The Best-Selling Books of 2019

So Publisher’s Weekly made us all aware of what sold the most copies, book-wise, last year. Good for them. I, of course, choose to see this as an invitation to make some sweeping declarative statements about what this all means for us, as a set of people. 

But it is 2020, and while the heart of awards season is a tough time for me to declare that I’m going to keep this relatively positive (mostly because the things around it are the Grammys and a bunch of acting awards, which tend to skew negative, for all the obvious reasons), so in saying what this says about the people that buy it, I do not say anything at all about the quality of the books themselves either as reading experiences or additions to the sort of collective of gathered thoughts. Several of them I will read, some of them I have read already, some of them I hold in contempt, but that doesn’t color as much of this particular piece as it sometimes does. 

Oh, and also, this is about what people buy, not what people rate or vote for or seek out, so it’s giving us a super weird slice of the book-publishing world, as it’s a pretty straightforward look at what people either 1) want to own or 2) want someone else to own (i.e. by giving it to them as a gift). 

A similar post to this one will go up at the end of the month (the Grammys are between now and then) talking about the best-selling comics. 

So here we go. 

Delia Owens – Where the Crawdads Sing

WHAT IT IS: It’s probably the book that is going to be the best-seller forever, and ever, and ever, given the way its yo-yoed up and down the charts for the last couple of years. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That if you combine a murder mystery, a historical novel, the American South and a roman a clef into a debut novel written by a scientist, everyone is going to buy it. Seriously, this literally looks like the sort of thing a book-marketing staff would dream up as the ideal case for trying to sell a book (with whatever exceptions need to be made after you see below), and here it is. And it’s pretty good, to boot! I guess what I’m saying is: it says that we’re predictable and easy to motivate. 

Michelle Obama – Becoming

WHAT IT IS: It’s Michelle Obama’s memoir

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Whatever popularity/marketing touchstones that Where the Crawdads Sing didn’t hit, “a memoir by the first lady just before the current business” is pretty much all of the rest of them. It’ll make you cry for every single reason, also. Isn’t that nice? 

Dav Pilkey – Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls

WHAT IT IS: The seventh book by the second series from the Captain Underpants duder.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Kids love these friggin’ things. And they love series, and currently-ongoing series. And also Dav Pilkey is some sort of wizard of getting the hearts minds and eyeballs of the children. 

Tara Westover – Educated: A Memoir

WHAT IT IS: An account of a woman whose religious upbringing left her without the usual social groundwork – she didn’t even have a birth certificate – that helps people make their way through life, who managed to overcome all of it and receive the education that she desired. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Stories about overcoming long odds are evergreen, and there’s probably no accident in this story being about someone who comes from being firmly entrenched in one system and essentially drifts over to the other side of several lines from where her beliefs started her out. Probably for some reason this is comforting. And people like to be comforted. 

Jeff Kinney – Wrecking Ball 

WHAT IT IS: The fourteenth diary of a wimpy kid book. Greg’s family renovates their house in this one. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: I mean, it probably says all the same stuff about series and continuity that I mentioned during the last Dog Man book, but it’s not too much to hope that actually kids just want a gripping, drawing-abetted story about the joys of picking out countertops. 

Dav Pilkey – Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild

WHAT IT IS: It’s sixth Dog Man book, the one before the last one I wrote about.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Man, I’m trying, and I just don’t have two things to say abo this series. 

Jeff Kinney – Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid

WHAT IT IS:This time, Rowley writes the book about Greg. It’s totally different this way, see. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: There’s been a lot of this stuff as a way to extend popular series. Hell, EL James did it not that long ago. I suppose you could trace the antecedents back to Orson Scott Card (the Bean books take place alongside the Ender books), but I like Jeff Kinney, and wouldn’t dream of saddling him with that comparison. Anyway, it says that people’s attitudes are bottomless for this stuff, and also that kids aren’t immune to the allure of “exactly like all that stuff you already like, only very slightly different”. 

Rachel Hollis – Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be

WHAT IT IS: The plain-talking Jesus book that’s got everyone’s attention for its…whatever it is this book has. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: You know what? I’m going to come clean here: I do not get Rachel Hollis’s thing, I do not have anything in common with it from the perspective of someone who reads books. If someone has figured a way to pitch self-help at people who were heretofore underserved by the existing self-help market, then bless ‘em and may they use their powers for good. I am hereby declaring that I have nothing else to say about it. This is not for editorial reasons, it’s because the world that buys these books is not a world of which I am a part, or indeed, even have glancing contact with. 

Rachel Hollis – Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be

WHAT IT IS: The plain-talking Jesus book that’s got everyone’s attention for its…whatever it is this book has. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: You know what? I’m going to come clean here: I do not get Rachel Hollis’s thing, I do not have anything in common with it from the perspective of someone who reads books. If someone has figured a way to pitch self-help at people who were heretofore underserved by the existing self-help market, then bless ‘em and may they use their powers for good. I am hereby declaring that I have nothing else to say about it. This is not for editorial reasons, it’s because the world that buys these books is not a world of which I am a part, or indeed, even have glancing contact with. 

