 — flights were booked, plans were made — but that didn’t happen for reasons that rhyme with “bran gimmick.” 2021 and 2022 were also clustercusses of a year, so I didn’t go then either. This year, I was determined to go even if it meant shipping my dead body in a pine box by cargo train, like some kind of Midwest, knock-off brand Dracula. Rail freight transport ain’t cheap, so thankfully that scenario didn’t prove necessary.

Being back in San Diego felt good, like a power-up to the soul. The weather wasn’t what one typically associates with Southern California. It rained several days — one inch on Saturday — and was generally chilly. There was one pleasant day when I was able to feel the sun on my face. None of that really mattered, though. I don’t go to San Diego for the climate. I go there to see one of my favorite humans in the world. So long as that happens, the location, while lovely, is irrelevant.

This time ‘round, I watched a bunch of movies, dined at Jeune et Jolie, my first time at a Michelin star restaurant (my closest encounter with one previously was Gabriel’s restaurant in EMILY IN PARIS), saw COCAINE BEAR, played a Buffyesque version of D&D — my drop-in character, essentially a guest star of the week, was a lockpicking cheerleader named Sheena — got a Thai massage, watched more movies, and generally just hung out.

It was a goddamned delightful time. I can’t wait to return next year.

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

Reading:

I didn’t read for most of the trip, then read Jane Pek’s THE VERIFIERS in basically one day. I love detective fiction, especially when someone has a clever take on it, which Pek definitely does. THE VERIFIERS is set in the world of the dating app industry, and the protagonist, Claudia Lin, is a detective of sorts for an agency that folks hire to verify the identities of people they’re dating. It’s a fun concept, but what really makes the book stand out is Claudia’s family. They’re complicated, funny, and feel very real. I enjoyed the bits with them just as much as the overarching “mystery.”

AI is magic, but the bullshit kind.

Watching:

COCAINE BEAR is everything you could want from a movie called COCAINE BEAR. Even better, the characters are generally well-drawn and interesting, which is unheard of for most horror movies. Also, the kids actually talk and act like real kids.

I watched BEVERLY HILLS COP on the outbound flight to San Diego. It had been years since I’d seen it, but I was confident it was a safe bet to watch on a plane, and if there were anything too risqué, then Delta would surely edit it out. Reader, there was and they did not. There’s a whole scene in a strip club that I had 100% forgotten about. The uncomfortable experience of watching this five-minute scene, full of shots of topless women with big 80’s hair dancing badly, was shared with the sweet old lady seated next to me, who in theory was watching THE BIG BANG THEORY, but was also definitely glancing at my screen.

THE MENU: holy shit was this good. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this, and I mean that in the best way possible. We watched this after dinner at Jeune et Jolie, so I was able to better appreciate things like the amuse-bouche.

Wanting:

A new computer chair. Mine is ten years old and has been steadily sloughing off its skin for the last six months. Considering I spend at least 8-10 hours a day in it, it’s time for it to go live on a nice farm upstate with other aging computer chairs. I’d like to get one that is more ergonomic, and also not shedding. I have no idea what to look for in a chair, beyond not shedding and [waves hand vaguely] “ergonomic.” I am open to suggestions.

Listening:

“Thunderclouds”: What a chill, lovely, catchy song. (Yes, I realize it came out like five years ago. I don’t care. Shut up.) This week I watched its music video, which operates on an entirely different level, for the first time and under ideal conditions. Hypnotic, beautiful.

And Kirby:

Patiently waiting for his dinner. Photo by Jess.

You’re My Natural Selection, Said Darwin to His Wife

Valentine’s Day. February 14. That special day each year when we celebrate love, romance, and the 1779 death of the British colonizer Captain James Cook, killed by indigenous Hawaiians after he tried and failed to kidnap the Hawaiian chief, Kalaniʻōpuʻu.

Yes, surprising absolutely no one, I am not a “Valentine’s Day” person. I love Jess, and enjoy showing my affection and appreciation for her in my own way. Doing so on a D-list holiday weaponized by the Valentine’s Day Industrial Complex to encourage performative demonstrations of love to one’s significant in the manner of flowers, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and a trip to the Garden of Olives? Not for me.

