Books, movies, games and more! If you were wondering how I spent my time in 2017 (when not going to work, drawing comics, or attending to the minutiae of life), you’ve come to the right place! Read on for recommendations, reviews, and the trophies of badness. See the bottom of the post for a complete listing (entries with stars are recommended, skull and crossbones to be avoided).
Best Fiction of 2017
It’s Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato! I enjoyed Lodato’s debut novel, Mathilda Savitch, a few years ago, and this second book was well worth the wait. The book weighs in at over 500 pages, but I breezed through it in a matter of days. The characters are profoundly developed, the plot perfectly timed, and the prose beautiful. It was everything I look for in a great novel, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
- A Book of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t know how she does it, but she does. Oates as usual has created a monumental novel that holds together from beginning to end. A fascinating story with many unpredictable turns, and possibly the most brilliant ending I’ve seen this year.
- Blue Angel by Francine Prose. Prose is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, and this book in particular held me rapt for several days. Strong characters and a plot in which the pressure just keeps increasing.
- The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. This book is disqualified from any trophies because I’ve read it once before, but on this second reading I found it even more brilliant than it was the first time. Do give it a try if you’ve not read it before.
- Honorable Mentions: The Dinner by Herman Koch. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall. The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.
Worst Fiction of 2017
And the trophy of badness goes to… The Road by Cormac McCarthy! Did you know…that you can write a post apocalyptic novel? Turns out you can! Cormac McCarthy is the first person ever to think of such a thing! Brilliantly combining extremely vague characters with colorless prose and a plot of unrelenting tedium, McCarthy has truly created a modern classic. No, sir, this is definitely not just an uninteresting retread of material that dozens of less-respected science fiction authors haven’t explored better!
Dreadful fiction runner-up!
Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa. I guess the intriguing title is probably what led me to pick this up, but it really wasn’t my kind of thing. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s bad. Someone might like it. I just couldn’t seem to find the story it was ostensibly trying to tell, and none of the characters were remotely memorable. Maybe if I had been an adult during the 1999 Seattle WTO protests (around which the book is centered) I would have gotten more out of it.
Best Non-Fiction of 2017
It’s Evicted by Matthew Desmond! This book is an incredibly detailed and moving look at the plight of poor urban families, and the complicated systems that make it difficult or impossible for them to escape their situation. Desmond chronicles several months in the lives of actual families from Milwaukee and vividly renders their struggles, without ever seeming exploitative. This is an important book about problems that afflict millions of people in America today, and I highly recommend that you give it a look.
Ghostland by Colin Dickey. This is a fascinating book that explores history by way of the ghost stories associated with different locations. Dickey travels to various “haunted” locations across the US and shows what we can learn about the past by looking at the supernatural tales that it spawned.
Worst Non-Fiction of 2017
Non-fiction writers, rest easy! I didn’t happen upon any non-fiction books this year that I found deserving of chastisement. The trophy of badness will thus be withheld.
Best Comic of 2017
It’s Sleepwalk by Adrian Tomine! I read several anthologies of comics short stories this year (intending to create a few myself, which…didn’t end up happening) and this collection was my favorite. Tomine’s black-and-white artwork is impeccable as always, and his characters, though often unlikable, are consistently believable and human. The other Tomine collections I read this year (Killing and Dying and Summer Blonde) are recommended as well.
- Beverly by Nick Drnaso. This is Drnaso’s debut book, and it is an impressive debut indeed. Drnaso’s artwork is strangely clinical, but in the context of these odd, understated stories, it works well. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Drnaso does next.
- Youth is Wasted by Noah van Sciver. Another short story collection! I’ve been a fan of van Sciver for a while now, and this small anthology packs a lot of good material.
- Empowered Vol. 1 by Adam Warren. Something completely different, I greatly enjoyed Adam Warren’s nonsensical super-antics featuring the world’s most embarrassed heroine. The format of short episodes of varying lengths struck me as having a lot of good potential, and Warren’s page layouts are very dynamic and creative. The un-inked pencil artwork is brilliant as well.