 

Rachel Hollis – Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals

WHAT IT IS: The other major Rachel Hollis book.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: See, every year I consider doing this, and many years I elect not to. So this time I’m writing about the best-sellers not out of any particular crushing need to (this could, after all, have been one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pieces, which are popular and much more entertaining), but because this is, as the header will someday say (I’m working on it), largely a blog about things that are popular. I talk a lot here about the things that are receiving awards, or selling copies, or speaking to people in such a way that moves them to spend their time/money/attention on them. This is not because I generally have any affinity for such things as artistic endeavors in and of themselves – my tastes are pretty weird, and run pretty far away from Jesus-flavored jes’ folks plain-speechin’ platitudes, not to mention any of the other dumbshit nonsense I write about in other awards/charts/celebrator contexts – but because I’m genuinely interested in the day-to-day tastes of the bulk of people – the people that buy/attend to/spend time on these things. 

What it says to me, then, is that the human endeavor, in all of its messy weirdness, to communicate with each other through the abstracted means of artistic expression is so robust, and so durable, and so unkillable, that even this kind of thing works. And that even in 2020, when the entertainment landscape is giving us so many blocks to having anything in common with anyone, there are still things in common, and occasionally those things are books. I love that, in the main, and knowing that there are people out there going about their lives for whom this book is a part of that going-about process, this book that I find completely inexplicable, un-engaging and essentially meaningless to anything I would do, make, see, experience or even seek out is something that reminds me that the world is a vasty panoply of people and their ideas, and that people are pretty good at finding the things they need to be happy with their own time. 

I’m not here for most of this list in general(I can probably count on one hand the number of these books I’m even likely to read at any point), but it’s a useful thing to look upon the list of things that more people let into their lives than any other thing, and, rather than an arrogant, above-it-all casting-down of that sort of thing, to try to get to the bottom of what it is that people are doing here. So it says all that, at least to me, and it says it all even though I haven’t read a word of it, will never read a word of it, will certainly never buy it, and almost certainly don’t know anyone who has. That’s fascinating to me, and it’s fascinating enough that I built a whole website to talk about it. Rachel Hollis might, in fact, be the mascot of this fucking website. I probably have to pay her money. Jesus.

Heather Morris – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

WHAT IT IS: A novel about the guy who tattooed prisoners at Auschwitz. I mean, I do appreciate a good, self-explaining title. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Boy oh boy do we love uplifting stories about the Holocaust. I mean, just endless, bottomless appetite for this stuff. As a culture, I mean. 

Dr Seuss – Oh the Places You’ll Go!

WHAT IT IS: Dr. Seuss’s most graduation-gift-able book (true story: my copy was also a graduation gift! Just like yours probably was!)

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we’re always graduating, and also that people like to apply children’s book wisdom to non children’s book situations. 

Dav Pilkey – Dog Man: Fetch-22

WHAT IT IS: The eighth dog-man book

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That our ability to buy Dog-Man books does not respect the order that numbers happen in. 

John Grisham – The Guardians

WHAT IT IS:John Grisham’s 40th (!) novel, this one is…..a legal thriller. About lawyers and thrilling stuff. I mean, none of this is a surprise here. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Whatever the code is, John Grisham done cracked it thirty-odd years ago, and here we are still buying the results of his crack as though it was….crack. Yep. I’m calling this wordplay. At least there aren’t any more Dog Man books on here. 

Craig Smith – The Wonky Donkey

WHAT IT IS: A picture book with a delightful title.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: I mean, the field of picture books is pretty much wide-open in a lot of ways in terms of sales and readership. The appetite for them is, in one aspect, huge (everybody needs a bunch of picturebooks when they need them) and, in another, super-narrow (you stop needing picturebooks after a few years, generally speaking), so a catchy title and some pretty kicky illustrations are pretty much everything we’ve got here to explain the sales success of this one. 

Tom Rath – Strengthfinder 2.0

WHAT IT IS: Sort of at the intersection of self-help, business speak and cryptocult, the Strengthfinder thing is impenetrable to folks such as I, but seems to be about figuring out how best to be managed. By, like, managers. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: It says that a book that is popular enough to sell copies to business retreats, corporate events and all that sort of thing is, by extension, popular enough to be somewhere below the three most recent Dog Man books on the sales charts. 

Stephen King – The Institute

WHAT IT IS: A shadowy organization (the one in the title) is kidnapping kids and giving them superpowers. Perhaps it’s making them Breakers? Where my King-heads at? Anyway, on the premise level this seems like one of Unlce Steves trips to the Big Wheel o’ King-isms, but I’m lead to believe this is a particularly good one. I haven’t read it yet. I mean, I’m going to, but I haven’t yet. I want to be clear about that. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Some books are best-sellers because of the book – Where the Crawdads Sing is one of those, as is Strengthfinder 2.0 or The Wonky Donkey. Those are books that sell because those titles have generated their sales momentum for title-specific reasons. There are some best-sellers (this one, the Telgemeier below, the Dog Man books) that are more about the brand of the author/series. Stephen King books tend to wind up more or less in this spot on these lists because Stephen King people (of which I am one, see above) buy them, more or less regardless of whether they are good. 

