Fun!

Bookshop Hunter Column at FIVE:2:ONE Magazine

I've been seeking out bookshops and reviewing them at my other blog, The Bookshop Hunter, for a few months now. It has been a blast, and now I have a column over at FIVE:2:ONE Magazine about my bookshop hunting trips around upstate New York, NYC, and beyond. In this first column, "The Bookshop Hunter: Electric City and Beyond," I explore Schenectady, NY and other nearby towns. FIVE:2:ONE is an weird-baby consortium of awesome writers, reviewers, poets, columnists, artists, and plenty more. They always have something new going on and I highly recommend you check them out!   

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Ranked: Every Alan Furst “Night Soldiers” Novel

Ranked: Every Alan Furst “Night Soldiers” Novel

Alan Furst and his series of “Night Soldiers” novels focus the European underground résistance against the Nazis between the years of (give or take) 1932 and 1945, and they have been an absolute pleasure to read and re-read since I discovered him back in 2012. One aspect I appreciate most about the series is that the main characters are not your typical British or American WWII hero archetypes—spies, soldiers, or otherwise. Furst gives us more of a grassroots perspective of Europe’s turmoil in that time. Some main characters are Polish army officers, newspaper reporters, Russian spies, Greek detectives, French film producers, etc. They’re people from all walks of life, and they all start out fearful of the Nazi regime and are unsure of what they can do against Hitler’s minions, but each finds a way to help, somehow. My rankings tend to shift depending on which one I’ve read last, but there’s really only one I disliked. The rest range from solid to incredible, and I hope this list inspires you to give the series a chance!   

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My Top 5 Peep Show Episodes

My Top 5 Peep Show Episodes

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is Peep Show, easily one of the most unique comedies ever filmed, in that the show is shot entirely from the perspectives of either Mark or Jeremy (Jez), two "odd couple" roommates who are both social misfits in their own spectacularly bizarre ways. I have to thank my former roommate Liz for bringing this gem into my life. I had given it a shot years prior and hated the only half-episode I watched, but then I gave it a second chance when she raved about it, and it quickly became our most quotable show. The five episodes I chose as my favorites, to my surprise, are almost all from seventh series (for those unaware, in the UK shows come out in a series, not a season), but just because 4/5 occur in that one series, I assure you that each year's offerings have stunningly hilarious moments, arcs, and characters that make every series worth watching. But these five are my absolute favorites and perhaps you'll like them as well.

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My Top Books of 2017

My Top Books of 2017

As with every annual list, I only include books I've read for the first time, but they can be from any year. It wasn't a bad year for reading but I feel like I read less and less every year since leaving NYC. I guess all that time reading on the subway actually made a bigger dent in my To Read list than I gave it credit for. But like I said, 2017 wasn't so bad. Here are some of my favorites. What were yours?

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Ranked: Every Spoon Album

Ranked: Every Spoon Album

Now that I’m on the cusp of crossing Spoon off my “Bands To See Before I Die” list, I thought it would be fun to rank their albums (no EPs or extras, of which there are many) based on my subjective thoughts on the quality of each and the album’s impact on my listening habits. And I should note I don’t dislike any of these albums, but there are certainly some that are stronger than others, and some remain in my heavy listening rotation long after their release for damn good reasons. Okay, let’s get to it!     

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My Top 5 H.P. Lovecraft Stories

My Top 5 H.P. Lovecraft Stories

If one were to build a Mount Rushmore of Horror Writers, you could easily suggest the faces of Poe, Shelley, and Stoker as starters, and some may propose Matheson, Blackwood, Jackson, and of course King, among many others, but for me, one name is a must—H.P. Lovecraft. Like Poe, Lovecraft’s work stands out from his contemporaries as so uniquely strange with such a singular aura that there hasn’t really been anyone like him before or since. Many were inspired by him, but few were as wholly odd in aesthetic, style, and life. 

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Young James and The Spooky Old Tree

Young James and The Spooky Old Tree

As a very young child, one of my favorite things to do was to curl up with a picture book and lose myself in the immersive illustrations. Even when I graduated into chapter books, something about really well-done picture books captivated the imagination. The one that dominated my youngest years was The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree. This tale of three little bears adventuring into the night to explore not just a tree but underground tunnels and alligator infested waters and haunted old halls full of watchful paintings and suits of armor, and a whole lot more. It was indeed spooky, but also thrilling and comforting at the same time. It became a bit like my security blanket.

