Fave Five: John Goodman

You know who doesn’t have an Academy Award nomination and who definitely should have at least an Academy Award nomination if not an actual Academy Award? John Goodman. I’m sure if I did an exhaustive search of both memory and my vast assortment of movie-related spreadsheets, I could turn up a big bunch of actors and actresses who should have been nominated for an Oscar by now but haven’t been. But in this very moment, if you asked me who is the best working actor/actress who doesn’t have at least an Oscar nomination on his/her resume, I’d name Goodman and feel good about my answer.

 John Goodman is the best. He’s a heck of actor, by all accounts a great guy, and someone who brings joy to my heart every time he shows up on screen no matter how large or small the role. He’s also one of the original American Treasures that Richard and I came up with before Mad About Movies even began and obviously, I expect this is the achievement of which he is proudest. With Captive State opening this weekend, I looked back at his illustrious career and picked my five favorite movie performances.

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5. John Chambers, Argo
This felt like the performance that was most likely to bring an Oscar nomination, though Supporting Actor is always a deep category. I’m not sure there is a better example of Goodman’s inherent likability and pleasantness than what you get with Chambers. The character exudes a much-needed sense of optimism that perfectly balances the inherent hopelessness that exists within the plot.

4. Sully, Monsters Inc. and University
I’m always ready to ride or die for a Pixar movie and Monsters Inc. is one of their best in my estimation. I love how Goodman (and Billy Crystal, too) blends his personality into the on-screen character and I think that’s part of what makes the heart of the movie, Sully and Boo, work so well. Sometimes in animation, the voice is just the voice and the art is just the art and there’s a sense of separation between the two parts. That’s not the case with Goodman and Sully and because of that, I think, you get one of the truly great characters in the Pixar universe.  

3. Gale, Raising Arizona
This was basically my only frame of reference for Goodman for many years, having never watched Roseanne during its first run. I loved Raising Arizona from an early (too early?) age and always found Gale to be hilarious. Now I see the classic Goodman traits all over this character and it’s kind of amazing that he had such a great sense of identity this early in his career.

2. Howard, 10 Cloverfield Lane
Goodman hasn’t dabbled much in on-screen villainy but 10 Cloverfield Lane exemplifies what a great villain he can be when called upon. Howard is creepy, to be sure, but he’s also very caring and he keeps his craziness relegated to his edges so that you’re never quite sure of what you did and did not see; little pockets of anger that burst forth then dance back behind his pleasant-ish façade. I’d wager it’s a much more nuanced performance than you’d get from most actors in his place and his ability to keep both the audience and his on-screen counterparts on unstable ground makes this movie what it is.

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1. Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
I could expand this list out to 20 or 30 entries, but the top spot would never be in jeopardy. Goodman fits the Coen’s world so incredibly well, whether it’s in the aforementioned Raising Arizona or a short stint as a stoic passenger in Inside Llewyn Davis but Lebowski is where he truly shines. Walter is a buffoon and an unhinged buffoon at that but with Goodman at the wheel, he’s a thousand times more likable and memorable than he has any right to be. To be sure, the Coens gave him some INCREDIBLE lines to deliver but it is the actual delivery that brings them home and Goodman knocks every single one of his scenes out of the park. As much as I love Jeff Bridges in the lead and admire the work of Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Julianne Moore, and the rest, I think it’s Goodman that holds the movie together and provides the most entertainment.

Go-To Non-Pixar/Disney Animated Movies

In this, the year of our Lord, 2019, my kid has access to approximately 100 billion TV shows and movies and that’s not even counting the weird stuff happening over on YouTube. My kid, probably like most of your kids or your future hypothetical kids, is brilliant at finding the absolute dumbest, most annoying TV show or movie to watch and then becoming obsessed with it. Did you know there are, like, 47 different Power Rangers shows on Netflix? I didn’t. But now I do. Because my kid is adept at finding them. Do you know what Mini Force is? I didn’t. But now I do. And, guys, I really wish I still didn’t. Did you know that, if you let them, kids will watch the same exact movie not just every single day but multiple times every single day? They’re not like normal humans who watch a movie once and then think, “That was great. I’ll watch that again someday.” No. They think, “That was great. I shall watch it again immediately and then probably again and again and again until the adult in charge of me loses his/her mind.” It’s maddening. There is an overwhelming abundance of choices available to these little monsters and somehow, they never make the right choice. 

We watch a lot of movies in my household (duh) and I try to pick my spots as to when to force a movie of my choosing upon my son, in theory so as to broaden his horizons but in reality, so as to keep my brain from becoming Minionized. With both LEGO Movie 2 and How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden World dropping this month, I thought I’d have a look at a handful of non-Pixar/Disney animated kid’s movies that are actually good and equally enjoyable for kids and adults alike. These are my go-to “suggestions” (read: “I will give you three options and you can choose which movie you want from those three movies”) for my kid when he’s watched too much Mini Force or tried to trick me into letting him watch Despicable Me 3 for the 400th time this month. You’re welcome, parents and future parents.

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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Series
The first of these movies is definitely better than the second and the second is definitely better than the TV series. But these are favorites of mine in part because the voice talent is substantial (Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, Anna Faris, etc.) and in part because Lord and Miller directed the first movie and brought to it the kinds of witty humor you’d expect. The movies differentiate extensively from the book if you’re concerned about that kind of nonsense but they’re vibrant in color and humor.

How to Train Your Dragon Series
I am supremely pumped for the third and final movie in this series and I know my kid is, too, considering he has asked me when it comes out literally every single day for the last month. This series will grow on you quickly if you let it and the themes mature and progress substantially from the first movie to the second. I like the messaging at the core of these movies and the depth of the characters surpasses all but the very best Pixar has to offer.

The Iron Giant
The reputation of this one precedes itself as it is one of the more popular, better-received animated films of the last 25 years and comes from the brilliant mind of Brad Bird. I confess, this isn’t my favorite animated movie and I think the animation is only so-so. But, the actual Iron Giant himself is AWESOME, Vin Diesel provides the voice (always a plus, obviously), and one time, my son watched this movie four times in one day (thanks a lot, random snow day in Texas) and not only was he entertained, I wasn’t stabbing my eyes out with fork so that probably says a lot about the movie’s quality. 

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The LEGO Movies
I would hazard to guess that of all the movies on this list, and perhaps all animated movies in general, my son has probably watched The LEGO Movie the most. Combine that with LEGO Batman and LEGO Ninjago and you’ve got yourself a highly entertaining universe with strong messages that is insanely rewatchable. Plus, in a rare win-win for parents and soulless corporations alike, it has proven nearly impossible for my child to watch a LEGO movie without then wanting to play with and build LEGOs. Does this cost me more money? Yeah, it totally does. But is it awesome that he wants to actually play instead of stare at a screen? Yeah, it totally is.

The Lorax
Most Dr. Seuss movies have turned out poorly and, I admit, The Lorax isn’t great, at least in comparison to the best animated kid’s movies on the market. But, for one, I love this book and its central themes. And two, it serves as a good introduction (or re-introduction after the original Grinch) to all things Seuss if your kid hasn’t come around on the books or needs a screen to tell him/her something is cool. The movie looks great, too, with a lot of pop-off-the-screen colors that will keep your kid entertained without them ever noticing that they’re actually absorbing the story’s moral (maniacal laugh).