Rainia Telgemeier – Guts

WHAT IT IS:The most recent Raina Telgemeier book. Interestingly, according to my highly-informal data, you either know what that means, in which case you not only already know about this book but can picture the cover, or you have no idea what that means, in which case “sort of pop-literary middle-grade comics” isn’t really going to help you grasp the size of the situation here. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US:The thing that I like, in the abstract, about Raina Telegemeier is how much of her there is in these huge, people pleasing books. They’re very personal, highly idiosyncratic, and generally the kind of thing one wishes existed in the world a little more. I don’t read them, but I’m happy that so many people do. 

Eric Carle – The Very Hungry Caterpillar

WHAT IT IS: I mean, it’s the picturebook. It would sell more if someone could convince peopel to give it away as a graduation present, thus selling it to two different groups. I mean, when I went to college I was particluarly hungry. I think this could work. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not only delightful as a piece of work, but also highly memorable in the way that it is presented, fun to read, and easy to understand. It’s basically the perfect picture book, and it’s hard not to appreciate that. 

Ree Drummond – The Pioneer Woman Cooks

WHAT IT IS: The Food Network fixture’s ten-year-old collection of recipes. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Ree Drummond’s thing is a real thing. I’m going to link to this Khushbu Shah article and let that do the heavy lifting in terms of what’s going on over there in Oklahoma, but it doesn’t surprise me that her primary book is still a huge seller, even this far after it’s come out. 

Jen Sincero – You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

WHAT IT IS: A life coach’s manual for how to help yourself and be your own self-helper and also coach your own life or whatever. 

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: So I’ve kept this one pretty positive, and I’m not here to yell about people seeking whatever help they need from whatever source they seek it from. I will say that I think the primary audience for this is not necessarily people that want to work on themselves, but people who want to be told that they, in fact, should do less to improve themsleves, and everythign is already done if they just push this one magic button. It infuriates me, and I will nto consider it any further. Stop buying these books, people.  

The Best Songs of the Second Half of 2019

Hey guys! In marked contrast to the last two of these, I’ve managed to carve out some time to say some stuff about some songs. 

I’m sure you’re all relieved. 

Anyway, this year probably has the most disconnect between the songs and albums list of any year since I’ve been doing this (I haven’t worked out the stats on that one, so I’m just sort of operating on gut feeling or whatever), which is interesting, and probably reflects some stuff about the way my listening habits have changed or whatever that I might get into later.

Anyway, there’s a Spotify playlist at the bottom, and a downloadable folder here.

(Sandy) Alex G – In My Arms

I don’t have anything to add to the general approbation for the excellent House of Sugar except to say that (Sandy) Alex G appears to still be getting better with each album, which is super-exciting. 

Alcest – L’ile des Morts

There’s a lot to be said for consistency, y’know? Also for singing heavy metal lyrics in languages I just dead-ass don’t understand so I don’t have to worry about it. I’m a simple man with simply concerns. 

Atkinson, Felicia – Des Pierres (f Stephen O’Malley)

I suppose part of the appeal here is the way that both of the people involved have used volume (one each at either extreme) to maintain a sort of constant-attention to their compositions, which encourages really deep listening. Atkinson’s music is (perhaps paradoxically) aggressively quiet, and when the two work together, as here, the set of sounds that are presented become really engrossing, even at the track’s extreme length. 

Battles – Titanium 2 Step (f Sal Principato)

I’ll be honest here – I didn’t love Juice B Crypts particularly 1, but hearing Sal Principato still be awesome is pretty well worth it, and I would happily devour entire albums of him fronting the two-man version of Battles.

Big KRIT – Outer Space

The subject of me never knowing the lyrics to anything have come up a lot in these writeups, and it’s something that I’m considering working harder on 2. All of which is to say that, under the circumstances, I’m pretty definitely here for a song about being deeply disappointed in the future in which one finds oneself. 

Blood Orange – Choose to Stay (Sunday Feeling) (f Tinashe)

Man, even Blood Orange’s leftovers are better than anyone else’s main course. 

Boris – LOVE

Boris did a difficult thing in, having put a bow on their entire career up to that point with Dear, deciding to move on and start a new phase anyway. It’s impressive, then, that the thing they come up with was a sprawling, galumphing hybrid of the last several of their eras. It’s even more impressive that they somehow did all this on Third Man Records, which makes me laugh.

Branch, Jaimie – Prayer for Amerikkka pt 1 & 2

I somehow came late to this record, despite loving the first Fly or Die and the Anteloper album. I’m a terrible fan, y’all. This is amazing, and is perhaps her best track yet. 

Brown, Danny – Shine

I’m on the record as saying that sad Danny Brown is my favorite Danny Brown, and that Blood Orange is my favorite Blood Orange, and that this song is, therefore, one of the best songs. Very happy about its existence. 

Brutus – Sugar Dragon

I was going to say that it was a good year to be a crushingly loud semi-doom half-slowcore band, but pretty much every year is a good year to be one of those around these parts.

Cave, Nick & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

Sometimes everyone has the same opinion about a thing. Even rarely that opinion is right. Ghosteen is basically a unicorn in that everyone loves it for the same reasons, becuase it is an incredible record by an all-time great musician, and the title track is the high point thereof. So here it is. 