- Various re-reads that you should check out: Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Bone by Jeff Smith. Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddel.
Worst Comic of 2017
I only read one comic this year that actively made me angry, and it was Plutona by Jeff Lemire and Emi Lenox. The premise is that a small group of kids find the dead body of a famous superhero in the woods, and taken on its own I think that’s an interesting idea. The bulk of the story, however, is just the kids fighting with each other, and one subplot in particular I found so repulsive that it turned me off the book in general. (One of the kids starts draining blood from the corpse with the belief that it will give him superpowers.) But my ire is directed solely at Jeff Lemire, the writer. The watercolor artwork by Emi Lenox is very nice indeed, and should you happen across this book I do recommend taking a look at it. Just don’t read it.
Dreadful comics runners-up!
- Zot! Volume 1 by Scott McCloud. There’s a reason that Zot‘s original run of color issues went out of print. This is not a condemnation of the series in general. The later black-and-white issues I quite enjoy. This original color run, though, is just kind of odd and not very memorable.
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. This book isn’t bad, it’s simply a pretty-good story with serviceable artwork. But for some reason it was a finalist for the National Book Award. I don’t understand. Please explain.
- Rachel Rising Volume 1 by Terry Moore. Terry Moore is good at drawing pretty young women. He’s not so good at drawing anything else, honestly. (Buildings seem to a particular weak point for him.) The story has its moments but leaves a lot to be desired. Also, it involves a killer and takes place in a town called Manson.
Best Movie of 2017
It’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit! Out of a lengthy and rather eclectic selection of movies, I’ve settled on this for the #1 spot, which seems odd even to me. But what can I say? This movie is brilliant. All the animation is superbly done and meshes seamlessly with the live-action. It functions simultaneously as a hardboiled detective drama and a wacky comedy. You’ve probably already seen it. I’m late to everything.
- Cronos. This was Guillermo del Toro’s first full-length feature, and it’s a very good one. Some very striking imagery and a fun, intriguing fantasy story. Saying too much about it would spoil it, but this is definitely one to check out, especially if you’ve enjoyed any of del Toro’s other films.
- Get Out. A horror movie about racism. I knew the premise going in but I had no idea what to expect. But it’s as good as everyone says it is. It builds a rich atmosphere of unease and dread leading up to the ultimate big reveal, and the entire story is rife with unexpected twists and turns.
- Honorable Mentions: Chinatown. Hail, Caesar! Glengarry Glen Ross. Mother (Bong Joon-Ho). Nocturnal Animals.
Worst Movies of 2017
The trophy of badness is hereby awarded to: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones! Of all the Star Wars prequels, this one is probably the hardest to watch. It’s just boring. The plot is incomprehensible, the characters are beyond wooden, and everyone involved in the production, right down to the costume designers, appear to have phoned in their contributions. The Phantom Menace is at least gleeful in its awfulness, and Revenge of the Sith has a handful of interesting moments. Attack of the Clones is just an abysmal, tiresome mess, and I will never watch it again.
Dreadful movies runners-up!
- Suicide Squad. I watched this because it had such a bad reputation that I was curious how bad it could be. The answer: pretty bad! It is entertaining in its own way (which is how it managed to elude the trophy of badness) but overall it really is just a big incoherent mess. When it tries to do something interesting it fails, and the rest of the time it just relies on overworked cliches.
- Anastasia. My apologies to those of you who enjoyed this movie in childhood. I watched it because my curiosity was piqued after watching Phelan Porteous’s reviews of Anastasia ripoffs. I’ll give it this: the animation is very good. But the story is very weak and its appropriation of the lives of actual people is borderline offensive. It’s not for adults. Who knew?
- Apocalypse Now Redux. Wait, what’s that doing on this list? Isn’t it supposed to be one of the greatest films of all time? Be that as it may, I really didn’t enjoy this. It’s overly long and doesn’t have any memorable characters (really, I can’t remember a single one distinctly). I think it’s meant as an anti-war movie but its message is often obscured by its presentation: the Ride of the Valkyries scene in particular seemed to me much more of a glorification of war than a critique of it. Watch Full Metal Jacket instead.