Megamind
I had mostly forgotten about Megamind after seeing it in theaters in 2010 until we got HBOGo and it popped up on the kid’s feed. This has a great voice cast, the action moves with great purpose, and there are a ton of jokes for the adults. Plus, it’s kind of nice watching a superhero movie that is disconnected from the MCU or the DCEU.

Over the Hedge
The caveat on this one is, it’s not an “anytime, all the time” kind of movie. Meaning, it’s not so good that you will want to watch it over and over; you have to pick your spots. This is one I’ll bust out when Cooper INSISTS on an animated movie and we’ve already gone through most of my favorites and allllll of his. I save it for the longest part of summer break or the Christmas holidays, stuff like that. It’s a fun movie with lively animation and a touch of the Minions-type humor that will keep your kid entertained without totally melting his/her brain. Best of all, the soundtrack is all Ben Folds songs and I’m always looking for ways to teach my kid how to rock the suburbs.

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Trolls
Yeah, you read that right. I’m recommending Trolls. Sorry not sorry. I’m not saying it’s Pixar, obviously, but if I have to choose between Despicable Me, another round of PJ Masks, or Power Rangers Ninja Turbo Storm Steel (possibly not a real title but who knows, really) and Trolls, I’m taking Trolls every time. The movie’s got jokes, the story is fun, and the music is super catchy which means you’ll hate yourself three days later when you’re STILL humming “Can’t Stop This Feeling” but your kid will be entertained no matter how many times you watch it and will probably leave you alone for an hour so you can get some work done or, like, lay on the couch and stare off into space.

Community with a Capital C

On Wednesday, I picked little dude up from school and on the walk back home (which is basically, like, two very long baseball throws away from where I meet him after school), he complained that his legs hurt. This is a relatively common refrain as he is growing and has the minor pains to show for it and also, I limp around pretty much all the time due to various stupid leg ailments and he thinks this is how humans are supposed to be. I don’t know how to tell him that I just need new legs and most humans can actually walk without their ankles clicking continuously. Anyway, I kind of brushed off his complaints as his way of trying to get out of swim lessons which he doesn’t love and told him he was fine.

 Cut to three hours later when his “growing pains” had turned into full body aches, a headache, a stomach ache, and a 103-degree fever and a nurse practitioner telling us he has the flu.

 Coop was utterly miserable, but he handled every part of the exam like a champ until the doctor said, “No school for you tomorrow, little man.” At this point, he started crying (softly, as is his way, no big wails) not because he has some great love for school (he super does NOT) but because “tomorrow” was Valentine’s Day and this diagnosis meant he would be missing his Valentine’s Day party. I have a soft-hearted kid who gets so pumped for all elements of a party, who spent a lot of time meticulously writing, “To my friend, From Cooper” on all of his Valentine’s, who had been talking about this day for a solid week. To miss this dinky little class party seemed like the cruelest twist of the entire flu experience (to that point). I held him against my chest while he cried and Lindsey promised to, “throw an even better party than the school party.”

 The last 24 hours have been pretty miserable. No parent likes to see their kid suffer (except the mom from Mommy Dead and Dearest (LOOK IT UP)) and real sickness is one of the worst kinds of kid suffering. The Tamiflu mixed with fever dreams made him act incredibly weird a few times in the night and twice I sat with him while he puked and cried, “I don’t like being sick.” But still, I think it was missing the party that hurt him the worst. I had a bag of new toys for him when he woke up and we lounged together all day, watching movies and building LEGOs, the kind of day he longs for most of the time, but I could tell he was bummed.

 Then I got a text from our friend, Emily: “I left something for Cooper on the porch. The sadness of missing a school party just broke my heart.”

 I got Coop up from the couch for the first time in literally six hours and had him look on the porch where we found a bag full of goodies and a balloon. He smiled for the first time all day while pulling out coloring books and stickers and Black Panther tattoos and all kinds of good stuff that for sure trumped whatever he would’ve gotten at school. He was still running a huge fever and not eating but at least he was running a huge fever and not eating while applying Black Panther tattoos, you know? His spirit lifted.

 An hour later, I was making some lunch and Lucy Dog lost her mind, indicating someone had knocked. I opened the door to see another friend, Pam, getting back into her car. Waving, she said, “No kid should miss out on a class party, so we brought him a present” and drove off. Again, I got Coop up from the couch and brought him to the porch to discover a bouquet of balloons and a bag of homemade cookies (the greatest cookies known to man). Again, his feverish little body was wiped but his spirits rose.

 A bit later, Coop had caught on to this little game and suggested we check the porch again just in case there were more presents. “I think that was the end of it, pal,” I said with a laugh. I was wrong.

 Not long after Lindsey got home from work, she got a text from yet another friend, Micah, alerting her to a third front porch delivery. We brought Coop out again to find a huge bag of Valentine’s goodies, a drink from Sonic, and a card from his three best friends. He smiled from ear to ear and I think, maybe for the first time, he saw how well this day had turned out in spite of the flu’s best efforts.

 If I tell you, dear reader, that it was not entirely surprising that three different people would go out of their way to bring my son Valentine’s Day gifts just because he got the flu, something that millions of people are dealing with right now and which does not make him or us special, I hope you will take that as an indication of the incredible quality of the people who make up our Community. (I’m capitalizing it from here on out regardless of what my autocorrect tells me. That’s right, autocorrect, from now on, it’s Community with a capital ‘C’.) Lindsey and I have always tried to build strong relationships with the people around us, to use our house as a gathering place, to speak into the lives of our friends when called upon (and probably sometimes when not called upon) and I’m sure that’s built some currency amongst our people. But, truthfully, this is just who these people are. They come to see a disinterested four-year-old play soccer. They send texts of encouragement when work is challenging. They set out balloons and banners on the first day of school. They stay up all hours of the night exchanging TikTok videos because it’s been a long week and I need a laugh. They leave Valentine’s presents on the porch for a sad, sick little boy. In short, they show up when they’re needed and boy, were they needed today.

Find Community, y’all. Seek it out and pour yourself into it. Surround yourself with people who are good, people who care, people who show up when they’re needed most, and do your best to do the same for them. Because there will be a day when you really do need that Community most, when your tire is flat or you lose your job or you have a possum in your attic or your child misses his Valentine’s Day party because he has the flu. Thanks to all those who have taken on my son as a part of their Community.

Movie Rankings 2018

A+
A Star is Born
Mission: Impossible Fallout
A Quiet Place
Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
Hearts Beat Loud
Black Panther

A
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
Avengers: Infinity War
Crazy Rich Asians
Blackkklansman
Eighth Grade
Blindspotting
Deadpool 2
Mary Poppins Returns
The Old Man and the Gun
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Leave No Trace
Isle of Dogs
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Three Identical Strangers
The Rider
Paddington 2
Bad Times at the El Royale
Ralph Breaks the Internet
First Man
American Animals
Creed II
Widows

A-
Incredibles 2
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Beautiful Boy
The Favourite
Roma
22 July
Sorry to Bother You
Elvis Presley: The Searcher
Solo: A Star Wars Story
The Death of Stalin
Ready Player One
Kodachrome
A Futile and Stupid Gesture
Overlord
Searching
Game Night

B+
Thunder Road
Bumblebee
Annihilation
Outlaw King
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Blockers
Searching
Papillon
Cargo

B
First Reformed
Support the Girls
Bird Box
I Think We’re Alone Now
Ocean’s 8
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Hold the Dark
Halloween
The Commuter
Vice