Fortunately, Jess has similar if, admittedly, less melodramatic feelings regarding Valentine’s Day, and we typically stay in. This year, though, we decided to mix it up, and traveled to Dayton to see a special 25th anniversary showing of YOU’VE GOT MAIL at the Neon. There was a signature cocktail and an array of desserts made by Megan Smith, the founder of St. Anne the Tart. It wasn’t til after the movie was over and we were about to head out that I realized the drink and desserts were a salute to Café Lalo, a NYC restaurant that was apparently made famous by the movie. There was even a cute neon sign that I wanted to abscond with. Alas, I had no pockets that were big enough. Say la vee.

My attitude towards Valentine’s Day remains unchanged, but even I will admit that this was a fun way to spend it, and the best person to spend it with.

Next time I’ll wear JNCOs.

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

Reading:

Finally finished THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU. The first half was slow and hard for me to get into — not much happened, and there was a little more focus on romance than is perhaps my cup of tea — but the second half more than made the experience worth it. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s next book, SILVER NITRATE, due out July 18, definitely sounds more up my alley.

I’ve rented two books for the Kindle from the library for my San Diego trip: THE VERIFIERS, by Jane Pek, and THE GLASS HOTEL, by Emily St John Mandel. I am excited about both and have been saving them for this trip.

Watching:

AMSTERDAM was a peculiar film. It was a kind of screwball comedy mystery thriller? And also a period piece? It was weird and tonally inconsistent af, but it’s the sort of weird that appeals to me. Plus, the performances were superb. I enjoyed it overall.

I somehow went nearly thirty years without ever having seen FARGO, which is curious because I love a number of films in the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre and am in general a fan of darkly funny crime stories. So I don’t know, man. It’s just one of those weird cultural gaps I talked about a few weeks ago. Regardless, I remedied that glaring oversight this week. And, well — FARGO is the kind of movie that, when it’s over, you sit back and think “fuck that was good.” Only 98 minutes long, too, which is *chef’s kiss*. I kind of want to watch it again already.

Wanting:

This gorgeous Ganzeer print.

Listening:

One day I will talk, probably at a length far greater than anyone wants, about how much I used to love Incubus, and how, even to this very day, I still lament the change in sound they underwent, around 2001, from “oh christ this is sweet” to “a more boring and generic example of alternative rock you shall not find.” I will title that future essay “Mourning View.”

In the meantime, here’s “Take Me to Your Leader” from Incubus’s 1997 EP ENJOY INCUBUS, which I have been playing this week. The video is just awful, so close your eyes and just, like, vibe to the tunes, man.

And Kirby:

Kirby, forlornly looking for Jess. Fret not, though — he eventually found her.

Sites for Sore Eyes

Once upon a time, I built websites.

I loved doing it, in fact. I’ve been building websites since the end of the last millennium. My first two sites were built while I was in high school. The first was Elephantitic Monkey, followed by Stranded on the Edge of Infinity. Both served the same purposes:

  1. I wanted a forum for inflicting my ranting, bad opinions upon the world. Let’s just say that an insecure 17 or 18-year-old who smugly believes they are smarter than everyone else in the room, and who thinks they have a gift for being edgy-funny, should probably not have a bully pulpit. If teenage me had possessed a smartphone and a 5G connection, I would have been an absolute menace.
  2. They were places where I could hang out with my friends, both offline and online. We had writers, artists, monthly columnists, and a message board. The weird little communities that sprung up were my favorite thing about sites.

Elephantitic Monkey was an obnoxiously colorful little site. Its logo was an MS Paint image of a monkey carting around its cartoonishly large testicles in a wheelbarrow. It was wonderful and still fills me with delight. I searched through my 25 years of archives and was actually able to find it. I may be a digital hoarder, but I am at least an organized one.

Great, now this post is NSFW.

Stranded on the Edge of Infinity was a much more emo-looking site. I designed its logo myself with some image editing software that I probably acquired through extralegal means. Of the two sites, Stranded is the less interesting to me. I’m pretty sure at the time I wasn’t very happy and was also going through a self-serious phase, none of which ages well.

Both sites were created using the late, lamented Yahoo Geocities PageBuilder. It was a great tool for a teenage novice looking to infect the internet in 1999. It was also an absolute bastard to update a lot of pages at one time. So, these sites were eventually retired, and I moved onto a parallel pursuit, one whose sobriquet had been coined but was not yet in wide use.

I’m talking about blogging.

I built the first iteration of JOSH BALES dot NET back in 2001. I bought the joshbales.net domain for 15 bucks, found a cheap web host, and I was ready to go.