Best Show of 2017
It’s The Deuce, Season 1! Though I do like The Wire, I’m not quite a diehard fan, having only watched the first two seasons so far. Nonetheless, when I heard its creators were debuting a new show, I was curious to check it out. And as it turns out, The Deuce is a very good show. It follows a large cast of characters who live and work in the seedy underbelly of 1970s New York. Clearly a huge amount of work went into the research and realization of the setting, but what really buoys the show up is its characters, who are well-written and superbly acted. At only eight episodes, the end came far too quickly. Hopefully we’ll get a second season in 2018, but if not I may just have to watch Season 1 again.
- The Night Of. This is a riveting series, essentially a very long movie broken into eight hour-long episodes. It features a young Pakistani-American man who is wrongfully arrested for murder and follows his journey through the wheels of the justice system. Interesting side characters abound, particularly the deadbeat lawyer who is forced to overcome his own incompetence in order to get his client a fair shake. It’s a potent blend of character drama and whodunit.
- A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1. I’ve long been a big fan of the original movie with Jim Carrey (despite the fact that it has Jim Carrey in it), and this show does a pretty good job of approximating the same look and feel. It’s not a perfect show by any means, but it’s a stylized and surreal experience that I really enjoyed.
- Orange is the New Black Season 5. I haven’t talked much about this show on here (if at all) but I do think it’s good, and this latest season was one of its most interesting yet. In general Orange has been good at shaking up its formula with each new season, but this time was particularly unique as it explored a state of complete anarchy following a prison riot. While the series does stumble occasionally, its diverse cast and complex characterizations continue to deliver.
- The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1. As a longtime Margaret Atwood fan I was definitely curious to see how this would translate to the screen, and it does pretty well. The dystopian world is conveyed so viscerally that it literally gave me nightmares. Nonetheless, I did hesitate before adding it to this list. While it is an interesting and well-made show, and quite faithful to the book, watching it can be an unpleasant experience and definitely won’t appeal to everyone.
Worst Shows of 2017
I pronounced Game of Thrones dead way back in Season 4, but then I kept watching it anyway. Season 5 was apparently OK, and I enjoyed 6 well enough when I first watched it. Well, now we’re up to Game of Thrones, Season 7 and the honeymoon is over. The lightning in a bottle that was seasons 1-3 has finally dissipated, and what we’re left with is a rather silly and implausible story. The show that became famous for killing off its characters has now adopted a very conservative approach and its main cast now appear to be invulnerable. The complex political machinations have been largely supplanted by contrived MacGuffins and mandatory action set-pieces. This season did admittedly have a few nice moments, but overall the series has definitely worn out its welcome. I found myself actively dreading having to watch new episodes as they came out, which is not exactly the emotional reaction I want to have to a piece of media. Will I watch Season 8? Probably, but only because it’s promised to be the last season. If the series were planned to continue indefinitely, I would stop here.
If by some chance you are reading this and you haven’t watched any Game of Thrones, my advice to you is this: don’t get involved. Its strong start will get you hooked, and then you’ll feel obligated to stick around for its protracted and painful death spiral.
Dreadful shows runners-up!
- Psycho-Pass Season 2. I was looking forward to this, having named Season 1 the best show a couple years ago, but I was largely disappointed. In many ways Season 2 just feels like a re-tread of Season 1, only with fewer likable characters this time around. I still recommend Season 1, but you won’t be missing much if you skip this follow-up.
- Big Little Lies. Admittedly I’m not really in the target demographic of this show. I liked it enough to watch the whole thing, but I can’t really say I’d recommend it.
- Mad Men Season 1. Yes, yes, I know. One of the greatest shows ever created, etc. etc. It just didn’t connect with me for some reason. I wanted to like it, I really did. I won’t be watching Season 2.
