In the months before my son was born last year, I worried having two kids would reduce my time for creativity even more than one had. To combat what I felt was a loss of creativity, I decided to write a haiku every night. In my mind, it was Minimum Viable Creativity. Before we went from a family of three to a family of four, the haiku were about TV or food or the like, but when my son was born, he was the subject the first night, and the second, and before I knew it, the nightly haiku was now a nightly parenting haiku – or a haidad. It turns out the nightly parenting haiku is not only Minimum Viable Creativity, but also an opportunity to journal milestones every night without having to figure out what to say. Journaling is easier when it’s 17 syllables a day.
Here is the first year of haidad, all in one place. Some of these were originally posted with an accompanying picture, but, um, I took the pictures off for publication here.
This is my baby
Callum, born today at 2.
Mom and babe are good
How to care for a newborn.
Swaddle game rusty.
If you need a day
Bed in a pinch, you can use
A laundry basket.
Grace taught us that one
When we needed one for her,
But she fit better.
Only 3 days old
Already louder than his
Sister ever was.
Not even a week
And I’ve already gotten
His poop on my clothes.
This little dude has
Now woken up my daughter
Four times in three days.
I hope I never
Forget the faces this kid
Makes at six days old
We made it a week
The last seven days a blur
Time marked by diapers.
A once beloved
Toy jettisoned for something
New is heartbreaking.
My sleepy little
Boy is starting to wake up.
It’s gonna get late.
He gained weight back so
Fast, we don’t have to go back
For his two week check.
I asked, “Hey, bud, can
You stop kicking the seat?” “But
My feet want to dance.”
Zero degrees and
My nutso daughter wanted
To go to the park.
In 2015, I read 57 books from December to December. In 2016, I read… 18! That’s not bad, and way more than I read in any year between 2001 and 2014, but still. I guess adding a newborn to the mix will mess things up a little bit. In any case, I think I’ll read more in 2016, but for now here are the books I read in 2015. Bolded books are extra recommended, though most of these books are pretty solid. As an added bonus, they’re almost all in paperback now. On last year’s list, I think most of those were still in hardcover. I should do a better job of blurbing, because I can’t remember too much about any of these.
1. Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter (12/4/15) – This was sweet and fun.
2. The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida (12/6/15) – Neat story.
3. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline (12/14/15) – I was lead to believe I’d love this and I did not love this, but it was alright.
4. The Turner House – Angela Flournoy (12/19/15) – This was well-written and great characters.
5. Disclaimer– Renee Knight (12/25/15) – I had to look this book up to remember what it was about. Clever story.
6. The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain (12/28/15) – Charming and fun. Easy.
7. The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah (1/2/16) – A less good version of All the Light We Can Not See.
8. The Whites – Richard Brandt (1/7/16) – Gritty crime story.
9. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley (1/18/16) – So fun, whimsical.
10. The Water Knife – Paolo Bacigalupi (1/24/16) – This was the best of the unbolded books.
11. Gold Fame Citrus – Clair Vaye Watkins (1/31/16) – Unique and sad.
12. Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff (2/9/16) – This was a well-written novel, I liked it.
13. The Cartel – Don Winslow (2/18/16) – If you like Narcos, this is basically the same story and features many of the same details.
14. Paulina and Fran – Rachel Glaser (2/27/16) – This was fine.
15. The Harder They Come – TC Boyle (3/12/16) – I wanted to like this more.
16. Satin Island – Tom McCarthy (4/13/16) – This book was a good book that I did not get.
17. Micro – Michael Crichton (4/27/16) – I thought if I read a gripping, suspenseful book, I’d get back into reading, but it didn’t work.
18. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (8/27/16) – The consensus book of the year. I can’t argue with that.
We’ve all by now seen this excellent Die Hard Christmas tree ornament, but since it got spread around virally so late in the year no one had any time to sell them (ahem, Etsy). You can buy Die Hard for $.01 if you need it.
So here are some instructions on what you’ll need to do to make your own. If you really want to go for it, you’ll probably need to go find one of these foil gift boxes to cut up. Otherwise, you can do what I did and use tin foil and a cereal box. You’ll also need scissors, tape, a cereal box, a color printer, and a toilet paper or paper towel tube.
