Favorite Opening Lines

Reading

Just a few of my favorite opening lines. I plan on returning to this theme from time to time, as I’m fascinated by what resonates for me and draws me into a novel.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, SHIRLEY JACKSON (ONE OF THE FINEST FIRST PARAGRAPHS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, I THINK):

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

THE SHINING, STEPHEN KING:

Jack Torrance thought: officious little prick.

ANOTHER FROM KING, IT:

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, HUNTER S. THOMPSON:

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, NEIL GAIMAN:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

FAHRENHEIT 451, RAY BRADBURY:

It was a pleasure to burn.

GEEK LOVE, KATHERINE DUNN:

When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,” Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS, PHILIP PULLMAN:

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, DOROTHY ALLISON:

I’ve been called Bone all my life, but my name’s Ruth Anne. I was named for and by my oldest aunt—Aunt Ruth. My mama didn’t have much to say about it, since strictly speaking, she wasn’t there. Mama and a carful of my aunts and uncles had been going out to the airport to meet one of the cousins who was on his way back from playing soldier. Aunt Alma, Aunt Ruth, and her husband, Travis, were squeezed into the front, and Mama was stretched out in back, sound asleep. Mama hadn’t adjusted to pregnant life very happily, and by the time she was eight months gone, she had a lot of trouble sleeping. She said that when she lay on her back it felt like I was crushing her, when she lay on her side it felt like I was climbing up her backbone, and there was no rest on her stomach at all. Her only comfort was the backseat of Uncle Travis’s Chevy, which was jacked up so high that it easily cradled little kids or pregnant women. Moments after lying back into that seat, Mama had fallen into her first deep sleep in eight months. She slept so hard, even the accident didn’t wake her up.

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY, SEANAN MCGUIRE:

Together, they walked across the property; the girl, the boy, and the dancing skeleton wrapped in rainbows.

My Favorite Books of 2019

Reading

I’ve read nineteen books this year, which I think is pretty average for me. There were three graphic novels (I’m trying to read more), one non fiction, and the rest novels. I may sneak in one more before the end of the year, but for now, these were my favorite reads of 2019. Note, that doesn’t mean they were all published in 2019.

Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. I first experienced Fun Home as a stage musical, and it was amazing, but the book is even better. The story of Bechdel’s childhood with her family, her coming out as a young gay woman, and her fractious relationship with her closeted gay father, Fun Home is raw and painful and funny, the art perfectly in sync with the words.

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire. McGuire has become one of my favorite authors over the past couple of years. Her Wayward Children series has set a new standard for portal fantasy. Middlegame, a standalone novel, is a revelation. It embroils twins Roger and Dodger in a complex world of alchemy, secret government organizations, and fractured timelines. Oh, and they just may be on the verge of attaining godhood.

Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig. Wendig burst onto the scene a few years ago with the gritty, violent Miriam Black series. Wanderers is a whole other animal, a massive post apocalyptic novel with great characters and a deeply involving story. There are echoes here of Stephen King’s The Stand and Robert McCammon’s Swan Song, but Wanderers puts an exciting new spin on the genre, and is a totally unique reading experience. I lost hours of sleep while I was reading this.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, a graphic novel by Emil Ferris. The first thing you notice about this book is the artwork. It fills every page, edge to edge, densely crosshatched, chaotic yet exquisitely detailed. It reminds me a little of Robert Crumb’s work, but I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like this. You soon realize that the story is just as involving and mesmerizing as the art. My Favorite Thing is Monsters is the fictional diary of a ten year old girl in late 1960s Chicago as she investigates the murder of her holocaust-surviving neighbor, roaming back in time to Nazi Germany.

Growing Things, by Paul Tremblay. With just a handful of novels to his credit, Tremblay, a high school math teacher by day, has become one of today’s premier horror writers. Growing Things is a collection of short stories. Just as harrowing as his novels, yet far more experimental, the stories here keep you off balance. Unsettling in the best way.

Four Great Books You May Have Never Heard of

Reading

Four books that I love, that I’m always surprised to discover people haven’t heard of:

BOY’S LIFE by Robert McCammon. McCammon mostly writes intelligent thrillers and horror novels (the apocalyptic Swan Song is a favorite of mine) but this is something altogether different. Part murder mystery, part the exciting and sometimes dangerous adventures of a 12 year old boy and his friends in small town Alabama in the early 60’s, Boy’s Life is infused with magic realism and wonder.

LITTLE, BIG by John Crowley. An epic classic of modern fantasy without an orc or a dragon in sight. This is the sprawling chronicle of the Drinkwater clan and their sometimes fractious relationship with the land and denizens of fae. Pure magic.

TERRITORY by Emma Bull. Bull starts with a meticulously researched novel set in Tombstone, Arizona, with all the characters you think you know, including the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday. Then she underpins it with a deep undercurrent of supernatural dark magic. Completely audacious, completely wonderful.

SANTA STEPS OUT by Robert Devereaux. This, um, very adult novel features Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny as the modern incarnations of pagan gods, with all their sensual appetites fully intact. I can’t even begin to describe the insanity that Devereaux spews onto the page in a fever dream that I guarantee is unlike anything you’ve ever read. As long as you’re not easily offended (and hell, even if you are) do yourself a favor and read this book. You’ll be amazed.

Books by the Numbers

Reading

In 1995 I got several books for Christmas. This was not unusual. However, in 1995 I also received a small address book from my Uncle Ray, and although I didn’t really need it as an address book, I decided to use it to keep track of the books I read in the new year.