B-
Tomb Raider
The Grinch
A Simple Favor
Hotel Artemis
Bohemian Rhapsody
Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Den of Thieves

C+
White Boy Rick
The Equalizer 2
The Meg
Chappaquidick
You Were Never Really Here
Tully
Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Christopher Robin

C
Operation Finale
Unsane
Aquaman
Skyscraper
Hotel Transylvania 3
Pacific Rim Uprising

C-
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Rampage
12 Strong
The Mule
Red Sparrow
The Cloverfield Paradox

D
Kin
Venom
Life of the Party
A Wrinkle in Time
Gringo
Mile 22
Mortal Engines
Robin Hood

F
Tag
The Darkest Minds
Hurricane Heist
Mowgli
Life Itself
The Spy Who Dumped Me
The Predator
Mute

Top 25 Movies - 2018

When determining the merits of a year in film, whether or not the year was “good”, I’m looking for one of two things: true greatness or depth. (I’d like both, but I’ll settle for one.) Looking back over 2018 and the hundred-and-ten-or-so films I saw this year, I’m not sure I can pinpoint true greatness; I’m talking, like, iconic, masterpiece-level movies. But depth? Yeah, 2018 had some real depth to it. I gave out A’s (A+ to A- on my very scientific, official rating scale) to 45 movies (and I’m sure I’ll add some more to that total as I finish out the rest of my list), a fairly high number compared to years past, and there are plenty of movies I quite enjoyed, that I’ll watch many times over in the future, which ultimately didn’t sniff my top 25 (Game Night, Ready Player One, and Solo to name a few). On the podcast this week, we’ll each go over our top ten and worst ten of the year but as a precursor, here’s a look at the best of 2018 that was under consideration or just missed a top-ten finish.

25. Creed II
This movie had so much to live up to in my eyes as Creed is a bona fide perfect movie and one that I watch constantly, always through a storm of tears. II put up a noble effort, became a worthy follow-up, and fully passed the torch from Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed. Will be interesting to see where this franchise goes moving forward.

24. American Animals
A very inventive, fun movie with a sobering sense of morality as its backbone. I had no knowledge of this story going in and spent the bulk of the film’s runtime trying to figure out if the interviews with the supposed real-life criminals were actually real interviews or if this was all a figment of director Bart Layton’s imagination. Layton has a great sense of the audience’s intrigue, I think, and pulls the strings beautifully throughout. Animals also features a couple of great performances, that of Evan Peters in particular.

23. First Man
This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and yet, for all its beauty and technical brilliance, it left me a bit cold. In this, I think Damien Chazelle succeeded in making an outstanding film but perhaps came up short in connecting with the audience, something he did so well in both Whiplash and La La Land. Gosling is a marvel, though, and the moon landing sequence is truly breathtaking.

22. Ralph Breaks the Internet
Like Creed II, this movie pales a bit in comparison to its predecessor but overall, I found Ralph to be a blast to watch and expertly crafted. Its conceit and the meta-ness of its story work, I think, quite well and Disney has come quite a long way in creating a thriving franchise with what could have been a one-off character.

21. Bad Times at the El Royale
As the president of the “Cabin in the Woods Is Fine But Not Nearly As Good As Y’all Make It Out To Be” coalition for reason, I am of the opinion that Drew Goddard will one day make a perfect film. Bad Times isn’t quite that, straying just a tad here and there from the path of perfection, but it is darn good and features some of the best performances of the year (Cynthia Erivo and Jeff Bridges in particular). Plus, the Chris Hemsworth dance scene still haunts me but sort of in a good way?  

20. Paddington 2
The first movie I saw in 2018, it was all too easy to overlook Paddington 2 as the year wound down. But, upon rewatch, I was reminded of its sheer delightfulness and how unbelievably enjoyable these movies are. I didn’t know I needed a grumpy Brendan Gleeson teaming up with Paddington in order for my dreams to come true but now I do and they have and I am very happy.

19. The Rider
The winner of the Gotham Independent Spirit award for Best Picture, The Rider came out of nowhere for me and left me a teary-eyed mess. Chloe Zaho’s film is basically a documentary with a script in place, seemingly, only to give her novice actors a shove in the right direction. It is equal parts touching and gut-wrenching and you’re not sure until the final frames which side of that equation will win out.

18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Buster Scruggs is equal parts hilarious, dark, weird, triumphant, and sobering. So, what I’m saying is, “This is a Coen Brothers’ movie.” Of the six Western-themed vignettes within Scruggs, five are outstanding with the closing chapter serving as the only outlier, but frankly, I could’ve gone for another half-dozen or so chapters without any trouble and hope the Coens return to this type of filmmaking again in the future.

17. Isle of Dogs
I had Isle in my top ten for the bulk of the year but confess I enjoyed it more the first time around than the second, the opposite of my experience with most Wes Anderson films. Still, I love the style and find this to be one of the funniest movies of the year, maybe THE funniest. Better still are the well-defined, relatable characters, quite a feat considering most of them are stop-motion dogs.

16. Leave No Trace
A small, quiet, brilliant film featuring two outstanding performances in the form of Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie. Debra Granik has a remarkable eye for talent (Winter’s Bone was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout film right before her Hunger Games casting) but even more, an eye for story. Leave No Trace is an ode to a simpler form of life and the people who would choose it if only society would let them and Granik brings that home with aplomb.

15. Ant-Man and the Wasp
2018 was one of the better years for superhero movies (even as we approach the brink of superhero fatigue) and this movie was a big part of that overarching success. I think this was a HUGE step in turning this branch of the MCU into its own, self-sustaining limb, and provided some of the biggest laughs and purely enjoyable sequences of the year. Because I live with a five-year-old who wants to be Black Panther when he grows up, I have seen that movie many more times but if it were up to me, I might put this film at the very top of the MCU in terms of rewatchability.

14. The Old Man & the Gun
I’ll have more on Robert Redford himself in my favorite performances piece later this week so, without stealing too much from my future self, I’ll just say that Old Man is quite literally written specifically for Redford and it shows. David Lowery has rapidly became one of my very, VERY favorite filmmakers and Old Man did nothing but reaffirm his versatile brilliance in my mind. Perhaps the most charming movie of the year, if nothing else.

13. Deadpool 2
The combination of 2016’s Deadpool and 2017’s Logan have completely upended the world of superhero movies and Deadpool 2 builds upon that (in some cases quite literally) very well. Deadpool was excellent in its own right and I know I, along with other fans of the movie, worried what the sequel might look like, especially after original director Tim Miller parted ways with the franchise. As it turns out, it is NEVER a bad idea to add Josh Brolin to your movie (unless your movie is Jonah Hex *ziiiinnnngggg*) and this sequel actually turned out better than its predecessor in my mind.

12. Mary Poppins Returns
I went all over the place in anticipation for this one, back and forth between expected greatness and expected corporate blandness. Ultimately, the former won out and I couldn’t have been happier with this finished product. This wasn’t one of my favorite movies as a child or one that I’ve revisited numerous times as an adult but within ten minutes of the opening the credits, I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted/needed Mary Poppins in my life; I genuinely had no idea that connection existed within my soul. Returns is an utter delight and a beautiful reminder of the classic Disney magic that is often overlooked in a swath of lightsabers and Vibranium (both things that I also love, by the way). And did I mention that Emily Blunt is perfect and delightful and I love her? Well, I will in my next piece.