Chastity – Sun Poisoning

It’s true Chastity is not doing anything new under the sun (poisoning) 3, it’s also true that I’ve pretty much always enjoyed bands that sound like this, and I’m always happy to hear their records. 

Cleaver, Chuck – Devil May Care

It seems surprising that this is Chuck Cleaver’s first solo record, but it’s pretty welcome. It also doesn’t appear to have interfered with the tear his band, Wussy, has been on lately, which makes it double-welcome: it’s a handful of new Chuck Cleaver songs! Yay! 

clipping. – Blood of the Fang

I don’t know that what I would have predicted for clipping. to do as a follow-up to Splendor & Misery (and their fictional collaboration, The Deep) was to return to their straight-up power electronics-meets-horrorcore roots, but man it sounds good. 

Comet is Coming – Lifeforce Part II

There were two top-notch The Comet is Coming releases this year, which is an embarrassment of riches. The second one, The Afterlife was a little more expansive and groove-oriented, but still yielded this intense little number, which was probably my favorite track they released this year. 

Cult of Luna – Lights on the Hill

As a point of interest, I wasn’t ever super-into Cult of Luna until they made that record with Julie Christmas a couple of years back. But listening to that all the time made it so that I listened to what the band was doing differently, and thus when I dipped back in for A Dawn to Fear, I was better able to hear and understand what they were doing. I should go back through their back catalog also, but anyway, this song is great, and I really like this album a lot. 

Eartheater – Solid Liquid Gas

It took me awhile to figure out how I felt about Eartheater making a record that was considerably more straightforward (and dance-y) than her previous records. I think I’m generally in favor of it, although given some more time I may flip around on it again. Either way, “Solid Liquid Gas” is a pretty great noise-dance track. 

Fly Pan Am – Discreet Channeling

Perhaps the greatest comeback of the year, Fly Pan Am managed to pick up exactly where they left off. Their music is still weird (and loud) as hell, still wildly experimental, and still completely satisfying. 

G Perico – Days of Our Lives

The best gangsta rap is the sad ex-gangsta rap. This is how I feel, and will continue to feel until literally the very next song on this writeup. So there. 

Gibbs, Freddie & Madlib – Cataracts

Freddie Gibbs doesn’t get enough credit for his sense of humor. Since I have very little to say about this one other than “it’s great!” I’ll go ahead and say that. It’s funny. Freddie Gibbs is funny. Take it to the bank. 

Girl Band – Laggard

It’s good to have them back, and also good to know that, whatever else may have been going on, they’re better than ever. Here’s hoping their tour the states, however unlikely that may seem. 

Greet Death – New Hell

Sometimes a band’s thing is so incredibly, directly my thing that I pretty much can’t help but listen to it every day since the day it came out, like this one. I mean, specifically this album and this band. They’re from Flint! They’re touring with Deafheaven! This is amazing!

Hatakeyama, Chihei – Staring at the Mountain

This probably isn’t the best song of the year as such, but it’s certainly the most aptly-titled.

Howard, Brittany – 13th Century Metal

It’s not that I’m the first or only person to think that Brittany Howard was clearly the best thing about Alabama Shakes, it’s that, even with that being the case, it’s still super-gratifying to find out that the records she makes totally under her own name and control are so well-put-together and also so weird.

Johnson, Will – A Carousel Victor

2020 was a year that, for lots of reasons, left me feeling a pretty huge need for consistency. Luckily, Will Johnson has never disappointed, and Wire Mountain is as beautiful and adventurous as anything. I also want to say that I’m willing to give any record with Thor Harris on it a fighting chance, but I would’ve loved this record no matter who the drummer was.

JPEGMAFIA – Rap Grow Old & Die x No Child Left Behind

Damn, Peggy! 

Lightning Bolt – All Insane

I love Lightning Bolt, and always will, and one of the main reasons for that is the obvious joy that propels their music forward – joy being a fairly rare commodity in the noise rock mien – but even that didn’t prepare me for this, the most sing-along, shiny happy Lightning Bolt song ever written. I’ll probably listen to it every single day until I die. 

Lingua Ignota – DAY OF TEARS AND MOURNING

For personal reasons I’ll not be getting into, I had one of the worst late-summers of my entire life. More to be glad, then, that in the middle of it came the glorious, cathartic Caligula, and specifically even this song, which just about hit the spot every time. I will also point out that even her own Bandcamp page lists the lyrics as “[INCOMPREHENSIBLE SCREAMING]” which was not only mood-appropriate for my particular mental circumstances, but also is great, because I never know the words to anything anyway, and therefore can’t get them wrong. Not that I’d sing along in the first place but, you know, it’s nice to know that I could

Maxo Kream – Meet Again

See above w/r/t sad gangsta rap, honestly. This is more of that, and it’s great. 

Meredith, Anna – Bump

There’s lots of composer-y experimental music out there, but very little of it is as outright fun as Anna Meredith. The word “fun” is kind of a dumb one in describing music – lots of the experience of listening to it can be fun for any number of reasons, but very little classical-influenced modern experimental music makes me smile instantly, and Anna Meredith makes a bunch of it. 