I taught myself HTML, CSS, and a little PHP by studying the underlying code of blogs I liked and reverse-engineering them. I got pretty good at doing a full visual refresh about once a year. I could spend hours staring at HTML code, playing with CSS, making them do what I wanted, and barely notice the passing of time. It was so much fun, and so rewarding to see the finished product. I did 11 or 12 redesigns before doing so became, first, time prohibitive — I was working full time and also had a life! — and second, became ridiculously hard to do from a technical perspective. Blogging software like WordPress, which this site uses, has evolved over the years and has some cool functionality, but it’s conversely made it harder for an amateur like me to keep up. Now I use premade themes with minimal customizability. It’s a little less fun, but it’s much easier and allows me to use my limited free time for other pursuits, like lecturing myself about how I really should be writing.

Have I been blogging for over 20 years? Yes. Do I still have those archives? I do. Will I ever add them to the current archives, which only go back to 2015? Absolutely not. The thought of anyone today reading what Younger Josh wrote is almost enough to give me the cold sweats. They’re not as bad as the stuff that was on Elephantic Monkey or Stranded, but they’re still, at best, very cringe.

Anyhow, thanks for reading my meandering TED Talk.

What initially sparked this crawl down memory lane is that I was thinking it’s been a minute since this site has had a visual refresh. Black/white/gray as a color scheme is still very much me, and it never really falls out of style, but I’m tired of it. It could be the February-in-Ohio blues talking, but I want to inject a little more color, a little more warmth into the design. That’s right — it’s makeover time.

If anyone reading this designs WordPress themes and is interested in doing a custom job, shoot me an email or DM me on social with your rates and some work you’ve done.

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

Reading:

I’ve been watching more movies and writing the last couple of weeks, so my reading has slowed down a bit. Currently in the middle of THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. What I love about Moreno-Garcia’s books is that she is constantly switching genres. MOREAU is a historical sci-fi. The book before this one — the excellent VELVET WAS THE NIGHT — is a 1970s-set Mexican noir. My favorite of her books — THE GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW — is a sort of fairy tale set in the Jazz Age and follows a young woman and a Mayan god of death having an adventure across Mexico.

Watching:

Jess and I are working our way through POKER FACE on Peacock. We’re a few episodes in, and it is quite good. Each episode is its own separate case-of-the-week, so you don’t necessarily need to watch them in order. There is an overall connecting story always in the background — and occasionally the foreground — so it might be more enjoyable to watch it from the beginning. From Rian Johnson, who can do no wrong when it comes to murder-mysteries, and starring Natasha Lyonne as Charlie, who is essentially a human lie detector. I have read that the format of this show is modeled after COLUMBO, wherein we see the murder take place at the beginning of the episode, thus letting the viewer already know the identity of the malefactor, and then watch Charlie figure it out. Lyonne is so much fun to watch as Charlie. I hope we will be able to spend many more seasons with her.

For the last few years, a comrade and I have been working our way through the FAST & FURIOUS series. This is my second time watching most of them, his first. Last weekend we watched FAST FIVE, which is probably the best entry in this dumb, ridiculously over-the-top, fun franchise. TOKYO DRIFT still has my heart, though.

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS, from the filmmakers who brought us NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. A kid attends a fantasy writer’s camp where he learns his novel idea has been stolen by a published but struggling author. That’s the general plot, but it doesn’t do the film justice. I saw this when it came out 15 years ago and loved it. Hadn’t seen it since, though I’ve been talking about rewatching it for years. It was as delightful as I remembered, and my comrade and I were laughing very loudly throughout most of the movie. Then a really weird thing happened near the end: the main character casually drops a transphobic slur. Bear in mind, the film’s tone and sense of humor up to this point have been gentle and goofy — then out of nowhere comes a wholly unnecessary slur. Ripped me completely out of the movie. I know cultural landscapes change and some will argue that you shouldn’t judge a piece of past art by today’s moral standards, but a) this movie came out in 2009, which wasn’t that long ago, and b) the rights of trans people everywhere right now are under extreme attack from all sides, so no. It wasn’t acceptable then, and it isn’t acceptable now. Incredibly disappointing for an otherwise brilliant movie.

Wanting:

This USCSS Nostromo hat — which I already bought in the days since I started writing this post. I’m going to San Diego at the end of the month, and this will be my travel hat.

Advising:

Here’s a tip on how to prepare for your annual performance review.