11. Blindspotting
I S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E-D with leaving Blindspotting out of my top ten and I still don’t feel good about it. This movie came and went with little-to-no fanfare (I’m not sure I ever even saw a trailer) which is a real travesty given how outstanding the performances are and the significance of its message and themes. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal proved to be one of the truly great on-screen pairings of the year and I’m still thinking about the film over a month after my viewing. I expect we will hear much, much more from writer-director Carlos Lopez Estrada in the near future.

For my top 10 picks, along with those of my cohorts, Kent and Richard, hit the link to listen to the podcast episode.

I Read Some Books! 2018

I read all the time as a kid. Allllll the time. At some point, that stopped and while I still accumulated books (because I love physical media, I still very much enjoy the purchasing of actual books), I wasn’t reading them nearly as much as I was storing them on a shelf. I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions but three years ago, I decided I was not happy with my reading output and vaguely vowed to “read more.” In 2016, I read 23 books. In 2017, I upped it to 33. In 2018, my goal was 45 books and, thanks in VERY large part to the angels at Audible who are doing the Lord’s work, I messed around and read 52. I like making lists, I like ranking things for no real reason, and I like large writing projects and so, I have chosen to write far too many words on all the books I read last year and hope you will at least browse through for some potential recommendations and thus, make the many hours I have spent on this in neglect of my wife, child, and friends seem worthwhile.

I did not include within this list the books I took on in 2018 which I had read previously. These included: “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle, “Slaughterhouse 5” by Kurt Vonnegut, “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury, “The Breaks of the Game” by David Halberstam, and the “Red Rising” trilogy by Pierce Brown. All of these books would likely land somewhere in my top twenty for the year, with “Breaks” and the “Red Rising” trilogy coming in at or near the very top, but it didn’t feel right to count re-reads in the same group as new-reads. But just as a side recommend, the “Red Rising” trilogy is pretty much always available on Audible and iBooks/Kindle sales and I loved them even more on the second reading and you should give them a chance if they are even a little bit your thing.

BAD BOOKS
45. “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.” - Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (Audiobook)
As a Stage 8 Completionist, I am physiologically incapable of quitting a book, movie, stupid sports team that hurts me over and over again, etc. (I actually quit two books this year and my therapist is very proud of me.) “DODO” reeeeaaalllyyyy put that to the test both in terms of the story and the sheer length of the book. As an 8-10 hour read, “DODO” would’ve been harmless enough; as a near-30 hour read, “tedious” began to take on a whole new meaning.

44. “Old Records Never Die” - Eric Spitznagel (Book)
The subtitle for this book could’ve been, “The Author of this Book is a Truly Miserable Person and You Will Hate Him a Little More with Every Page You Turn.” I commend authors for not sugarcoating their life stories in autobiographies (see below) but woof, at some point, some serious soul-searching might’ve been in order for Mr. Spitznagel.

43. “Signal” - Tony Peak (Audiobook)
This was an Audible Original with a promising-enough premise that very quickly fell into a jumble of tropes. Worse yet, the reading was grating and even the sound mix was bad. I finished the book and moved on without formal complaint but apparently enough listeners did complain because a few weeks later, Audible emailed me to say they felt “Signal” wasn’t up to their standards and they gave me a free credit to make up for it. Because Audible loves me and they want me to be happy.

NOT GOOD BOOKS
42. “Pilot X” - Tom Merritt (Audiobook)
As with “DODO”, time travel proved to be too tricky a concept for the author to navigate here. Too much of “Pilot X” felt like an intensive explainer on gobbledygook while the rest felt like it was trying to find ways to work around said gobbledygook. At least this book was short and forgettable enough.  

41. “Dreams and Shadows” - C. Robert Cargill (Audiobook)
I like Cargill quite a bit and his career path has provided some inspiration for my own prospective writing “career”. “Dreams and Shadows”, however, took its dark fairy tale premise way, way too far for my tastes and I ended up being bummed out by the story most of the time. It’s a shame, really, because I liked the characters and Cargill’s writing (see below) but altogether, it was a bit of an unpleasant read/listen.

40. “Mongrels” - Stephen Graham Jones (Audiobook)
Pulpy and harmless, “Mongrels” should’ve found its way into the mediocre category with no aspirations of reaching further. But I found that every time the book started to find its way, to gain some momentum, Graham Jones would move into a tangential storyline or make an unnecessary shift to a side character and it wore me out after a while.

MEDIOCRE BOOKS
39. “At the Mountain of Madness” - HP Lovecraft (Audiobook)
Lovecraft’s influence on genre writing is, of course, quite substantial. His actual writing has never been my cup of tea, however, and his masterwork (or at least his most popular work) proved no different for me.

38. “Beacon 23” - Hugh Howry (Book)
I read the “Silo” trilogy by Howry a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. “Beacon” was a much less inspired effort, albeit a quick, easy read. The setting is interesting enough but the story just doesn’t get anywhere and Howry seems to want to build out the world but never does.

37. “Last Year” - Robert Charles Wilson (Audiobook)
There are stretches of “Last Year” that I really enjoyed and the central conceit (a mirror, as it were, that allows the people of the present day to pass into a certain point in the past and vice versa) is well-thought out. Wilson deserves real credit for that as, in my experience, books like this often fall apart in taking a two-sentence idea and turning into a world. I never developed any attachment to or interest in the characters, though, and that was necessary for the book’s back third to come together, I think.

36. “The Spaceship Next Door” - Gene Doucette (Audiobook)
This book fell right in line with the average dime store sci-fi paperback from the 40’s and 50’s. It’s a fun idea, it reads easily, the writing is competent, and I forgot almost every detail of the book basically the second I finished it. Nothing wrong with that and at the time, I needed a nice, easy palate cleanser like “Spaceship”, and it did its job adequately.

35. “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?” - Gregory Alan Thornbury (Book)
I was very excited about this one as Larry Norman is an extremely interesting figure about whom not much has been written over the last 25 years. Unfortunately, Mr. Thornbury’s writing style pales in comparison to his gifts as a researcher. To call this book “dry” would be a great understatement; much of it reads like a very boring doctoral thesis. I started reading “Devil” in July and it was literally the last book I finished on the year after having set it aside numerous times.

34. “Shadow of the Lions” - Christopher Swann (Audiobook)
When we’re on a road trip, Lindsey and I usually listen to an audiobook to pass the time. Finding something that appeals to both of our sensibilities and that won’t be scarring to our five-year-old if he happens to take his headphones off for a few minutes isn’t always easy. Thus, a lot of times we end up settling on a mystery/thriller, though it’s not my favorite genre. “Lions” fit the bill on one of our trips and it was just about exactly what I expected: the story was relatively interesting, the reader was solid, the writing was fine, and it passed the time on a long trip. That’s about it.

33. “Something in the Water” - Catherine Steadman (Audiobook)
As noted with “Lions”, mysteries aren’t my genre of choice but this one came highly recommended by basically everyone in the entire world and also it was already available in a friend’s Audible account that I hypothetically have access to (free book!). I really enjoyed this one for a while and I’m willing to extend some latitude to characters in this kind of book who must make poor decisions in order for the book to be, you know, a book. But at some point, I found myself internally screaming at the main character to, “JUST ONE TIME MAKE ONE GOOD DECISION FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY JUST MAKE ONE GOOD DECISION PLEASE!!!” It was exhausting and I was angry by the end of it despite the quality of the writing/storytelling overall.  