Messthetics – Better Wings

I’m still very much here for the rhythm section of Fugazi to be in a band again, and this Messthetics record is even more cohesive, and considerably more rockin’, than the last one. 

Moor Mother – After Images

The thing that I find most impressive about Moor Mother generally is how her music manages to take from so many different disciplines and still come off as one coherent set of thoughts. I listen to primarily through the lens of noise music, but that’s just because of the way that I contextualize these sounds. Folding slam poetry and rap and general Philly club stuff into it as well doesn’t muddy the water, and only seems to make it seem even more aggressive. 

Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire – A Definite Maybe (f Wiki)

Wikipedia calls Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire MME’s debut solo album, which is the kind of thing that, while technically true, is also super-weird 4. Anyway, it’s a very good record, easily his best yet. It makes me hopeful that we might finally see that Despot record, in any event. Also Wiki has been on a real tear lately, and his feature here is a standout in a standout year. 

Open Mike Eagle – Whiskey & Push-Ups

In which I learn that Open Mike Eagle and I have another thing in common. 

Pan American – Muriel Spark

He’s (they’re) back on Kranky, and while his previous record, Rue Corridor, was excellent, A Son is even better. It’s in the quasi-ensemble’s usual mien of folk-inspired ambient music, and I can’t get enough of it. 

Pharmakon – Spit it Out

So I’ve not written stuff about the best half-year songs in a year, and part of the reason why is that it’s hard to come up with something worth saying about every song in any given list. It’s not that I don’t love it enough to talk about it, it’s more a question of what is there to say about Pharmakon that I haven’t already said. Still loud, still cathartic, probably her best record since her first one, yay!

Pleasure Leftists – Heart of Gold

Pleasure Leftists are another band in the list here that have a winning formula tha tthey didn’t make any major changes to, and delivered excellently on it. I have very little to say beyond that, really. 

Rapsody – Ibithaj (f D’Angelo & GZA)

I wouldn’t have thought that one of my favorite songs of the year would have features by D’Angelo (a fine singer whose music has never actually clicked with me) and the GZA (no, seriously), but here we are. A weird time for us all, truly. 

Roberts, Matana – Her Mighty Waters Run

There’s a lot of “folk mixed with other stuff” in this particular round-up, what with Suss and Pan-American and Will Johnson and now Matana Roberts, who played folk-type music through her usual free jazz filter. It’s a really interesting set of convergences, made even moreso by the fact that I didn’t necessarily seek any of this out actively as such 4. Anyway, every installment of the Coin Coin cycle is incredible, and I’m excited to hear the next eight.

Rose, Esther – Lower 9 Valentine

I didn’t listen to a tonne of straight-up country music this year, but this was  ahighlight of what I did end up getting into. 

Russian Circles – Arluck

Russian Circles: still great, still the same band. This is another of those entries when I just avoid typing the word “consistency” a bunch of times. 

Sassyblack – Black Excellence

I wouldn’t say that I miss Theesatisfaction every single day, but I definitely miss them most days. Having half of them make truly excellent music is helping, in that sense. 

Suss – Blue Dune I

The always-reliable Northern Spy released this record, described as being a cross between ambient music and country music, which meant that I bought this record before I’d even heard a second of it, if only because I want to be sure that anyone else inclined to make such music has some financial incentive to do so. The record is wonderful, and this, one of many standout tracks, is perhaps one of the more lively.

Swans – The Hanging Man

It is problematic to love the Swans in 2020! Of course, it’s actually always been pretty problematic, and this is probably not the place where I’m going to dig into this particular issue 5, but I do, and here we are, and if you’d like to have it out with me about it, you probably know where to find me. 

Torche – Changes Come

I think that perhaps the difficulty in coming up with words is to do with the way that I listen to this stuff. The louder stuff seems more immediate and obvious to me – Torche builds great songs out of great riffs and then rocks the hell out on them, and it’s very viscerally satisfying, without much intercession on the part of my brain. I suppose if you intellectualize aggressive music a bit more, you’d find it easier to say stuff other than various Beavis and Butt-Head-style exclamations. But, y’know, I don’t, so I don’t. 

Trinary System – Bike!

Roger Miller (the Mission of Burma one in this case, not the guy from Robin Hood) starts a new band, I buy that band’s records. It’s a pretty simple rule, and it’s served me well for basically my whole adult life. 

Tropical Fuck Storm – Maria 63

I will never understand why some things don’t become enormously popular. What the hell, people, go buy this record. It’s extremely likable rock music! What the hell!

Wiki – Dame Aqui (f Princess Nokia)

I mentioned Wiki’s hot streak earlier, and this is just another outgrowth of that. Plus, Princess Nokia is always a delight. Now let’s hear that Despot album! 

Williams, Saul – Fight Everything

Consistency! Experimental! Angry music! All the usual stuff! This is great! Etc.! 

