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Welcome to the Newsletter!
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it and will share it with your friends and family.
The second entry in my Stephen King essay Series “The Long Read” just came out, this one all about Dolores Claiborne! Read it here.
The sci-fantasy story is DONE. I passed it along to two final readers, but at this point I’m finished making changes to it. The story is as good as I can make it. I’ve queried five agents, and plan on keeping five queries out at a time. As I get rejections for those (or possible full requests, etc.) I’ll make updates here.
Finishing that story means that it’s time to get started back on my other projects! I’ve already picked back up on the post-apocalypse story’s first draft, and will keep updates for all of that going here too.
Recent Fascinations, a Very Special Edition:
MY 5 FAVORITE READS OF 2023
It’s the first December of my first year writing this newsletter, and in classic writer newsletter style, I want to do a rundown of my favorite reads of the past year. I’ve read a lot this year, 86 books if you count all the manga and comics, 45 or so if you don’t. I count them, and that’ll be relevant later, so we’re going to go with 86.
First things first, though, I need to lay out some foundational information before I dive into the reads themselves, because I don’t read like a lot of people in the book-space do. I don’t focus my reading efforts on new releases. In fact, while there are some recent releases in the honorable mentions, the newest novel in my top 5 is from 2016. That’s just how it shook out this year. So, to be clear before I get started, this isn’t a “top five releases of 2023.” It’s just my five favorite reads from the past year.
So, without further delay.
THE HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Here are the books/comics/series I read and LOVED this year even though they didn’t break into my top five. I can’t go in-depth on each of them the way I will the top 5, and they aren’t in any particular order. If a book is here, I recommend it with my whole heart. Seriously, if you walk away from this newsletter with anything it should be adding everything I talk about from this point forward to your TBR.
- DOLORES CLAIBORNE, Stephen King
- POST CAPTAIN, Patrick O’Brian (Aubrey and Matrim 2)
- THE ROOTS GROW INTO THE EARTH, Bert S. Lechner
- THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia 6)
- SECONDS, Brian Lee O’Malley
- ESSEX COUNTY, Jeff Lemire
- MALEVOLENT, Harlan Guthrie
- THE ROOTS IN YOUR BONES, Samantha Eaton
- FOREVER WORDS, Johnny Cash
If any of these are something you haven’t read/listened to before, look into them and read them. I promise you will at least find something interesting in each of them.
THE TOP FIVE:
Here they are, the five best things I read this year in ascending order.
5. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, Stephen King
If you’ve been keeping up with the things I talk about here or on social media, or the types of things I typically write essays about, you’ll know I’m a massive King fan. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS knocked me off my feet. It’s a powerful collection of short stories and novellas where each story builds on the last, intertwining the entire thing into an impressive tapestry, all coated with a healthy dose of magical realism. The titular story is the one that clinched the fifth spot for me, with the story of cards-addicted college freshman finding themselves constantly scrambling to hold themselves afloat feeling particularly powerful for me. The entire collection is intimately connected with The Tower, and overall it was by far my favorite King read of the year.
A lot, if not most, of King’s short story collections are great, but this one is really something special.
4. THE ROAD, Cormac McCarthy
I’m not sure I can describe what this book did to me, and anyone who has ever read it knows exactly what I mean. The story of a desperate man and his young son on the road during what I can only describe as the most hopeless, hellish post-apocalypse I’ve ever seen is so powerful, so emotional, that you really have to read it to understand what this book really is.
I read a lot of heavy stuff, a lot of literary fiction centered around trauma and the exploration of pain, but nothing I have touched in recent memory has made me feel as deeply as THE ROAD. More than the quiet desperation of a father at the end of his rope, there is also a beautiful, absolute hope beneath everything. Go read it. And remember, you have to carry the fire.
3. THE DRAGON REBORN (Wheel of Time book 3), Robert Jordan
As I write, I’m about 60% through the fifth book in the WHEEL OF TIME series, and before I was finished with book three, THE DRAGON REBORN, I knew that this series was going to weave its way deep into my being. It’s quickly become one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, and out of the entries in the series I’ve read so far THE DRAGON REBORN shines the brightest.
The book’s focus on side characters and exploring the broader moments of the narrative while delegating the main protagonist to a background plot element really struck a chord with me. While I’m positive that this plot conceit isn’t unique to this book, and probably not an original idea to Jordan, it felt fresh and exciting when the last two books had been so centered on Rand. I came out of DRAGON REBORN with more than just a new favorite fantasy read, but knowing that the rest of this journey was going to be something truly special.
2. ONE PIECE, Eiichiro Oda
When I set out earlier this year to catch up on ONE PIECE, I expected to relive some childhood nostalgia and maybe end up falling in love with the series all over again. What I didn’t expect was for the series to turn into one of my all time favorite pieces of fantasy fiction ever. ONE PIECE isn’t just an excellent example of its medium, but instead one of the finest pieces of world building and storytelling to come out of the entire fantasy genre.
It’s criminal that the only thing that typically comes up about ONE PIECE in discussion is its length. Currently sitting at over 1100 chapters, it is a very, very, long manga, but when compared to landmark prose fantasy series, taking decades to finish a long series isn’t anything unusual. As Shonen Jump has increased its digital presence and made almost all of its material available via a subscription to the digital magazine, ONE PIECE is more accessible than ever. As that accessibility increases, hopefully the degree that people discuss the series’ place in the fantasy canon increases too. It belongs there as much as A Song of Ice and Fire and Wheel of Time, and Eiichiro Oda should be remembered as one of the titans of the fantasy genre.
1. FANTASTICLAND, Mike Bockoven
It is rare that a book sticks with me in the weeks and months after I’ve read it the way Bockoven’s brilliant, harrowing FANTASTICLAND did. I think a lot of my love for this book comes from the time that it was written. In 2016 I would’ve been the same age as several of the main characters, and the way that Bockoven interpreted the challenges and pressures facing young folks in 2016 really resonated with me.
FANTASTICLAND is one of the most effective thrillers I’ve ever read. From the very beginning I was hooked, waiting on the edge of my seat for the next chapter, the next piece to the story, and that sort of immersion is something I rarely find. It reminded me of how I felt reading as a teenager, discovering many of the stories that would become my enduring favorites. The brilliant plot matches perfectly with the epistolary storytelling to create a book I literally could not put down. I loved all five of the books that made the top five this year, but the gap between FANTASTICLAND and ONE PIECE is pretty significant. It was the best book I read in 2023 by every single metric.
You should read it too.
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