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If You Like Lore, These Will Give You Chills Too...

If You Like Lore, These Will Give You Chills Too...

At least once a year there's a podcast that strikes a chord and seems to take pop culture by storm. In 2014 it was Serial, and there have been others since, but the current podcast I hear everyone talking about is Lore, which is also now a "TV" show on Amazon Prime. As many of you already know, Lore explores different frightening myths and legends throughout history...except each one is based on true stories, real places, and horrifying moments in our past that still affect us today in ways both subtle and supreme.

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There Are No Rules: My Time Writing for Writer's Digest

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A few years back I worked for Writer's Digest, serving as an editor in both their book and magazine divisions, and one thing I loved to do was write for their advice blog, “There Are No Rules.” Not that I’m some bestseller rife with literary wisdom, but I always felt we each have our own writing insights, tricks, and habits that are helpful to us and might be helpful to others. Besides, what writer doesn’t like writing about writing from time to time? A lot of my old blog posts are about breaking out of writing slumps, self-editing and revision, how watching Star Wars or Hitchcock’s Rear Window can help your writing, the best books to read during Halloween, advice on self publishing (a bit dated but still useful), and there’s interviews with writers, editors, and much more. Enjoy!

Five Films That Make Me Want to Write

Five Films That Make Me Want to Write

As a writer, films about writing can come across as inspiring and rejuvenating, or as extremely hokey, or, I admit, both (looking at you Finding Forrester…"you the man now, dawg" still makes me cringe). When I’m feeling uninspired, ill, depressed, tired, or suffering through writer’s block (thankfully, this is rare), settling in for a good quiet film alone can help take my mind off things, while at the same time stoking the desire to get back in front of the keyboard. Here are some of my favorite films that make me want to sit down and write.

Additional note: I should say this is not what I’d call a list of the BEST films about writers or writing, but movies that get me feeling better about wanting to writing. They’re a bit of an endorphin shot in the creative arm, a cinematic sugar high to get me started, if you will.

Final note: I’m always open for suggestions about other inspiring films about writers/artists, especially since this list is admittedly narrow in its scope (white male writers of the 20th century). So please fire away with your favorites and I’ll be sure to watch!  

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Ranked: Every Ryan Adams Album

Ranked: Every Ryan Adams Album

I have friends who will kill me over these rankings, but I gave this a shot with Tom Petty’s albums so why not for another of my all-time favorites, Mr. Feelings himself, Ryan Adams. I’m loving his new album Prisoner, so I decided to test myself and see where it ranked on my own list of his albums. I should note this list does NOT include any of his compilations or live albums, none of his Whiskeytown stuff, or any of his many singles, bootlegs, unreleased tracks and albums, or side projects. Just Ryan Adams studio albums and his longer EPs.

I’d also like to say there’s only one album listed that I don’t like to some degree, so yeah, I’m pretty biased and this was ridiculously hard. Ok, let’s get in there.

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My Top 10 Books of 2016

My Top 10 Books of 2016

While I read fewer books than usual in 2016, this annual edition of my Top 10 lists covers a fairly broad range of styles—a rock & roll bio, some YA classics, poetry, apocalypse lit, historical nonfiction, crime, noir, and more. Despite being a pretty miserable year, the good books kept me going. As usual for these lists, I only include books I’ve read for the first time in 2016, but the books can be from any year, brand new or decades old, so long as they’re new to me. I’d love to know what your favorites were this year as well, so feel free to add those in the comments section! Most of all, I hope you enjoy these if you haven’t yet tried them for yourself.

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My Top 3: Worst Halloween Candies

My Top 3: Worst Halloween Candies

As adults, we have the luxury of dressing up as ghosts and hobos any old day of the week and going door to door in the neighborhood to ask for candy. This may be why I'm forced to move around so much, but the upside is that every now and then someone actually makes with the candy. But just because you return home with a pillowcase full of sweets doesn’t mean you’re in for a treat. Some of those saccharine delights are tricks of demonic proportions. Here are the three candies that deserve a serious egging should your neighbors have the gall to hand them out on Halloween, or whenever you show up dressed as Dracula’s shabby cousin.