Honorable Mentions: Tinariwen made, you guessed it, some weird-ass folk-inspired desert music, and “Wartilla” has the bonus of featuring ONAT favorites Stephen O’Malley and Warren Ellis. Kim Gordon’s drum-machine-and-guitar record was satisfyingly rockin’, and perhaps never moreso than on “Air BnB”. Vagabon made a lovely art pop record, with more production than on her first record (to her benefit), which is exemplified by the excellent “Water me Down”. Have Gun Will Travel made the anthemic “Any Place But Here”, a great piece of country-rock. Aidan Baker made a bunch of good records, many of which were composed of relatively-straightforward guitar and vocals type songs, including the very good “Synaptic Firing”.


  1. I haven’t really loved a Battles album since their first one, actually 
  2. mainly because musicians that I love are working hard on something that I’m completely deaf to, and also because when I do pay attention to the words I often get something out of it. 
  3. wordplay! Sort of! 
  4. I mean, I definitely intentionally bought these records, I just didn’t realize that so many of them were folk-inflected experimental music, is all.  
  5. although I do keep meaning to, and probably will eventually, I dunno. 

The 77th Golden Globe Awards

A new year, nay, a new decade could theoretically mean a new approach. After all, I’ve been doing this for almost a decade myself. 

Of course, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, so rather than take the opportunity here to change the way I do anything at all, I’m going to not do that, and present these, the rightful picks for the Golden Globe Awards. These are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press, I basically never know what the hell they’re all about, and I like neither movies nor television, so obviously I’m the person that should brave the storm of figuring them out to tell you how it should all work.

So here we go!

Best Miniseries or Television Film

Chernobyl managed not to get any of my favorite literary characters wrong, nor any real people as far as I’m aware 1, and it was spooky, so it wins this one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chernobyl

Best Supporting Performance in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film – Actress

Most of this is true crime, and everything that isn’t is biopic. The world is a lightless void from which entertainment cannot be allowed to escape.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown

Best Supporting Performance in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film – Actor

This category is much more heartening, in that it consists, in the majority, of stories someone made up fictionally for made-up reasons, and several of them are quite good. In fact, several of these are so good that I’m sad that I have to choose between them, and wish that the acting categories (as I wish every single time they are) were not segregated. But they are, so Alan Arkin and Henry Winkler can’t both win, and that’s before we even get to Fleabag, and the world is a lightless void from which etc.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Performance in a Miniseries or Television Film – Actress

I would like to reiterate how excited I am about Fleabag, and therefore how dismayed I am to see that only the one dude was nominated. The world is a lightless void etc. Thankfully, Merrit Wever is a delight all the time. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Merrit Wever, Unbelievable

Best Performance in a Miniseries or Television Film – Actor

Whatever my problems were with Catch-22, they weren’t with the guy who played Yossarian, who was absolutely fine, and is also not playing a real person or involved in a true crime. Good job, buddy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Christopher Abbott, Catch-22

Best Performance in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy – Actress

See, here’s Fleabag again, so I’m permitting myself to be happy.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

Best Performance in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy – Actor

Living With Yourself deserves credit for being an interesting sort of high-concept situation, but it definitely isn’t as good as Barry, so it doesn’t deserve enough credit to earn it a Golden Globe.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bill Hader, Barry

Best Performance in a Television Series – Drama – Actress

I’m going to come clean here: I have not watched The Morning Show because, despite being an ipod owner who got a free year of apple tv plus wit the device, I have no real way to watch it except on the device, so until either the app comes to a device that I use or I decide to watch the world’s tiniest shot of Reese Witherspoon, I will never know about it. That said, I had no fucking idea that it was a drama. I guess it’s because I assumed that any show with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon would, in fact, be a comedy because that’s the sensible thing for it to be. I’m dismayed. Dismayed and alarmed. Alas. Alack. Waily waily.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jodie Comer, Killing Eve

Best Performance in a Television Series – Drama – Actor

I can’t get over the fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press went so far as to almost not bother with Game of Thrones, then got done, backed up, and said “Nope, ol’ Wet-Eyes needs to be given some sort of nod”, and so we have the following piece of information: Kit Harington 2 is nominated for the only Golden Globe that Game of Thrones was nominated for at all in this, its final year of existence. I find this indescribably hilarious, and I will not apologize for that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Billy Porter, Pose

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

I mean, at least Barry vs. Fleabag is another good competition that I’m happy to consider. It’s nice when I get these tidbits of joy when I have to consider the television landscape. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Barry

Best Television Series – Drama

The world is a lightless void etc.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Killing Eve

Best Foreign Language Film

Parasite is the best any language film, so there you have it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Parasite

Best Animated Feature Film

Missing Link is the only one of these that isn’t a sequel or a remake, but it’s also terrible, so I guess it has to be Toy Story 4.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Toy Story 4

Best Original Song

Fuck this category. This is so dumb. The world is a lightless etc.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fuck it, it’s the thing from Cats. Eat dicks, you assholes.