32. “The Queen: Aretha Franklin” - Mikal Gilmore (Audiobook)
This was kind of a crash-course in Arethaology that Audible put out as one of its “Originals” selections shortly after her death. As such, it reads more like a longform article on The Queen of Soul more than an actual book, relying extensively on quotations and passages from other books and memoirs. It serves its purpose by giving the reader a Cliff’s Notes version of Aretha’s life but that’s about the extent of its value.

GOOD BOOKS?
31. “The Sea of Rust” - C. Robert Cargill (Audiobook)
As I said previously, I like Cargill significantly more than I liked the first book of his I read this year, so I came back for more. “Rust” still had its issues, but it had some real peaks and he explored a sci-fi trope (a post-human world) from a unique perspective.

30. “Deadpool and Cable” - Rob Liefield (Book)
The only comic book/graphic novel I read this year (after taking on several last year) was at points very fun and at points extremely disjointed. Some comic collections work well as a whole, some do not. This set was too inconsistent to really hit the mark but I still enjoyed the reading more often than not.

29. “Renegades” - Marissa Meyer (eBook)
I don’t like stepping into a book series without knowing what I’m committing to up front and thus, “Renegades” is sort of a worst-case scenario for me. Between the time I bought the book on sale and actually read it a few months later, it went from what I thought was a one-off to an announced trilogy (the second book dropped at the end of 2018). This book is, on its own, totally passable and solid enough but I’m not sure I cared enough to read the series and yet there are some questions I’d liked to have answered annnnddd I’m trapped.

28. “Moonglow” - Michael Chabon (eBook)
Chabon is a truly GREAT author and his “Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”, which I read for the first time last year, is a masterpiece. I was very excited for “Moonglow”, billed as part memoir, part family history, but it was a slog to get through. The writing is, of course, excellent, it’s just the story, focusing primarily on Chabon’s maternal grandfather, that drags and drags and drags. Every time I was close to putting it down entirely, however, Chabon rediscovered the better elements of the story and pulled me back in.

27. “Six Years” - Harlan Coben (Audiobook)
Another road trip pick, Coben is a master of the “elevated beach read”, a talented writer who could probably pen the next “great American novel” if he wanted but instead pumps out an annual easy read that’s 15 percent better than most of the paperbacks you find in an airport. (I’m not knocking Coben for this, by the way; he’s a genius and I’m very jealous.) “Six Years” is basically the quintessential Coben: great concept, incredibly competent writing, total cookie-cutter ending that could’ve been predicted within the first 50 pages.

GOOD BOOKS!
26. “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War” - Joseph Loconte (Audiobook)
Few authors have had a greater impact on my life than JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis so it’s only natural that I’d enjoy a book about their wartime experiences and post-war friendship. Someday, I’ll get around to the more substantial works on both of their lives but Loconte’s book served as a quality crash course on the both of them and highlighted, at great length, the friendship that propelled them toward greatness.

25. “We Are Legion (We Are Bob)” - Dennis E. Taylor (Audiobook)
“Legion” was a fun read with a quality concept and self-contained enough that I didn’t feel the need to carry on into the rest of the series. I wish that Taylor would’ve cut the pop culture/nerd culture references by 20 percent, however, though I suspect these references are exactly why the series has a strong pull amongst its target audience. After a while, I felt like the Star Trek callbacks and the like were shoehorned and distracted from Taylor’s own worldbuilding which is actually quite good.  

24. “Dead Run” - Dan Schultz (Audiobook)
I don’t read much true crime and when I do, I prefer reporting on the facts of a case rather than an investigation into what might have happened. “Dead Run” fits that bill and Schultz does an excellent job of delving into all parts of this story without allowing the telling to become stale or boring.

23. “When Giants Walked the Earth” - Mick Wall (Audiobook)
Led Zeppelin is my pick for the greatest rock band of all-time and I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years. (I am very good at buying large books and very bad at actually reading them, as it turns out.) I finally accepted the inevitable and snagged the audiobook and it was...not a fun read. I knew enough about the respective heydays of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant going in to know what I was getting myself into but there are long stretches of this book I found aggressively unappealing. Still, Wall is a fantastic writer, his research is unparalleled, and I think he tried to keep the book from becoming a full-on celebration of debauchery and bad behavior despite the band’s best efforts to make it so.

22. “Do Over” - Jon Acuff (Audiobook and Book)
I’m not big on self-help/motivational books but I love Acuff so I started reading “Do Over”, like, three years ago hoping it would give me a bit of a push in my writing and podcasting endeavors. I got about two chapters in, had a panic attack, freaked out, and quit. I revisited this year in a much better headspace and with life a little more settled and got a lot out of my reading, including some quality strategies that I’ve used over the last few months. 

21. “The Fold” - Peter Clines (Audiobook)
Like “We Are Legion”, this book came recommended to me by a couple of my most trusted nerd friends and these nerds did not disappoint! I’ve read some Clines previously (not to be confused with Ernest Cline of “Ready Player One” fame) and usually came away more impressed with his ideas than his writing. For me, this was a big step in the right direction and I enjoyed it enough to plan on reading his follow-up this year.

20. “The Boy on the Bridge” - MR Carey (Audiobook)
This is, I believe, the third year in a row in which I have read a book by Carey, who came up as an outstanding comic book writer. “Boy” exists in the same world as Carey’s 2014 novel “The Girl with All The Gifts” (which I HIGHLY recommend) and proves a worthy successor. Carey has a way of conveying dark, heavy material in a sort-of detached manner that keeps the bleakness of his world from weighing down and bumming out the reader, which I greatly appreciate.

19. “The Dry” - Jane Harper (Audiobook)
Far and away the best mystery/thriller I read this year and one that actually kept me in suspense up until the final fourth or so. I dug the setting, I thought the mystery element was both mysterious and interesting, and the reader for the audiobook was excellent. Perhaps a bit predictable in the end but the conclusion was still satisfying in spite of that fact.

VERY GOOD BOOKS
18. “The Princess Diarist” - Carrie Fisher (Audiobook)
I had gone back and forth on whether or not I was going to read “The Princess Diarist”, heartbroken as I was over the loss of American Treasure Carrie Fisher and not one for celebrity relationship tell-alls/gossip/what have you. But a listener recommended and sold me on the audiobook (which was read by Fisher before her death) and I’m glad I bought in because Carrie Fisher was a wholly unique gem and her writing was always her greatest skill. Even when the story drifted into territory I didn’t necessarily care about (and it often did, frankly), Fisher’s self-deprecating wit and her magnificent voice kept me totally engaged.  

17. “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” - Jeff Tweedy (Audiobook)
Turns out I only read two music-related books this year despite my historical predilection to the genre. I’ve always loved Wilco and Tweedy is a fascinating figure to me, stuck somewhere between a surly, 70’s rock-star and a sensitive modern rock-star. “Let’s Go” has grown on me since I read it in the fall, and I’ve come to appreciate some of the aspects I was unsure of during the reading. Plus, I love when a writer reads his/her own book, especially when it’s non-fiction, and Tweedy as the reader here was a serious bonus.

16. “Norse Mythology” - Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)
Something I discovered about myself while reading “Norse”: I have more of an appreciation for mythology (Norse, Greek, or otherwise) than I actually care about mythology. Through the course of this book, I kept finding myself tuning out or choosing to listen to something else entirely despite A.) How INCREDIBLY well-written this book is, B.) How much I LOVE Neil Gaiman, and C.) How much I SUUUUPPPPERRRR love Neil Gaiman’s voice (*Heart eye emoji*). Somewhere along the line, I realized my disconnect with the book was due exclusively to my internal “meh” to classic mythology in general and I had peace.