Listening:

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS did have a fantastic soundtrack, including some songs by 1990’s New Age artist Ray Lynch, which really fit the weird story-in-the-movie parts quite perfectly. Lynch’s album DEEP BREAKFAST also makes for excellent background music while writing. Here’s “The Oh of Pleasure”:

And Kirby:

Two full body shakes in the morning and this guy is ready to tackle the world (breakfast).

Take My Hand as the Sun Descends

The other day, I ran downstairs in between meetings to reheat a cup of coffee, for probably the fifth time. I was staring at the microwave, watching the timer count down from 2 minutes 30 seconds (our microwave is very tired, and things take longer), absently humming a song from A GOOFY MOVIE, and I came to a strange realization.

I was happy.

Not like, insanely happy, but more the content variety. Things were good, and I felt like I could breathe, and I was looking forward to a few things. Then the microwave dinged, I went back to work, and didn’t think much about it the rest of the day.

I’ve been ruminating on that feeling of happiness that stood out to me like a flame in a cave, plus a few other similar but different moments that have happened recently, and I realized it all ties into a larger theme I’ve noticed. 2023 feels different than the last several years.

And like the fine folks at Arby’s once noted — different is good.

I sat down and tried to articulate why exactly this year feels different than the years that preceded it. Could it be that I am no longer:

  • Having to deal with the day-to-day reality of watching an idiot, sociopathic traitor try to Make Fascism Work Again, and failing only because he and his merry band of losers were just so goddamn inept
  • Watching a global pandemic kills millions, and gives 10-30% of those who survive long-lasting health problems that may also kill them
  • Wondering if said pandemic is going to kill the people in my life that I love
  • Just kidding, those last two are still active events; I’ve just done the best that I can to protect myself and take precautions where I can, and am otherwise letting go of the worries
  • Jealously watching millions just go about their lives like we aren’t in a pandemic while I go full recluse to do my part to end the pandemic and protect my loved ones
  • Exhausted every moment of every day
  • Actively worrying about a very sick or dying dog, and the associated caregiving and vet bills that resemble a mortgage on a nice house
  • Not knowing the city that I will be living in in six months
  • Wondering when the vault wherein I’ve been bottling up my feelings my entire adult life is going to become so densely packed that it just collapses into a black hole

Some of these things aren’t suddenly new and magically different this year. Despite his best efforts, the traitor Donald Trump has been out of office for two years now. But it feels like he’s exerting less influence on the Republican Party than he once did. So that’s allowed some relief to gradually leach into my soul. Regarding the pandemic: like I noted above, it’s still happening, still flourishing. But aside from still doing what I can to do my part, I am mentally moving on. Not saying that is the right or smart thing to do, but it’s happening.

Those things aside, the biggest reason that 2023 feels different to me — is, well, me. As our lord and savior Taylor Swift might put it:

Like I said in my ADHD post, I feel more like me than I have in a long time. I credit therapy and putting in the work to get my shit sorted, plus drugs (the good kind) for a lot of it. These things have better enabled me to make a concerted effort to get out of the house and do the things I want to do and see people I want to see. And just as importantly, if not more so — to say “no” to things I don’t want to do and not feel guilty about it. It’s all given me space to flip my own personal reset switch; to think about who I want to be and work to get there.

If you’re rolling your eyes right now, or thinking “oh god Josh has gone woo-woo-y, is he going to find Jesus next” — I get it. Doesn’t change anything for me, but I get it. I am comfortable with sounding a little woo-y. And no, Jesus seems like a cool dude, but I am not going to start subscribing to his newsletter any time soon.

So: I have no doubt that 2023 will have its troubles, because that’s life, and also because we’re all so #blessed to be “living in interesting times.” But I have a confidence now — one I’m not sure I’ve ever really possessed — that I will get through them, and things will be fine.

Last week I shared a pretty personal look into my experience with ADHD. I received a surprising amount of feedback, all of it nice, so thanks to those who reached out and said something. If this blog feels more personal now than it used to, that’s because it is, and it’s been an active choice. My hope is that talking about some of the things I’ve been going through might help others. And if not, hopefully some of it will make you smile, perhaps even chortle. I’m not expecting guffaws, though. I’m not that kind of funny.