Best Video Game of 2017
It’s BioShock! I first picked up BioShock a few years ago, and at the time I was seriously annoyed by it and I couldn’t play it. But for whatever reason I decided to give it another chance, and I’m glad I did. The setting, the dilapidated underwater city of Rapture, is one of the most interesting environments I’ve experienced in a game, and its not-so-subtle critique of Ayn Rand is a nice touch. There’s also a large cast of characters whom you come to know well by the end. But beyond that, the game is just fun to play, especially as you make use of “plasmids,” which give the player character a variety of quirky superpowers. But I’m coming along far too late to say anything original about BioShock, so I’ll just end this here.
Video games runners-up!
- Mass Effect. A very well-balanced combination of story and action sequences in a richly-developed science fiction setting. While it certainly had elements that drove me crazy (read: the stupid car), for the most part I found it to be a very worthwhile experience.
- Firewatch.If I may: this is a groundbreaking game. While the player can’t really influence the outcome of the story, it cultivates the feeling of being part of an ongoing narrative better than nearly any game I’ve played. I think we’re going to see a shift in how story-based games are done as a result of this title. And I didn’t even mention the masterful, painterly visuals.
- Mark of the Ninja. I don’t usually include games that I didn’t finish on this list, but I did like this side-scrolling stealth game, which helped me through a bout of serious depression earlier in the year. So why didn’t I finish it? I don’t know. I just suddenly got tired of it and haven’t wanted to go back to it. But it’s very good for what it is, so do check it out if you’re interested in that kind of thing.
Worst Video Game of 2017
The trophy of badness goes to: The Old City: Leviathan! I’ve been meaning to play this “walking simulator” for a while now, but I can’t really say that it left any sort of impression on me. What Dear Esther did several years ago was interesting, but doing basically the same thing over again is not. While The Old City has nice graphics going for it, its story is vague to the point of being completely empty, and its environments are stuck in an uncomfortable middle ground: not exactly believable, but not imaginative either. Overall it suffers from a common ailment of “serious” games: it’s pretentious but ultimately a very empty experience. As a centerpiece for someone’s game art portfolio it does an admirable job, but don’t go into it expecting anything more than that.
And that’s the end, folks! Thanks for coming along.
- ★ Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle. (Jan. 1)
- Flynn, Gillian. Sharp Objects. (Jan. 19)
- ★ Koch, Herman. The Dinner. (Jan. 25)
- Palahniuk, Chuck. Diary. (Feb. 2)
- ★ Prose, Francine. Blue Angel. (Mar. 2)
- ★ Oates, Joyce Carol. A Book of American Martyrs. (Mar. 17)
- Homes, A.M. The Safety of Objects. (Mar. 19)
- ☠ Yapa, Sunil. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. (Mar. 22)
- Applegate, K.A. The Andalite Chronicles. (Mar. 24)
- Shriver, Lionel. We Need to Talk About Kevin. (Apr. 3)
- Barnes, John. A Million Open Doors. (Apr. 23)
- ★ Udall, Brady. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. (May 3)
- Johnson, Lindsey Lee. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth. (May 10)
- Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad. (May 16)
- Updike, John. The Witches of Eastwick. (May 24)
- Sachar, Louis. Holes. (May 31)
- Scalzi, John. Old Man’s War. (Jun. 19)
- Grossman, Lev. The Magician King. (Jul. 12)
- Lethem, Jonathan. A Gambler’s Anatomy. (Jul. 22)
- Dick, Philip K. Martian Time-Slip. (Jul. 31)
- Homes, A.M. The End of Alice. (Aug. 4)
- ★ Prose, Francine. Goldengrove. (Aug. 17)
- Hill, Joe. Heart-Shaped Box. (Aug. 26)
- ☠ McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. (Sep. 7)
- Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. (Sep. 22)
- Thomas, James, et al. Flash Fiction. (Sep. 25)
- Auster, Paul. The Book of Illusions. (Sep. 30)
- ★ Brautigan, Richard. Revenge of the Lawn. (Oct. 1)
- ★ Boyle, TC. The Terranauts. (Oct. 7)
- Clarke, Brock. An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. (Oct. 15)
- Greenidge, Kaitlyn. We Love You, Charlie Freeman. (Oct. 21)
- ★ Lodato, Victor. Edgar & Lucy. (Nov. 1)
- ★ Sittenfeld, Curtis. Prep. (Nov. 8)
- Whitaker, Kayla Rae. The Animators. (Nov. 14)
- ★ Franzen, Jonathan. The Corrections. (Nov. 23)
- Jin, Ha. A Good Fall. (Dec. 2)
- Jin, Ha. War Trash. (Dec. 8)
- Boylan, Jennifer Finney. She’s Not There. (Jan. 5)
- McKee, Robert. Story. (Jan. 16)
- Jones, Brian Jay. George Lucas: A Life. (Feb. 11)
- Jennings, Karla. The Devouring Fungus. (May 22)
- Aslan, Reza. Zealot. (June 10)
- Serano, Julia. Whipping Girl. (June 12)
- Teresi, Dick. The Undead. (Jun. 28)
- ★ Gross, Edward and Mark A. Altman. The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years. (July 15).