15. “The Girl Who Drank the Moon” - Kelly Barnhill (Audiobook)
Just about every person in the civilized world has some familiarity and/or appreciation for fairy tales and thus, it’s a genre that receives a lot of attention in literary and film form. What I loved about Barnhill’s approach here is instead of trying to write a “modern fairy tale” or a “play on a fairy tale”, she just wrote a fairy tale! No modern twist, no attempt at being edgy, she just wrote a very good, vibrant, classically-inspired fairy tale and the result is a smashing success in my estimation.

14. “Brilliance” - Marcus Sakey (Audiobook)
As with “Renegades”, I purchased “Brilliance” having no idea it was the first chapter in a series (it’s possible I’m not paying enough attention to my book choices). Unlike “Renegades”, there is no question regarding my interest in carrying on with this series in the future. “Brilliance” borrows from a bevy of similar books and graphic novels that came before it but Sakey’s characters are quite strong and they carry the book through any potential dips in the originality of the story. I expect I’ll finish out this trilogy in the coming year.

13. “Shoe Dog” - Phil Knight (Audiobook)
Recently, a gentleman in a fine dining establishment questioned my political leanings based on the pair of Nikes I was wearing. I can only imagine how angry that person would be if I saw how highly I rated this book. Mostly memoir with a sliver of business strategy worked in, I found “Shoe Dog” riveting from start to finish. My one complaint is the book cuts off in the early 80’s before Nike became NIKE and, frankly, there’s a lot more Knight could’ve gotten into and I wish he had.

12. “Difficult Men” - Brett Martin (Book)
Another one that’s been sitting on my shelf for years, “Difficult Men” delved into the first run of Peak TV programming (The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Deadwood, etc.), the lead characters therein, and the showrunners/creators who brought them to screen. Martin did so with sufficient depth and through the lens of an auteur, letting each man speak for himself rather than interjecting too much in the way of his own personal biases/preference. In doing so, he gives the reader some great insight into each of their respective processes as well as a good sense of who is and is not someone with which you might ever want to hang.

GREAT BOOKS
11. “The Graveyard Book” - Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)
This was my first book of the year which is ironic given that it had been sitting in my Audible unlistened to for at least two full years, maybe three. I mentioned my love for Neil Gaiman earlier and while “Graveyard” is purposefully slighter than some of his grander world building efforts (“Neverwhere” and “American Gods”), it is no less enjoyable or clever. He is a master of story and there is an ease with which his tales float off the page (or off the earbud, as it were) that is almost unmatched. And, again, Gaiman’s voice alone is worth the price of a download here.

10. “The Chris Farley Show” - Tom Farley (Audiobook)
Not the easiest read I took on this year but I’m glad I did. I adored Chris Farley as a youth and I continue to adore the memory of him as a soon-to-be decrepit old man. The oral history format utilized here serves the material very well and gives everyone who had a part in Farley’s life, from high school on up to his untimely death, a chance to be accounted for in their own words. I laughed remembering some of my favorite Farley bits and cried during some of the tougher spots (not always easy to explain to your child why you’re crying while doing the dishes, but he’s pretty much used to it by now). This is a really well-structured book that fully encapsulates its subject’s many highs and devastating lows.

9. “Everybody Always” - Bob Goff (Audiobook and Book)
Bob is hero of mine and one of the most genuine people you could ever hope to meet. His enthusiasm for life and his fellow human beings is unbelievably infectious and that jumps off every single page of “Everybody Always.” Bob’s first book, “Love Does”, got all kinds of press a couple years ago and rightly so but I actually think this book does a better job of inspiring the reader than his previous effort did.  

8. “Basketball (And Other Things)” - Shea Serrano (Book)
I was in the middle of “BAOT” when 2017 came to a close so I carried it over to the New Year and enjoyed every page along the way. I have a bookcase full of sports books and while there are better “basketball books” than this (books that tell an important story or rank the best players in NBA history or follow a team through a significant season or whatever), I’m not sure there are many better “books about basketball”. David Halberstam’s aforementioned “The Breaks of the Game” may very be the greatest basketball book ever written but does it have chapters titled, “If 1997 Karl Malone and a Bear Swapped Places for a Season, Who Would Be More Successful?” (the bear, for sure) or “If You Could Dunk on Any One Person, Who Would It Be?” (Miles Teller, obviously)? No, Halberstam did not write those chapters so, point Serrano.

7. “The Book of Lost Things” - John Connolly (Audiobook)
If I may be honest, I love Audible’s various sales throughout the year but often times, the books I’m able to pick up in these circumstances end up cluttering the back half of my year-end list. (See: numbers 45, 42, 41, 40, and more.) This was the outlier in 2018, a book I picked somewhat half-heartedly and ended up loving. Connolly’s book has touches of “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” with a hint of Gaiman mixed in to make it darker and more epic than both. “Lost Things” is an excellent read that may end up on the elusive re-read list someday in the future.

6. “Conference Room, Five Minutes” - Shea Serrano (eBook)
Pretty bangin’ year for Serrano, assuming he is as pumped to be featured on this very important list as I imagine he is. “Five Minutes” combines two things that I love: pop-culture essays and The Office and the result could not have been more glorious. Any book that begins with a Stanley Hudson “Shove it up your butt” joke jumps straight past “good” and immediately becomes “great” in my view. Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to the person sitting next to me on my flight from Dallas to Phoenix this summer who had to witness me try so hard not to LOL that I ultimately began choking after reading said Stanley Hudson joke.

5. “The Name of the Wind” - Patrick Rothfuss (Audiobook)
There are nerds and then there are high fantasy nerds. I’ve often been the former but never really the latter as I’ve typically kept my reading to the shallow end of the fantasy pool. For example, I did not read “Game of Thrones” until after the show began and I’ve never picked up a Terry Brooks tome. This was something different for me, then, and I highly enjoyed this reading. Rothfuss’ worldbuilding (probably the last time I’ll use that term for this list, sorry) is exquisite and his connection to his lead characters is evident from the very early stages of the book. “Wind” is also a little more accessible than other high fantasy novels I’ve picked up over the years; it’s not Rowling-accessible, mind you, but perhaps Tolkein-accessible and that’s enough for this nerd. 

4. “X” - Chuck Klosterman (eBook)
Klosterman is one of my very favorite authors and I tend to gravitate toward his essays more than his book-length work. I’d put off reading “X” for over a year because I thought of it as a sort-of greatest hits album and assumed I’d read most, or all, of the works collected therein. Well, number one, I was wrong; there were plenty of entries in this collection that I’d never read before. And number two, even those that I had read were just as interesting and engrossing the second time around as they were in their respective original formats. Klosterman’s unique questions and thought process surrounding virtually any subject he approaches makes even the most common celebrity interview, usually a total tune-out for me, a must-read.

3. “Children of Time” - Adrian Tchaikovsky (Audiobook)
I continue to think of sci-fi as my favorite genre (at least on the fiction side of things) but I am often disappointed or nonplussed by the sci-fi I read. While I quite enjoyed “Brilliance”, “The Fold”, and others, “Children of Time” was the big winner in the sci-fi category this year and likely would remain at the top in most years. It’s a complex story told in three parts spanning across space and time and yet, Tchaikovsky is able to not only hold the reader’s attention rapt, he keeps the book on track, never letting it get lost in its own complexities. It’s dense sci-fi, to be sure, but it’s dense because the story calls for it, not just for the sake of being dense. So, while I can’t say it’s an easy read, it is a supremely good read that is just as strong in execution as it is in concept.  