Best Original Score

I sort of enjoy the cousin-on-cousin battle of having both of the Hollywood Scoring Newmans up for the award here, but it’s not going to come to much, since the best score is Daniel Pemberton’s score for Motherless Brooklyn.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Pemberton, Motherless Brooklyn

Best Screenplay

It’s always a little bit hard 3 to separate the words written to be the movie from every other aspect of the movie, especially when the person credited with the screenplay is also the director (as is the case here with A Marriage Story, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Parasite), so I’m inclined to give it to Steve Zaillian, and indeed I shall. It’s my website, after all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Steve Zaillian, The Irishman

Best Director

All of that about the screenplay notwithstanding, Parasite is great, and should win every award forever.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bong Joon Hoo, Parasite

Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture – Actress

Leaving aside that Richard Jewell and Bombshell are national embarrassments and therefore should be beneath consideration, not up for it, we’ll also say that Laura Dern is a national goddamned treasure and deserves a Golden Globe for her actually good work in an actually good movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Laura Dern, A Marriage Story

Best Supporting Performance in a Motion Picture – Actor

I’m a human being with a heart. I, like everyone, was waiting for Tom Hanks to play Fred Rogers, and am positively delighted that it happened. I’m not totally without humanity over here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tom Hanks, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy – Actress

I go pretty hard on acting around here 4, but I will say this. Knives Out is amazing (see the rest of the categories for more on this notion), and Ana de Armas manages to be the one actor who has to play a human character with human motivations, rather than an overblown cartoon character, and she does so admirably. It’s great work, and she deserves to be rewarded for it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ana de Armas, Knives Out

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy – Actor

Daniel Craig, on the other hand, got to be an overblown cartoon character, and a total goofball weirdo, and I am directly and foursquare in the tank for it. I want seven hundred Beonit Blanc movies. I want one of them to come out every year, and I want (somehow) for Lakeith Stanfield to always play a put-upon cop that has to interact with him. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daniel Craig, Knives Out

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama – Actress

Two of these people aren’t playing real people! This is a banner moment for this category! I’m so happy! Two! And one of them is playing Jo March, which I’m pretty generally in favor of.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Saoirse Ronan, Little Women

Best Performance in a Motion Picture – Drama – Actor

I think I have an Official Old Man Opinion about Adam Driver, and here it is: I like him. I like him when the material is bad, and I like him even more when it’s good. So he’s the winner here, because I like him.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Adam Driver, A Marriage Story

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

No, seriously, Knives Out is the best movie, y’all. The best movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Knives Out

Best Motion Picture – Drama

I cannot actually imagine why Joker is here. Like, I really don’t get it. But that’s not what I’m here to do, instead I’m here to say that all of these movies are dumb except A Marriage Story, and that makes my job easier.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: A Marriage Story


  1. although I fully acknowledge the possibility that something could be seriously wrong, and I just don’t know it 
  2. Kit! Harington! Kit Harington! 
  3. I think I mention it at least once every year, in fact 
  4. quick refresher: I don’t really like Serious Acting and don’t have a high tolerance from it, and that’s one of the many reasons why I don’t much care about movies. 

The Best Records of 2019

Sunn O))) – Life Metal

Nivhek – After It’s Own Death/Walking in a Spiral Towards the House

Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Big Brave – A Gaze Among Them

Solange – When I Get Home

Lingua Ignota – Caligula

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen

JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes are Cornballs

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Mettavolution

Greet Death – New Hell

Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin?

Pharmakon – Devour

The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery

William Basinski – On Time Out of Time

Messthetics – Anthropocosmic Nest

Loscil – Equivalents

Quelle Chris – Guns

Brutus – Nest

Flying Lotus – Flamgra

Matana Roberts – Coin Coin Volume 4

Shellac – The End of Radio

Will Johnson – Wire Mountain

Sunn O))) – Pyroclasts

The Felice Brothers – Undress

Alcest – Spiritual Instinct

Anne Muller – Heliopause

clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood

Esther Rose – You Made it This Far\

Suss – High Line

Swans – Leaving Meaning

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Tracing Back the Radiance

Earl Sweatshirt – Feet of Clay

Prurient – Garden of the Mutated Paratroopers

Underachievers – Lords of Flatbush 3

(Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar

Merzbow, Keiji Haino & Balazs Pandi – Become the Discovered, Not the Discoverer

Chris Orrick – I Read That I Was Dead

Xiu Xiu – Girl With a Basket of Fruit

Anna Meredith – Fibs

Tyler, the Creator – Igor

Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel

SassyBlack – Ancient Mahogany Gold

The Yawpers – Human Question

Open Mike Eagle – The New Negroes (soundtrack)

Julie’s Haircut – In The Silence Electric

Moor Mother – Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes

Mono – Nowhere Now Here

Brittany Howard – Jaime

Young Nudy & Pi’erre Bourne – Sli’merre

Fly Pan Am – C’est Ca

A Series of Decade-Ending Lists for Hanukkah, Part 8: Stuff That Didn’t Fit on the Other Lists

  1. Nanette
  2. That part of the “Old Town Road” video where Chris Rock says “boogity” a bunch of tiems
  3. (tie) a bunch of hold-outs, including Drag City records, el-p and the geraldine fibbers finally making their material available on Spotify, even though I already own it all. It’s sitll nice. 111111
  4. Basically all the non-tragedy aspects of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
  5. Pete Wells’ review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square restaurant
  6. The Awl, Deadspin and most especially The Toast
  7. More specifically, the Two Monks stuff on The Toast
  8. Vine