- Strogatz, Steven. The Joy of X. (Aug. 11)
- ★ Dickey, Colin. Ghostland. (Sep 16)
- Sasaki, Fumio. Goodbye, Things. (Nov. 24)
- Gawande, Atul. Complications. (Dec. 12)
- Sonit, Rebecca. The Mother of All Questions. (Dec. 17)
- ★ Desmond, Matthew. Evicted. (Dec. 20)
- Franzen, Jonathan. How to Be Alone. (Dec. 28)
- Vaughan, Brian K. and Fiona Staples. Saga Vol. 6 (Jan. 4)
- ★ Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home. (Jan. 10)
- Telgemeier, Rayna. Drama. (Jan. 14)
- TenNapel, Doug. Bad Island.
- Haun, Jeremy et al. The Beauty Vol. 1
- Moore, Terry. Strangers in Paradise Vol. 1 (Feb. 6)
- McCloud, Scott. Zot! Vol. 1 (Feb. 18)
- ★ Gauld, Tom. Mooncop. (Feb. 26)
- Brisson, Ed and Adam Gorham. The Violent. Vol. 1 (Mar. 15)
- McCloud, Scott. Zot! The Complete Black and White Series (Mar. 15)
- Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona (Apr. 9)
- Crumb, Robert. The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 14
- Crumb, Robert. The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 15
- ★ Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. (May 3)
- Tomine, Adrian. Shortcomings.
- Yang, Gene. American Born Chinese. (May 9)
- ☠ Lemire, Jeff, et al. Plutona. (May 12)
- Crumb, Robert. The Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 16
- ★ Tomine, Adrian. Killing and Dying. (Jun. 11)
- Groening, Matt. The Big Book of Hell. (Jun. 18)
- Mignola, Mike et al. Hellboy Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction. (Jun. 24)
- ★ Warren, Adam. Empowered. Vol. 1 (Jul. 3)
- Burns, Charles. Last Look. (Jul. 18)
- Hicks, Faith Erin. The Nameless City. (Jul. 20)
- Vaughan, Brian K. and Fiona Staples. Saga. Vol. 7 (Jul. 21)
- ★ Smith, Jeff. Bone (Aug. 18)
- Dini, Paul, et al. Batman: Mad Love and Other Stories.
- ★ Ollmann, Joe. Mid-Life.
- ★ Siddel, Tom. Gunnerkrigg Court. Vol. 1 (Aug. 30)
- Moore, Terry. Rachel Rising. Vol. 1 (Sep. 2)
- ★ Siddel, Tom. Gunnerkrigg Court. Vol. 2
- ★ Siddel, Tom. Gunnerkrigg Court. Vol. 3 (Sep. 14)
- ★ Siddel, Tom. Gunnerkrigg Court. Vol. 4 (Sep. 19)
- ★ Drnaso, Nick. Beverly. (Oct. 13)
- ★ Tomine, Adrian. Sleepwalk.
- ★ van Sciver, Noah. Youth is Wasted.