STEP 1: Print out multiple sized John McClane pictures from the air duct so you can see which one you’ll need. One thing I realized is that toilet paper tubes don’t have a big enough circumference, so you’ll need to use a bigger tube if you want to have an ornament bigger than about 2 inches by 2 inches.
Step 2: Cut out your selected John McClane picture.
Step 3: Cut toilet paper tube to size with watchful cat not lifting a paw to help.
Step 4: Tape picture to tube.
Step 5: Take cereal box and cut out panels for the duct using the toilet paper tube as a guide. Instead of keeping the tube circular, I made it more of an oval so it could be a littler wider. Tape the panels into a line.
Step 6: Wrap cereal box panels in foil. I put the shiny side out, but maybe you want to put the shiny side in. It’s entirely up to you.
Step 7: Tape panels into a rectangle. I also added a back panel. Put the tube in and you’re almost done with your very own Die Hard Christmas tree ornament.
Step 8: Fashion a hook out of a paper clip and tape to the top of the ornament.
Step 9: Put onto the tree and enjoy.
Every year, books are my go-to holiday gift for moms and dads and in-laws. Over the years, I’ve come up with a method involving reading as many “best of” lists as I can and keeping and noting the books showing up over and over. It’s not scientific, but the books at the top either were mentioned more often, or would be more interesting to the people I’m buying books for. I leave off authors who seem to show up every other year just by putting out a book. They might have created lovely novels, but they’re not getting on here. There are also a few books which only showed up on one list, but had especially interesting descriptions. Finally, there are obviously books which I missed.
(Also, maybe this is a book blog now? The last thing I posted was a list of all the books I read last year. And if I can find the time, I’ll post all the books I read this year, though it wasn’t many because a tiny baby lived in my bedroom for most of the year, and still does. Maybe I’ll post every day next year. Who knows.)
What follows is a list of fiction distilled from at least 20 different best of lists. The order is roughly alphabetical, with the books I’m really excited about getting for people and reading myself at the top. Let me know what I missed, what you’ve read, want to read, or hate.
All That Man Is by David Szalay
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter (This came out last year, but I couldn’t find it in the US)
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Mischling by Affinity Konar
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Pond by Claire Louise-Bennett
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The American War Omar by El Akkad
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride The Mothers by Brit Bennett
The Nix by Nathan Hill
The North Water by Ian McGuire
The Regional Office Is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzalez
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
The Trespasser by Tana French
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Version Control by Dexter Palmer What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
The Sellout by Paul Beatty This is an honorable mention because it was on a lot of lists last year AND this year.
Special Non-Fiction Bonus Section:
The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It . . . Every Time by Maria Konnikova
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Towards the end of 2014 I realized I wasn’t reading books anymore. Sure there was always a book “I was reading,” but that basically meant there was a book I had started months ago sitting next to my bed. I decided to start reading again, and because I document things, I decided to keep a list of the books I read in 2015. It’s dumb, but that was basically all it took for me to start reading again, and I read more this year than I have in the last 10 years combined, probably. Below is a list of all the books I read this year. I didn’t start tracking the date I finished the books until the middle of the year. I bolded the books I recommend you read.
1. 11/22/63 – Stephen King – Pretty good, fast read. My first Stephen King book in 20 years after reading most of them up to that point.
2. Deep Down – Lee Child – I like Jack Reacher books.
3. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – Better than the movie. Pretty big twist, in case you haven’t read it.
4. A Wanted Man – Lee Child – I like Jack Reacher books.
5. Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel – My favorite book of the first half of the year! READ THIS.
6. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. – Adelle Waldman – I can hardly remember how annoying the main character was in this well-written book.
7. High Heat – Lee Child – I like Jack Reacher books.
8. Never Go Back – Lee Child – I like Jack Reacher books.
9. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – Ben Fountain – I remember liking reading this, and certain snippets of the story, but not much else.
10. Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel – I didn’t think I would like this, but I did!
11. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris – I thought I would like this, but I didn’t!
12. The Vacationers – Emma Straub – This book had a trick at the beginning I really admired. Enjoyable vacation read. READ THIS.
13. Annihilation – Book 1 of The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer – Ugh! I did not like this.
14. Graveyard of Memories – Barry Eisler – I like John Rain books.
15. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith – I liked the first three fourths of this book before the author decided to turn it into a trilogy. This could have been half as long if you removed all the super detailed and interesting info about the former Soviet Union. READ THIS. (Weakest READ THIS on the list.)
16. The Secret Speech – Tom Rob Smith – Not bad, but not great. I read this because I read the first one.
17. Agent 6 – Tom Rob Smith – Not bad, but not good. I read this because I read the first two.
18. The Martian – Andy Weir – This would have been my second favorite book of the first half of the year if I hadn’t read Station Eleven. READ THIS.
19. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng – I don’t know quite why this one was something I liked, but it was. READ THIS.
Not A Drill – Lee Child – I like Jack Reacher books.
20. Personal – Lee Child – I like Jack Reacher books.
21. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr – Eminently readable and excellent. Everyone will tell you to read this and I wouldn’t try to convince you otherwise.
22. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – Not as good as Gone Girl or even as good as the Gone Girl movie, but I bet the movie of this will be pretty good.
23. Authority – Book 2 of The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer – Ugh. I read this because I read the first one.
24. Sous Chef: 24 Hours On The Line – Michael Gibney – It was alright.
25. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi – This was great. READ THIS.
26. Wolf in White Van – John Darnielle – This was good and not like anything I’ve ever read. READ THIS.
27. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloane – This was good. Very pleasant to read. READ THIS.
28. Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City – Choire Sicha – Interesting story telling style. READ THIS.
29. Moonlight Mile – Dennis Lehane – The most formulaic book I read this year?
30. The Farm – Tom Rob Smith – I read this because I read the author’s other books this year. It was better than Girl on a Train, not as good as his other books.
31. Tree of Smoke – Denis Johnson – This took forever to get into and read, but was interesting eventually.
32. Bone Clocks – David Mitchell – I can’t remember what this is about, but I remember not being very excited about it.
33. Sweet Tooth – Ian McEwan – I mean, it was well written, and sweet, but not terribly compelling.
34. Gray Mountain – John Grisham – I remember liking John Grisham books, but this was terrible. Was this the worst book I read this year?
35. Telegraph Ave – Michael Chabon (6/30/15) – This was fun to read, but took me forever to get through.
36. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty (7/6/15) – Better than Girl on a Train, at least, and the setting sounded amazing.
37. Skippy Dies – Paul Murray (7/13/15) – Depressing story, fun to read! READ THIS.
38. State of Wonder – Ann Patchett (7/19/15) – This was fine.
39. This is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz (7/20/15) – I read this in a day and a half. READ THIS.
40. The Sandcastle Girls – Chris Bohjalian (7/26/15) – I did not really like this book at all, but it could have been much worse.
41. We Others – Steven Millhauser (8/11/15) – I had Milhauser as a professor in college. A lot of these stories were familiar if you’ve read Martin Dressler. It took forever for me to get through.
42. Dark Places – Gillian Flynn (8/19/15) – I had to watch the movie trailer to remember what this book was about, and even then, I’m still not totally sure it worked.
43. The Gold Finch – Donna Tartt (8/26/15) – I had no idea what this was about before I started reading it, except that it was very popular last year. It was good!
44. The Metropolis Case – Matthew Gallaway (9/6/15) – I wanted to like this book so much more, but it was only alright.
45. Open City – Teju Cole (9/16/15) – Lots of people say this is the best book in recent history. It was good, but I wouldn’t go that far. Big twist at the end makes the book a lot more thought provoking.
46. Between the World and Me – Ta-Nahisi Coates (9/22/15) – What more can be said about the book topping most of the best of lists? READ THIS.