A Series of Decade-Ending Lists for Hanukkah Part 5: The Best Movies of the Decade

So the real problem here is that there are so many things that I don’t really like about movies (unless I do) that this list is pretty well all over the place. I’ll also cop to having a real slipshod approach to actually getting around to watching movies, so there’s a tonne of stuff that’s floating around out there that is a million percent in my wheelhouse that I just…haven’t gotten to watching. I read a lot, y’all. That takes time. Furthermore, while I’m entertained by a lot more movies than I like, that’s a function of being easy to entertain in the moment, and fairly analytical outside of it, where things bother me when I’m done with something that didn’t bother me while it was happening. Movies, being composed of so many viewpoints and directed at so many people indiscrimately – by being an art form that, in the words of Robert Altman, “attacks too many of your senses at once” and is assembled by committee – there’s not very often a way through for me. So I like huge, dumb, impossible-to-miss movies, comedies, and occasionally very, very quiet movies in which nothing happens. Those categories cover most of what you see here, although, again, I have no overarching philosophical bent here. This list could have been assembled at random and would look pretty similar, but I assure you these are the ones I thought were the best. Oh, also, the list of movies that I intend to see but “haven’t gotten around to yet” includes some deeply embarrassing titles, so if something seems conspicuous in its absence, I probably just haven’t gotten around to watching it yet, but I’m unlikely to admit it. 

Frank

Safety Not Guaranteed

Get Out

Drive

The World’s End

10 Cloverfield Lane

Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Mandy

Nebraska

Ex Machina

The Lego Movie

the Neon Demon

Thor: Ragnarok

Fruitvale Station

Coco

Inception

Attack the Block

War for the Planet of the Apes

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Babadook

Rogue One

the Hunt for the Wilderpeople

The Big Sick

The Shape of Water

Pacific Rim

Kubo and the Two Strings

Knives Out

Black Panther

Bridesmaids

Logan

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

A Series of Decade-Ending Lists for Hanukkah, Part 4: Books of the Decade

These are presented all higgledy-piggledy – comics and genre stuff and nonfiction and whatever else all in a heap. Generally speaking, if a series is ongoing (Saga, Paper Girls, The Arab of the Future, the Murderbot books, the Rebecca Roanhorse books) it didn’t make it in just because I don’t know where it’s all going, but I also arbitrarily decided that a couple of them (Kornher-Stace, Maguire and Chambers) were stand-alone-ish enough to count. Oh, and I cut it off at fifty for completely arbitrary reasons.

Maria Dahvana Headley – The Mere Wife

Camilla Grudova – The Doll’s Alphabet

N.K. Jemisen – The Broken Earth Series

Chris Ware – Building Stories

Ted Chiang – Exhalation

Craig Thompson – Habibi

John Crowley – Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymir

Brooke Bolander – the Only Harmless Great Thing

Tom Gauld – Goliath

Chavis Woods – Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country

Grady Hendrix – We Sold Our Souls

Ann Leckie – the Imperial Radch series

China Mieville – The City and the City

Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba – Daytrippers

Jeff Vandermeer – The Southern Reach trilogy

Paul Tremblay – The Cabin at the End of the World

John Lewis – March

Charlie Jane Anders – All the Birds in the Sky

Leena Krohn – Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction

Alison Bechdel – Are You My Mother?

Victor Lavalle – The Ballad of Black Tom

Emil Ferris – My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Terry Pratchett – Snuff

Naomi Novik – Spinning Silver

Sonny Liew – The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Hye

Angela Slatter – The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recordings

Nnedi Okarafor – The Binti Series

Jeff Lemire – The Descender Series

Matt Ruff – Lovecraft Country

Guy Delisle – Jerusalem

Kim Stanley Robinson – New York 2140

Kelly Link – Get in Trouble

Cixin Liu – The Remembrance of Earth’s Past series

Paul Hegarty – Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise

Jeff Vandermeer – Borne

Jomny Sun – everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too

David Mitchell – The Bone Clocks

Victor Lavalle – The Changeling

Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream

Lawrence Wright – Going Clear

Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread

Seanan Maguire – Down Among the Sticks and Bones

Nicole Kornher-Stace – Archivist Wasp

Yoon Ha Lee – The Machineries of Empire Series

Karen Russel – Swamplandia!

Frances Hardinge – Cuckoo’s Song

Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown

Becky Chambers – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Noelle Stevenson – Nimona

John Hodgman – Vacationland

A Series of Decade-Ending Lists for Hanukkah, Part 3: The Live Bands of the Decade

SunnO)))

Swans

Run the Jewels (and their component parts)

Two Cow Garage

Pharmakon

Vince Staples

Grouper

Lightning Bolt

Los Campesinos

Boris

Xiu Xiu

Pleasure Leftists

JPEGMAFIA

Mono

Robyn Hitchcock

Sleater-Kinney

Oddissee

Lucero

Herzbog

All Dogs

Clipping.

The Julie Ruin

Tim Hecker

US Girls

Hinds

Danny Brown

Bill Callahan

Man or Astro Man

They Might be Giants

John Moreland