Because I can be a tad obsessive, I’ve kept track ever since. Like I said, a tad excessive.

So, books, by the numbers.

335: The number of books I’ve read since 1996.

23: Number of non-fiction books on that list. Okay, so I like fiction. The vast majority are genre novels of one kind or another—horror, science fiction, fantasy, crime. You get the idea.

5: The fewest book I read in one year, in 1998. That year I drew several wallpaper borders for a local company. These were huge, time-consuming projects that left me little free time.

31: The most books I read in any year, in 2002. For whatever reason, I must not have done much drawing or writing that year. No idea why.

8: the number of graphic novels on the list. I was surprised and a little disappointed that I’ve read so few graphic novels, and I’m trying to rectify that. I have several on my TBR pile.

17: The number of novels I’ve read by Joe Lansdale, the most by any one author. Lansdale is a modern-day Mark Twain, if Twain had written violent, scatological, deeply serious and laugh-out-loud funny crime, horror, westerns, and historical fiction, often all of those things jumbled together in a meaty East Texas stew. My favorites of his are the Hap and Leonard series, the misadventures of a middle aged white guy (Hap) and his best friend, Leonard, a gay Viet Nam vet. These books are violent, profane, tense, and hilarious, sometimes in the same paragraph.

Other authors who appear multiple times: Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, Seanan McGuire (writing as both herself and Mira Grant), Andrew Vachss, Richard Kadrey, Paul Tremblay, Joe Abercrombie. There are others, but these are the writers I come back to again and again.

First book on the list: Deviant Way, by Richard Montanari, a brutal serial killer novel set in my hometown of Cleveland.

Last book on the list: The Woman In The Window, by Dan Mallory, a twisty thriller that I’m about halfway through as I write this.

Confessions of a Book Dad

Reading

I first wrote this five year ago as a guest blog for someone else. My kids are five years older than they were then, and their lives have clearly changed. I no longer have a reason to stand on the sidelines in the cold spring rain and cheer.

So, think of this as a snapshot of an earlier time. Rereading this brought back fond memories for me.

CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK DAD

I’m a book dad. 

I was a book kid and a book teen, on a first name basis with my local librarian, my nose always buried in one crumbling, broken-spined paperback or another. I know many intelligent, successful adults who put away books when they reached adulthood and never looked back. Not me. I kept right on reading, and became a book guy. When it turned out the woman I fell in love with and married was also a reader, it came as no real surprise.

When our son was born, reading to him seemed as natural as feeding and changing him, and just as integral to his proper care. Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar were early favorites. You just can’t go wrong with the classics. Eric was a young reader, also not much of a surprise. He devoured Magic Treehouse and Boxcar Children books, inhaled Goosebumps and Hardy Boys. We took turns reading the first Harry Potter book to him, a chapter each night, completely enthralled. My wife and I made a pact not to read ahead. I admit here, for the first time, that I sometimes cheated. Eric read the second Potter book by himself, and the die was cast. He was a book kid.

My daughter Hannah, born two years after Eric, not so much. She loved being read to, but the reading bug never really bit her. In a house filled to overflowing with books, she often had trouble finding something that interested her. She was, and is, smart and creative, a wonderful writer and musician, but finding a book that demanded her attention was challenging. When it did happen, she read and reread them obsessively. Harry Potter did the trick, as did Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging and its sequels, and the Mates, Dates books. Hunger Games had our entire family reading, in shifts. (By the time Mockingjay came along, we game up and bought multiple copies for the house.) The same thing happened with The Fault In Our Stars.

Our second daughter, McKenna, is also a reader. She’s 14 now. Her friends and her pass around books like they are sacred objects, from the aforementioned Fault In Our Stars to Divergent and The Mortal Instruments books. They write fan fic, and talk about their favorite characters as if they were real. In a way, the best way, I guess they are.

As a book dad, I love recommending favorites to my kids. Sometimes it’s easy. Eric is 21 now, and we have virtually the same taste in fiction. We buy each other books all the time, and it’s always something we want to read as well. Recent choices include The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, Lev Grossman’s Magician trilogy and Jo Walton’s Among Others. We have two main points of disagreement. One is e-readers, which I have accepted as a necessary, and convenient, evil, but which he refuses to truck with. I sometimes purchase something on my Kindle I know he desperately wants to read, just to entice him, but so far he’s resisted. The other concerns the subject of rereading, which I rarely do. Too many novels I haven’t yet read, is my position. Eric has reread Ender’s Game and His Dark Materials so many times that he’s had to buy new copies.

Recommending books to my daughters is much more hit and miss. McKenna may be a reader, but at least at the moment, her friend’s picks carry more weight than mine, and she likes what she likes. She currently favors, quote, “Dystopian series with a love interest.” Luckily for her, there are plenty of those floating around. I did score with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and The Coldest Girl In Coldtown by Holly Black. Hannah is the toughest nut to crack, but when I recommend something she likes, it’s uniquely satisfying. Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Lynda Barry’s Cruddy are dark, challenging novels that I love, and that Hannah connected with. I’m hoping to get her to try Geek Love next.

For the record, all three kids have read Trapped In Lunch Lady Land. Voluntarily.

I’m a lot of things, like most people. A husband and father, a graphic designer and illustrator, a published author, a soccer sideline cheerleader. And proudly, a book dad.