47. The Imperfectionists – Tom Rachman (9/27/15) – Fun on vacation. READ THIS.
48. Absurdistan – Gary Shteyngart (10/5/15) – Not very fun, even on vacation.
49. Undermajordomo Minor – Patrick DeWitt (10/7/15) – My favorite book of the second half of the year! I enthusiastically recommend you READ THIS RIGHT NOW.
50. The Big Short – Michael Lewis (10/12/15) – He’s written this book before, and it’s still interesting.
51. Nothing Lasts Forever – Roderick Thorpe (10/15/15) – This is the book Die Hard is based on, which as a super fan, I was compelled to read. It takes place in the 70s, and the John McClain character is a grandfather. Surprise ending!
52. Acceptance – Book 3 of The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer (10/25/15) – I only read this because I read the first two. I wanted to like the whole trilogy, but I couldn’t.
53. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin (10/27/15) – This was very fun to read. READ THIS.
54. The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht (11/7/15) – What a unique story! Borderline READ THIS, but hard to get into.
55. Make Me – Lee Child (11/13/15) – I like Jack Reacher books.
56. The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt (11/17/15) – I liked this almost as much as I liked Undermajordomo Minor. READ THIS.
57. Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers, and Guests – Tom Shales, James Andrew Miller (11/28/15) – There were a bunch of interesting stories in here, but it was also super long, and sections dragged.
Episode title: “Person to Person” – People change, from one person to another, and people make collect phone calls.
Episode timing: Sometime around Halloween as evidenced by the Halloween decorations in Peggy’s office.
I want to start this week’s recap by saying thank you for reading! It’s been about a year since I posted on Unlikely Words with any regularity, really, it’s only been Mad Men recaps. I’m not really sure if I blog anymore, so there’s a semi-real possibility this will be my last post. That seems strange, I’ll probably post again, maybe tomorrow, but if I don’t this post is a fitting end. At least to the Mad Men recaps, which have been a lot of fun over the years. Even when Chris and I stayed up into the middle of the night to write them.
I thought it would have made sense to list a couple questions we were hoping to get answered before the episode, but I didn’t do that, so there goes that idea. The big question, I suppose, was would Don go back to NY? And, the answer is no. But maybe! Depending on how you look at the decision to use the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” song, maybe Don got himself straightened out doing yoga and went home to create one of the biggest advertisements of all time. I suppose as the recapper, I have to say where I stand? I don’t know! It’s not very subtle, when the show always has been. If Don created the ad, wouldn’t showing him triumphant have been the way to do it? It’s too neat, it’s too simple, it’s too cute. I don’t think Don did it, but I like how they used the song to create the discussion.
The opening scene has Don Mad Maxing his way the desert. Another reference to Don knowing about cars. Did you hear The Doors’ “Hello, I love you” playing? The next line being, “Won’t you tell me your name?” This was the first Dick Whitman heavy episode in a while.
When Roger fires Meredith, he says, “There are a lot of better places than here” then tells her she’ll land on her feet, a reference to everyone’s favorite theory about someone jumping out of a window.
Joan and Richard do cocaine while on vacation and talk about the future. He mentions something about her future being something to develop. When she decides on a new career, he leaves. She wanted him to stay, but not more than she wanted to build something of her own. “Let yourself have a future with me.” “You act like this is happening to you, but you’re making a choice.” “I can’t just turn off that part of myself.” Peggy has always liked Joan more than Joan liked Peggy, but I think Joan has always at least respected Peggy. To some extent, Peggy showed Joan it was possible to be more than a secretary. Joan knows Peggy is ambitious and wants to be the boss, so she offers her a partnership in Harris Olson. Peggy balks, so Joan founds Holloway Harris. “You need two names to make it sound real.”. Roger leaving money to Kevin probably made it easier for Joan to take the risk. Also, when Joan met with Ken, he said, “How’s the family?” and she says, “How’s Eddie?” Joan is a pretty good account woman, Ken is supposed to be, but doesn’t know her kid’s name.
Did you catch all the familiar lines? Peggy says, “A thing like that.” to Pete, something he used to say regularly. Harry said, “Don’t do that.” to Peggy, something Roger says pretty regularly. Peggy said, “I don’t even think about you.” to Stan, something Don said to Ginsberg in Season 5.