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

Reading:

It took me a solid fifty pages to get into THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS, but I’m glad I picked it up again. The majority of Stephen Graham Jones’s novel is set on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and the main protagonists are members of the Blackfeet tribe who were friends who Made A Big Oops as kids, and are being hunted down later in life by the vengeful spirit of an Elk. I don’t read a lot of horror fiction, and I rarely read anything so firmly rooted in indigenous American culture in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative (that’s a critique on me). THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is a wonderful example of both.

Brainiac on life after Tim Taylor: ‘He used to walk offstage with bruises in the shape of his effects pedals’: a fun if bittersweet interview with the surviving members of Brainiac about Tim Taylor, the band’s breakup after his tragic death in 1997, and their recent reunion.

Watching:

DEEP WATER. On paper, this film had all the ingredients for being right up my alley: an erotic thriller starring Ana de Armas (loved her in KNIVES OUT) and Ben Affleck (he was the bomb in PHANTOMS, yo) and, and based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (who also wrote CAROL/THE PRICE OF SALT, a novel I recently raved about) — but the way the ingredients came together, the recipe if you will, was not great, and produced a meal that was lacking in flavor. (Alright, I’m done with the awkward cooking metaphor.) This is a movie that wants you to think the main characters are clever, but they all make idiotic decisions that a person who is not a character in a movie would never make. Every movie has some of that, sure, but poor writing will derail a thriller or mystery so fast. Don’t get me wrong, DEEP WATER is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, but a modern classic this ain’t. Mostly, it made me want to go watch another Ben Affleck erotic thriller: GONE GIRL. It’s a much, much better film and would make an excellent palate cleanser (sorry).

Wanting:

This Rymek Classic Mechanical Keyboard. Do I need it? Absolutely not. I have a great Bluetooth keyboard that let’s me easily switch between multiple computers. Am I going to lust after it anyways? 100%, yes.

Advising:

Over on Twitter, I occasionally share helpful career advice.

Listening:

It’s interesting to me to discover where one has cultural gaps in music pop culture. Things, for various reasons, we just… missed. One cultural gap I have, when it comes to music, is that I am not terribly familiar with the works of Patti Smith. This is something I’ve been enjoying remedying of late. Like this live version of “Because the Night,” which I very much dig.

And Kirby:

Featuring his dump truck derriere.

On Inattention and Teleportation

This past week I marked 30 days of being on Adderall. I had my one-month check-in with my doctor, and we determined that we’re going to keep me on it.

But Josh, you say. Adderall is for people with ADHD. You don’t have ADHD — do you?

I do, gentle reader. A doctor on the internet told me so.

I’ve always associated ADHD with hyperactivity; you know, the stereotype of the kid who can’t sit still, is impulsive, gets easily distracted. It wasn’t until talking with my therapist and sharing with him some of the things I struggle with now, and have always struggled with, that I learned there is a form of ADHD where hyperactivity doesn’t present — the inattentive type. He encouraged me to get tested. When I got home, I did some reading on the subject, and well… let’s just say I felt seen.

The nine symptoms of the inattentive type of ADHD, according to the Cleveland Clinic, are:

  1. Often has trouble staying focused on tasks at work, home or play.
  2. Frequently does not pay close attention to details or makes careless mistakes at work or while doing other tasks.
  3. Often has trouble organizing tasks or activities (misses deadlines, disorganized work).
  4. Is easily distracted.
  5. Frequently does not follow through on instructions or fails to complete work assignments, chores or other activities.
  6. Often forgets doing routine chores (like paying bills, returning phone calls, keeping appointments).
  7. Avoids tasks that require long periods of mental focus (preparing reports, filling out forms).
  8. Often loses items needed to complete tasks or activities.
  9. Does not appear to be listening even when spoken to directly.

2, 3, 6, and 8 haven’t presented much of a problem in my adult life (at least the last decade or so). I am good at my job, and it would be hard to be good at my job if I consistently struggled with these things. The other five, though? Oh yeah.

Apparently, people who discover as an adult that they have the inattentive type of ADHD, probably also had it when they were younger; however, because the hyperactivity element wasn’t present, it went undiagnosed. This tracks for me personally because when I was a kid, I struggled mightily in school with paying attention, completing assignments, forgetting things, losing things, etc. In fact, it’s a piece of family lore that one of my elementary school teachers once told my parents that I reminded her of “a little absentminded professor.”

Artist’s rendering of the writer as a child.