2. “Hi, Bob!” - Bob Newhart (Audiobook)
Seeing as how I am a living human being who has a heart, I love American Treasure Bob Newhart and I value his influence on comedy as highly as any other contributor of the last 50 years. “Hi, Bob!” is a short, easy listen (it is only available via audiobook) that plays more like a longform podcast than anything else and allows him the opportunity to talk to other very funny people (Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Conan O’Brien, etc.) about comedy, life, and everything in between. The reverence that each comedian has for Newhart is palpable, but these are real conversations between peers and the dynamic works so beautifully.

1. “Hits and Misses” - Simon Rich (eBook)
My favorite read of the year by leaps and bounds. Rich is an actual, literal, comedic genius who has authored some of the funniest short and longform stories (not to mention scripts) of the last decade. But “Hits and Misses” is his masterpiece. Every story in this collection is a good one but the peaks are absolutely brilliant and truly hilarious. I’m not a particularly fast reader as most of my actual “eyes on page/screen” reading comes late at night after everything else is done and I’ve usually only got a few minutes to spare. But I read “Hits and Misses” in two, maybe three sittings total, including once when I tried to read in bed while Lindsey slept and ultimately resulted in my leaving the room because I couldn’t stop cackling out loud. I know I can be prone to hyperbole, but I genuinely cannot remember ever laughing as hard and as frequently while reading a book as I did with “Hits and Misses” and I imagine I will revisit the better stories many times again in the future.

"I Just Want to Be Like You"

I, like probably three billion people worldwide, have plantar fasciitis. This is not a surprise given how much I am on my feet, how much basketball I have played (poorly) in my life, and how little care I have given to rest and rehabilitation after the various injuries that pop up as a result of said poorly played basketball. One day, I woke up and my foot hurt. The next day, I woke up and my foot was immobile. The day after that, I woke up and went to the doctor and told the doctor, “I think I have plantar fasciitis” and he said, “Yes, you definitely have plantar fasciitis.” And that was that.

The impact of this supremely lame and extremely common diagnosis on my life is twofold.

One, I had to get rid of a lot of my sneakers. I love sneakers; if I was wealthy, I would be one of those people who has a closet full of sneakers displayed on lighted racks. But many of my sneakers didn’t fit right post-diagnosis or did not take to the inserts I have to wear in my shoes at all times now, so they were sold or given away or thrown away, each loss requiring a small funeral-like ceremony. I guess my ability to walk when I am 50 is worth giving up my favorite pair of Nikes but it’s a closer call than you might think.

The second change in my life is that I now wear my shoes pretty much all of the time. The combination of my stupid plantar fasciitis and the terrible laminate floors we currently have in our house leaves me limping if I walk around without shoes for very long. I cannot fix my feet without surgery and we do not own this house so I cannot change the flooring and, thus, if I am not in bed or in the shower, I have my shoes on. Again, this is a very minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things (or even the not-grand scheme of things, really), just a thing I have to deal with like everyone has things that they just have to deal with, until hopefully someday I can afford robot feet.

But, because my son notices everything, he makes note of my shoe wearing with great regularity. When I put my shoes on (or change from one pair to another as I do frequently to alleviate pressure points), he is consistently very quick to ask me if I’m going somewhere. “No, buddy, just doing the dishes and need my shoes on” or “Nah, pal, my feet just hurt.” Sometimes I plop down on the couch next to him with my shoes up on the coffee table and he immediately points them out like, “Dad, your shoes are still on.” “I know, dude, but I gotta do something in a bit, I just want to sit with you for a few minutes.”

For a while, this struck him as sheer lunacy. Coop is one of the world’s great loungers. When he gets home from school, he changes into athletic shorts the second he walks in the door. He has always been very quick to assemble “comfy” spaces for himself at the expense of anyone else in the house, building “hideouts” out of every pillow and couch cushion we will let him use. To him, the idea of keeping your shoes on when you’re not up running around borders on sacrilege. He’s almost offended that I would dare sit near his newest hideout without having the decency to take off my shoes.

Recently, though, on a lazy Saturday or Sunday, I started putting my shoes on in order to do some chores or whatever and noticed that he was putting his sneakers on as well.

“Hey man,” I said, smiling over at him. “We’re not going anywhere. You can keep chilling. I’ve got some cleaning to do is all.” 

“I know,” he replied as he went about the business of putting on his socks and shoes.

“Why’re you putting your shoes on, then?”

“I just want to be like you.” 

There are few phrases and sentences that will stop you short, that will warm your heart, that will make you take pride in what you’re doing quite like that one. My favorite video of Cooper is from the morning after the Force Awakens trailer dropped and I got to wake up my kid into a world that offered him new Star Wars and recorded his reaction to the trailer. But my second favorite video ever (and, I must say, there are a LOT of great Cooper videos because this kid rules) is one Lindsey shot over our post-church lunch a couple years ago wherein Coop tells me when he grows up, he wants to be a coach “just like you” and suggests that maybe we should coach together. When I am feeling like not the greatest parent (often! Because parenting is hard!), I watch that video because it reminds me that at least on some level, I am doing some things right. Coop doesn’t really care about sports, not yet, and maybe not ever, so I know that his desire to coach (however fleeting it may end up being) has very little to do with his love for the game and very much to do with his love for me. 

For the next few hours, I worked around the house on various chores, projects, organizations, and re-organizations and Cooper did not. He did not clean or work on a project or re-organize a shelf. He sat, and he watched TV, and he played with toys and a few times he moved from one hideout location to another. But he kept his shoes on because he just wanted to be like me.

There’s an episode of Boy Meets World where Cory is upset (as he often was) that he doesn’t have any special skills or abilities and accuses his father of letting him down. “I’m average because you’re average,” he charges Alan (the greatest TV dad of all-time, by the way). The focus of the episode is about Cory coming to grips with his lack of self-confidence and learning to appreciate his father. But I’ve always thought the real strength of the episode comes from Alan who, while hurt by his son’s lack of respect, acknowledges that coming from where he came from, “if my son thinks average is nothing then I’ve done my job.”

And that’s me to a t. I’m so happy and proud that my son and I are best buddies, that he wants to be like me so badly that he’ll spend three hours wearing shoes inside his sacrosanct hideout just so we match. But I don’t want him to stop there. I want him to take some of the things he will have hopefully learned from me (work ethic, loyalty, “humor”, etc.) and apply it to himself in ways I have never been able to manage; that he will be more patient than I am, that he will be kinder than me, that he will find direction sooner than I did, that he will be more successful than me (in whatever form that shows itself), etc. I want him to be better than me and if someday that means he stops wanting to be like me because he’s already surpassed me, if he sees me as the crude model on which he built his much stronger, better self, then I believe I will have done my job.

I just hope he has the money to buy his old man some new robot feet.

"I Hear Everything"

In the months before my son was born, my friend, Tobin, was going through a divorce and needed a place to crash. So he crashed with us and every other week, so did his four-year-old son, Jude. We loved having them around and it was good training for parenthood. I’m not “Walk around the house naked guy” or “Yell obscenities at every hour of the night guy” but obviously it’s a big transition going from “no kids” to “one or more kids” in your house and Jude gave us (read: “me”) a sort-of trial run on having a kid around the house who didn’t go somewhere else at the end of the evening.