I don’t think I ever saw a color TV on Mad Men until 3 scenes in tonight’s episode. Is it because this is what the future looks like?
Goodbyes on this episode: Peggy and Pete, “Keep it up, you’ll be a creative director by 1980.”, Don and Betty, Roger and Joan.
Roger and Marie get married, “Yell at me slower or in English.” Roger has continued to be a part of Kevin’s life, taking him out from time to time, leaving half his estate to him. Roger and Joan hadn’t ever been quite so explicit, I don’t think: “Our beautiful little boy.”
Stephanie Draper isn’t living with her kid, kind of referencing Don not being there for his kids. “You don’t know what happens to people when they believe in things.” Don doesn’t believe in anything? I think what’s happening is Don’s trying to tell her she can move on from her kid, and I think Stephanie isn’t really ready for that yet. “You can put this behind you. It will get easier as you move forward.” This reminds me of what Don said to Peggy when she gave up her baby, “This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.” Incidentally, that was the first Mad Men quote I ever begged Chris to draw, and he did, 5 years ago this week. MEMORIES!
On the phone, Sally is assertive and making sense. Don starts to minimize what she’s saying, but she pushes back. I really liked Sally this year. “Take me seriously.” I wonder what happens to her. I hope she doesn’t get stuck taking care of Gene and Bobby forever. Betty and Don share a moment when Don calls, but I feel like it was glossed over a bit by Don not coming home. I felt like Betty’s cancer would bring him home, but she told him not to come back. “Don’t let your pride interfere with my wishes.” “You not being here is part of that.” She gave him the flimsiest of excuses to stay away, to not take responsibility, and he jumped at it. I didn’t expect Don to shirk his responsibilities. Not even his responsibilities, but to live his life. She gave him an out and he took it, which he does ALL THE TIME. I guess the Coke commercial thing might make sense in that it means he eventually does come home, which makes sense to me, but if that’s the case, why not just send him home in this episode?
Last week there was the scene of Don peeing cut into a bottle being poured. This time, it was Don drinking cut into Ken drinking. I never noticed these cuts before.
Peggy and Stan! That was great. “What?! What’d you just say?” This was cute. The whole scene was funny and cute. “There’s more to life than work.” Is this what Don knows or doesn’t know?
When Don was in the seminar and everyone is communicating without talking, the lady pushes Don.
Everyone wanted one last Peggy Don scene. Don had never said goodbye to Peggy so he called her when he was lowest. Remember he called her after his car accident in New Jersey? “I messed everything up. I’m not the man you think I am.” Peggy asking Don, “What did you do that was so bad?” She knows he is hard on himself, but doesn’t know why. So we finally get to find out what Don feels guilty about. “Broke my vows. Scandalized my child. Took another man’s name and made nothing of it.” Is it this last one that bugs him so much? He got a chance for a new life and keeps screwing it up. Is that what he’s running from? Not being the man he wants to be? I don’t even know anymore.
“People just come and go, and no one says goodbye.” “People are free to come and go as they please.” This means something, but I’ve run out of time. (The perils of writing a recap when your two year old could wake up anytime within the next 4-7 hours.) Leonard, too. Leonard also means something. I wasn’t wild about this scene, first of all because, come on. Second of all. Don feels a connection with him, but I don’t buy it. For everything Leonard its, a forgettable office worker and family man, Don is not. Or maybe the point is that it doesn’t matter what your status is or how much everyone pays attention to you, you can still be lost. You can still be the food on the fridge shelf that no one picks. “You don’t even know what “it” is.”
The final scenes, Pete and family getting on the plane, Holloway Harris blowing up major, Sally doing dishes while Betty smokes in the dark, Stan and Peggy, and Don doing yoga and hearing about the new you.
Last song: In Perfect Harmony.
So did Don make the ad? Did Peggy become an art director? Do Roger and Marie make it? What happened to Pete in Wichita? Did Joan succeed? Did Harry Crane get what he deserved (an ass kicking)? Did Sally make it?
Goodbye, Mad Men.