- Powell, Nate. You Don’t Say.
- Stewart, Cameron. Sin Titulo. (Oct. 26)
- Kurtzman, Harvey. Corpse on the Imjin and Other Stories.
- ★ Tomine, Adrian. Summer Blonde. (Dec. 28)
- Inside Llewyn Davis (Jan. 1)
- The Hunt (Jan. 7)
- Wall-E (Jan. 13)
- ★ Chinatown (Jan. 15)
- ★ The Fellowship of the Ring (Jan. 22)
- ★ The Two Towers (Jan. 28)
- ★ The Return of the King (Feb. 11)
- Ratatouille (Feb. 18)
- Bottle Rocket (Feb. 19)
- Pirates of the Carribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Feb. 24)
- Star Wars (Mar. 3)
- ☠ Anastasia (Mar. 4)
- Finding Nemo (Mar. 10)
- ★ Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Mar. 24)
- The Empire Strikes Back (Apr. 1)
- Return of the Jedi (Apr. 8)
- ★ Blue Velvet (Apr. 13)
- 12 Monkeys (Apr. 15)
- ☠ The Phantom Menace (Apr. 24)
- Crumb (Apr. 28)
- ★ Hail, Caesar! (May 12)
- Crimson Peak (May 19)
- The Sixth Sense (May 20)
- Up (May 21)
- Batman (May 26)
- ☠ Suicide Squad (May 27)
- ★ Full Metal Jacket (June 2)
- ★ Glengarry Glen Ross (June 9)
- Se7en (June 16)
- Inglorious Basterds (June 23)
- ★ The Shining (June 24)
- Moana (July 1)
- Watchmen (July 7)
- ☠ Attack of the Clones (July 11)
- Beauty and the Beast (July 14)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Jul. 21)
- Eraserhead (Jul. 29)
- Ghost in the Shell (Aug. 4)
- Lilo and Stitch (Aug. 11)
- ☠ Revenge of the Sith (Aug. 9-11)
- ☠ Apocalypse Now Redux (Aug. 19)
- Rosemary’s Baby (Aug. 25)
- Reel Injun (Aug. 27)
- Juno (Sept. 1)
- The Mist (Sep. 8)
- ★ Snowpiercer (Sep. 9)
- We Need to Talk About Kevin (Sep. 15)
- The Assassination of Jesse James… (Sep. 30)
- Do the Right Thing (Oct. 6)
- Clockers (Oct. 21)
- ★ Cronos (Oct. 27)
- Carol (Nov. 3)
- ★ The Babadook (Nov. 4)
- ★ Get Out (Nov. 10)
- ★ Nocturnal Animals (Nov. 11)
- ★ Mother (Nov. 17)
- Jackie Brown (Nov. 22)
- ★ Requiem for a Dream (Nov. 25)
- Her (Dec. 1)
- David Lynch: The Art Life (Dec. 2)
- Wilson (Dec. 8)
- Logan (Dec. 26)
- The Last Jedi (Dec. 28)
- Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Dec. 29)
- Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces (Dec. 31)
- Stranger Things Season 1 (Jan. 18)
- ★ Twin Peaks Season 1
- Mad Men Season 1 (Mar 11)
- A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 1 (April 30)
- The Wire. Season 2 (May 29)
- ☠ Game of Thrones Season 6 (July 8)
- Orange is the New Black Season 5 (July 15)
- True Detective Season 1 (August 2)
- ☠ Game of Thrones Season 7 (August 28)
- The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1 (Sep. 16)
- ★ The Night Of (Oct. 14)
- ★ The Deuce Season 1 (Oct. 30)
- ★ Psycho-Pass Season 1 (Nov. 6)
- Big Little Lies (Nov. 23)
- Psycho-Pass Season 2 (Dec. 16)
- Twin Peaks Season 2 (Dec. 25)
- Broken Age (May 2)
- Mark of the Ninja (most of it)
- Firewatch (July 2)
- Mass Effect (Jul. 30)
- The Old City: Leviathan (Oct. 14)
- BioShock (Nov. 24)