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6 Ways Stranger Things Reminds Me of Twin Peaks

(Just for fun, and with a few light spoilers, but not too much. You’ve been warned.)

This is not to say they were similar shows, or that Peaks played a heavy influence on the Duffer Brothers in the same way that E.T.The Goonies, Stephen King stories, and Alien (among others) clearly did. But I noticed a few things that hearken back to another show that dealt with a monstrous being from another dimension, a dark and strange place that is much closer than we realize…

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My Top 3: Ryan Adams Songs

My Top 3: Ryan Adams Songs

Ryan Adams has been a top three all-time favorite (alongside Tom Petty and The Replacements) since around 2006 when my friend Mike “Stray” Belardi gave me all of his albums up to that point in a zip file, and I was done. Slayed. Enthralled. Every album has a different tone, voice, story, and I’ve loved almost every track of his that I could hunt down, so putting together a top three list has been near impossible, and I’m sure there’s zero chance that anyone will see my selections and think, “Nailed it.” There’s just too much goodness to choose from. Do you go acoustic and mournful? Do you go bluesy and rocking? Do you go messy and thrashing? So much to sort through. Here’s mine. And you? Let me know!

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My Top 10 Books of 2015

My Top 10 Books of 2015

It’s time once again to tally up the books I read over the last year and see which ones held up. As usual, I only include books I read for the first time in 2015, but they can have been published anytime. Oddly, it seems I read fewer books in 2015 than in most recent years, by almost double digits, probably because I moved away from NYC and lost all that subway reading time. Oh well, so it goes. Here’s my top 10. Enjoy!  

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Top 6 Scariest Old Time Radio Shows

Top 6 Scariest Old Time Radio Shows

I’m a big old time radio nerd, and my favorite tales are the creepy chillers and spook stories about ghosts, killers, and weird supernatural happenings that they’d play late at night as you sat by the radio in your stuffed chair with the lights turned low and the wind rattling the windows. Here are my six favorite shows for sending a chill up your spine, perfect for getting in the Halloween mood!

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Ranked: Every Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Album

Ranked: Every Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Album

From so-so to legendary, because there are no “bad” Tom Petty albums!!

My number #2 band always fluctuates between The Replacements, Tom Waits, and Ryan Adams, but my overall #1 ever since I was a little kid has always been and will always be Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. TP has a knack for crafting that 3 minute rock song that is both radio friendly (well, back when radio mattered) and also tells a story. That’s what I love about the band the most: their storytelling, little fictions that speak to realities. With guitars. Really loud guitars. Sometimes soft ones, too. All good stuff. Enough chit-chat. Here’s my ranking, from passable to great.   

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My Top 3: John Steinbeck Books

My Top 3: John Steinbeck Books

I’ve long been a huge fan of John Steinbeck’s writing and his humanist, critical examinations of not just the American experience, but of what it is to be human, to struggle against greed and oppression, and most of all, with our own demons. The fact that Of Mice and Men doesn’t even make the top three here should say something, as that’s the book I read in my early teens that made me want to be a writer. It was the first book that hit me right in the gut and said—This is what you are supposed to be doing! The following three books helped shape my worldview in such a way that I’d say his ideals and passions are more important to who I am as a person than any other artist. 

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My Top 3: Black Books Episodes

My Top 3: Black Books Episodes

Any bookworm or literary type who likes an adult beverage every now and then and sometimes becomes annoyed with having to deal with other humans (or “time wasters”) when you’d rather be reading or writing will be absolutely delighted by Black Books—that is, if you haven’t yet discovered the show’s brilliance, and I hope you have. Irish comic Dylan Moran stars as Bernard Black with Bill Bailey as Manny and Tamsin Greig as Fran in this quirky British comedy about a bookshop and its morose, frustrated owner who wants nothing more than for customers (and staff) to leave him alone so he may drink wine and read books. It’s filmed with a live audience, as are many of Graham Linehan’s comedies (he also wrote Father Ted and The IT Crowd) but you get used to the laughter amongst all the sight gags, the pratfall humor, and literary quips. It’s one of my favorite comedies of all times, and these, at the moment, are my favorite three episodes.

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