My therapist suggested an online ADHD treatment provider, which sounded like a gray market solution to me. Was this going to be the amphetamine equivalent of pill mill, passing out pills to anyone who’s ever been too lazy to do a chore? I wasn’t opposed to such a thing, but I really wasn’t on getting scammed. Then my primary care doctor said he’d heard of the provider and felt it was reputable enough, so it seemed worth a roll of the dice. I signed up, took a looong ADHD assessment, and a week later had a telehealth visit with a clinician. She was lovely and diagnosed me with… ADHD, inattentive type in adults. To help manage things, I was prescribed a relatively low dose of Adderall.

I won’t lie: it was a relief to have my concerns validated my a medical professional, even if she is from the internet.

Nothing about the experience felt shady, which, if I’m being honest, was a little disappointing. I can appreciate and will occasionally even welcome an element of shadiness and disreputability in an experience — but from a health and well-being perspective, above-board and respectable are probably good things.

So how am I feeling after 30 days of amphetamines? Pretty fucking great, actually. I won’t pretend it’s been as lifechanging as when I started taking medication to help manage my ulcerative colitis several years ago, but I’ve noticed a lot of improvements. I feel sharper. My memory is better. I am able to pay closer attention to someone when they’re talking to me. My ability to focus is better, which as a writer has been immensely beneficial. The biggest change I’ve noticed is also one I wasn’t expecting: my fatigue has finally — finally — subsided. I can at last get through a workday without having to take a nap during lunch and after work, something I’ve been doing consistently for the last year. Even with those naps, I would still feel exhausted all the time. The whole thing was impacting my ability to do my job well, or at least that’s how it felt to me.

In general, I am just feeling more like… me than I have in a long time.

Here’s what I’ve been up to the past week. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly involved books.

Reading:

I have continued on the JUMPER train and read the next three books in the series, REFLEX, IMPULSE, and EXO.

I haven’t read REFLEX since it first came out nearly twenty years ago. It was good, but I’m reminded why I haven’t ever reread it, especially since I love the other books in the series so much (and author Steven Gould’s books in general). One of the two main plot threads involves Davy, the protagonist from JUMPER, being imprisoned for pretty much the entire book. It’s interesting, sure, and Gould does a wonderful job at 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 eventually becomes tedious. The other main plot thread involves Millie, Davy’s wife, 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 is ultimately her narrative that got me through the book.

IMPULSE is set 15 years or so after REFLEX, and focuses on Millie and Davy’s teenage daughter, Cent. This one 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. EXO, book four, takes the extrapolation even further and is basically JUMPER… IN SPAAAAACE.

I love this series so much.

Wanting:

The Folio Society editions of JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD. [Insert drooling emoji]

Watching:

Since I’ve spent most of my free time this week reading, I have watched zero tv. Didn’t even turn it on, in fact. It’s been nice.

Listening

The new Miley Cyrus song is a mellow bop, and I am here for it.

And Kirby:

This is one of my favorite photos of Kirby. This little dude totally doesn’t have FOMO.

[Deckard voice] ENHANCE

Gonna Drive My Car into the Sea

Ours is still a sickly household, so we haven’t done much this week, except watch more tv than usual in the evenings. Jess is… maybe? …starting to feel better. And the foul crap that had been spewing forth from my nose went from yellow to clear, to nonexistent this week, so I think I am back to 100%. Maybe 95%. It’s also a long weekend for me, so things are looking up.

My dayjob has been a little tumultuous the last couple weeks. One of my favorite comrades, a man whom I deeply respect and who has become a good friend — and who, amazingly, has a filthier mouth than me — has moved on to a new adventure. I also have a new boss, and it feels like some of my safety net has been removed, which while a little unsettling, is also kind of exciting.

None of this has been unexpected, but it all came together very fast and a little chaotically. I remember when I was younger in my career at the dayjob. I thought senior leadership operated like the gods on Mount Olympus, all wise, all confidently knowing exactly what they’re doing. Then, time passes, you start rising the ranks, you start seeing how the sausage is made, and you realize everyone, regardless of where they sit at on the org chart, is, at best, making it up as they go, or, more likely, they’re just fighting for their life every day.

All that said, I feel good about things. I’ve felt no anxiety or real stress with all the change, and to be honest, find myself more energized than anything. I’m gonna stay connected with my friend, my new boss seems like a good cat, and I continue to work with a fantastic group of people. Even so, change is bittersweet, and I’m trying to honor those feelings.