Jude had a lot of energy (duh) but he was also content being the only kid in the midst of a group of adults and was great at disappearing into his own thing, whether it was an iPad or toys or even a book, when the occasion called for it. I learned a lot about having your kids around other adults in settings that were not specifically geared toward kids and Lindsey and I have carried that forward with Cooper. I think it’s important, on a number of levels, that he learns how to interact with his elders and I’m not sure that would have been such an immediate priority for me had I not sat in a room with 10 adults, and one four-year-old, dozens of times over those pre-Cooper months.

In this setting, Jude would kinda tune out and leave the adults to our nonsense with the very pointed, incredibly consistent exception on one very specific thing: No matter what he was doing, where he was in the house, or how quietly you spoke, if you said the word “stupid”, he would immediately perk up and chide you. “Don’t say stupid,” he’d say, eyes darting up just long enough to make it clear that he was not messing around. You could say LITERALLY any other word and he’d go on with whatever he was doing unphased; you could mock his dad mercilessly (a favorite pastime of mine), you could blare Kanye, you could deliver a perfect reading of the first 20 minutes of The Departed, everything else was on the table. But if you said “stupid” you would HEAR ABOUT IT without fail. It got to the point where if someone did utter the magic “s” word, his face would sink and the rest of us would glance over at Jude, waiting for his rebuke. He never let us down and I still give Tobin grief about it to this day.

I am now reaping the karmic rewards of that which I have sown.

Cooper is a super observant kid. From an early age, you could tell he was taking everything in and processing whatever was happening around him. And he never forgets anything (except how to put away his dirty clothes). He listens to what we say and we try very, very hard to include him in conversation, ask him questions, and engage him in what we’re doing and usually he goes right along with it. The general exception to this is the car. When we’re in the car, there are things he pays attention to and notices, but it’s usually tied more to routine and landmarks. If I take a different route home from my parent’s house, he’ll ask why we didn’t turn where we usually do and if we happen to pass a random building that he’s seen before, he’ll comment on how this is near something or some place that he visited once some months or years previously. But for the most part, in the car, he kinda tunes us out unless we’re specifically engaging him. And even then, he’s prone to saying, “I don’t want to talk right now” and returning his gaze to the window. I respect it.

Recently, though, he let us in on his big secret. Lindsey and I were talking about something (I don’t remember the specifics; work, friends, family, my grief over the impending end of Dirk Nowitzki’s playing career, whatever, take your pick) and Cooper asked, “What does that mean?” I glanced back at him and asked if he was listening to our conversation. His reply chilled me to my bones. 

“I hear EVERYTHING,” he said somewhat emphatically.

“Are you telling me you’re just sitting back there all quiet listening to everything we say?” I asked, half-amused and half-thinking-back-on-everything-I-had-said-in-the-last-15-minutes.

“Yes. I always do that. I. Hear. Ev. Er. Y. Thing.”

He smiled at me in a manner that suggested he knew EXACTLY what kind of bombshell he’d just dropped on us then went back to staring at the window, a satisfactory grin on his little gremlin face. Meanwhile, Lindsey and I shrugged nervously at each other, “Welp, can’t put that genie back in the bottle.” And look, it’s not like we’re throwing around f-bombs or trashing our friends behind their backs (I usually just trash them to their faces) or whatever else might be truly damaging to a child. We both worked with kids for years before we ever had our own and anyway, we tend to keep things pretty mild in our conversations regardless of the presence of tiny ears. But still, we thought the car was a safe place given how completely zoned out this kid has consistently been for the bulk of his life and lo and behold, we were playing right into his hands.

So, if you hear our kid calling someone a moron in traffic (me) or ranting about the menu changes at Taco Bueno (Lindsey) or marveling at the sheer stupidity of the DC Extended Universe (me) or saying one of those words that’s not really, exactly a curse word per se but definitely isn’t a mom-friendly-word (me again), that’s our bad. Just know that we didn’t know he “hears EVERYTHING” until just this second and we’ll try to better in the future.

And, don’t say stupid.

"I Have Them Now" and Other Creepy Things Kids Say

Kids are creepy. Okay, maybe I should say, kids say creepy stuff. Really creepy stuff. We love the kids that say the creepy stuff. But still, the creepy stuff they say sticks with us. I’m around a lot of kids and I have heard a lot of creepy stuff over the years. Whether it’s Coop, a friend’s kid, a kid at work, or the occasional random stranger kid who just seems to appear out of nowhere in a store aisle, says something weird, then disappears, leaving you to wonder if you have just seen a ghost, I have found the creepy stuff they say usually results in one of four reactions. These reactions are illustrated by the following gifs, each reaction escalating in seriousness.

1. THE “WAIT, WUUUTTT??”
A friend of ours has a child who, as the family drove past a power line that was lined with black birds, shoulder to shoulder, calmly called out the number of birds in sight. Like, he very casually said, “Yeah there’s 673 birds up there” and less in a Rain Man way than in a way that suggested he had trackers on all of the birds and kept a tally in his journal at home. It was weird.

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2. THE “SILENT BLINK”
Recently, as we walked into a Target together, I noticed Cooper was extending his hand toward every bird we passed in the parking lot and making a sort of “whooshing” sound. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, simply, and matter-of-factly as if this was a very normal thing to do and say, “I have them now.” Wait, what? “I have them now,” he repeated. And then he smiled, and we proceeded into Target. So…I guess my son has the ability to pull the souls out of Parking Lot Birds and I’m not sure what to do about that. If you have any advice on this, please let me know.

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3. THE “DISCOMBOBULATED HOLD UP, WHAT NOW?”
When Cooper was younger, he would occasionally say that he had been to a place he had never been to. We’d be driving by a random location and he’d say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve been to that park before” or, “That’s the McDonald’s I went to last week.” We’d argue with him a bit but he was adamant about these supposed experiences and finally, after some extensive prodding, he revealed to us that he had been to these locations with “Schmike”, who, we think (I should stress the “think” part of this because who knows really?) was an imaginary friend. The creepy part was the Schmike only visited at night when Cooper was already in bed and he has some facial deformity that Cooper was vague about and, oh yeah, I forgot, sometimes they VISITED A GRAVEYARD WHAT IS HAPPENING?!? 

4. THE “SCREAM AND DIE”
Before we had a child, we spent a lot of time with our friend’s kids and one set of kids in particular. At some point, one of these children began talking about “Ty Thomas” who, like Schmike, we assumed was an imaginary friend. There were only two real differences between Ty Thomas and Schmike:

A.) This kid would commune with Ty Thomas at any point during the day or night, sometimes stopping while playing to wave at Ty Thomas who was apparently JUST HANGING OUT IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM WHILE WE ALL ATE;
B.) We found out after a while that Ty Thomas was the name of a child who previously lived in the neighborhood…UNTIL HE DIED!!! There’s nothing that will stop down a friendly game night quicker than a child waving to a DEAD CHILD that only he can see and also, I’m pretty sure Ty Thomas is still with us and will be haunting us for the rest of our days.

So, here’s to all the creepy kids and the creepy things they say that keep us on our toes and up at night, unable to sleep for fear of Ty Thomas’ retribution. You’re the worst, kids.