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

Watching:

WEDNESDAY. Darkly funny with the appropriate level of camp, as one would expect and hope for from an Addams Family show, but what really made this show work for me is that, at its little black heart, WEDNESDAY is a murder-mystery. Jenna Ortega’s voiceover narration gives off serious VERONICA MARS vibes, and now I want to rewatch that show.

GINNY & GEORGIA, season 2. The best way to describe this show is that it’s like GILMORE GIRLS on cocaine. Like if Lorelai was a psychopath with zero impulse control; if Stars Hollow had more (or any) diversity; if everyone was hornier. Does make me wonder, though: would Lorelai kill for Rory? I think so, but she would really struggle with having done the deed afterwards (also making her different than Georgia).

Listening:

“Too Late Now,” by Wet Leg. 

Writing:

I’m wrapping up a short story, a crime/scifi thing, and started working on a longer personal essay for this site. More on both later, once they’re finished.

Reading:

I started reading THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS, got about thirty pages in, and then stopped reading. I think it’s a good book that I am not in the right frame of mind to read at the moment. So I set it aside and instead read JUMPER, by Steven Gould, for probably the fifteenth time. Might just read the whole JUMPER series, actually. Here’s hoping Gould is able to publish the fifth book soon.

Wanting:

This “Perverted Book Club Member” t-shirt from Dream Baby Press.

And Kirby:

Let’s do a Throwback Thursday, or whatever you call the Sunday equivalent, of a baby Jess and a very smol Kirby, back when he was actually chestnut, and not the white/tan little man he is today.

The Times Are Changing But He Just Forgets

Last Saturday I went to my first NYE party since the Before Times, and rang in the new year surrounded by some of my favorite people, magnificently drunk.  It was rowdy and it was perfect.

The next morning, I didn’t even feel hungover.  That was probably due to my body having vigorously expelled, multiple times, all the alcohol I’d consumed sometime after the ball dropped at midnight.  So I awoke a tad dehydrated, but that was the worst of it.  We went to a New Year’s lunch with my folks, then headed back to Columbus in the mid-afternoon.  I was so pleased with myself for having survived NYE no worse for wear.

Oh, such hubris.

That evening, I began experiencing some greater-than-usual congestion in my sinuses and felt very, very tired.  By the next morning I was in the throes of what was to become a full-fledged ear and sinus infection, as a doctor would inform me a few days later.

I’m feeling much better now, thanks to a robust regime of medicines and one powerful antibiotic.  Of course, now Jess is sick…

So: that’s how I’ve spent my first week of 2023.  Honestly, I’ve had worse. Let’s see what week two brings.

Here’s what I’ve been up to.

Watching:

When you’re sick, what better way is there to relax and rest than to binge a bleak, tense British crime drama like THE FALL?  Well, there are probably other, better ways, but this one at least made my time on the couch pass quickly.  The first two seasons of THE FALL were excellent… like holy shit good.  The third, not as much, but was still really good.  I would love to see a series, done ORPHAN BLACK-style, where Gillian Anderson’s cool, chic Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson teams up with FBI Agent Dana Scully to solve some creepy-ass murders in, I dunno, the Scottish Highlands or somewhere.

If, like me, you have a more than passing interest in filmmaking, this video examining Steven Spielberg’s use of long, continuous shots is a fun watch.

My personal favorite Spielberg oner – which looks like it should be pronounced “oh-ner,” and not “one-er” – is the ferry scene from JAWS.  It’s so subtle that you barely notice it’s happening, and it keeps the scene moving beautifully.

Reading:

Finished my first book of 2023: THE PRICE OF SALT, or CAROL, by Patricia Highsmith.  Read this on recommendation from my dear comrade Kat, and consumed it in two days.  A novel of a romance between two women in the 1950’s United States, an era that was, uh, not exactly known for being progressive about such relationships.  It was adapted into a film in 2015 as CAROL, with Cate Blanchett starring in the title role.  I’ve yet to see the film, but Blanchett seems so perfectly cast as Carol that, as I was reading the book, it felt as though Highsmith had somehow had Blanchett in mind during the writing process, even though it was sixty-five years earlier.  I definitely need to track down a copy of the film.

Listening:

Back on my Chumbawamba bullshit, this time listening to ANARCHY.  The lyrics to “Give The Anarchist A Cigarette,” in particular, possess the kind of energy I’d like to carry with me into 2023:

Nothing ever burns down by itself, every fire needs a little bit of help

And Kirby:

Such a goof.