Look, it’s barely the new year and we know everyone is still trying to remember where they parked their car the other night, much less dealing with the whole idea of resolutions about reading more books in 2019. We know, we know. And the last thing we all need is someone yelling and shrieking about OMG! WHAT IS THIS BOOK? WHY AREN’T WE ALL READING IT ALREADY? So, um, yeah. 


We’ll just put it here and step away before we lose our minds. John Michael Greer. He was the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in American for over a decade. He wrote Blood of the Earth for Scarlet Imprint, an “essay” on earth magic and peak oil. He wrote a Cthulhu Mythos novel, which we enjoy recommending to anyone who wants something a little less, shall we say, “dated” than old Howard Philips Lovecraft. Now, we’re going to temper ourselves a bit here because the year is only a few days old, and it is not very becoming to go all muppet-flailing so early in the year. 

Besides, The Conspiracy Book is only 224 pages, so it’s not going to go very far off into the weeds, but if you wanted to wander off into the secret society weeds a bit, a primer written by a guy like Greer is not a bad way to start. We suspect he probably dictated the entire contents of this book in about four hours one afternoon while working on his beehives, from the ambient stuff he has floating around in his head. 

Oh, hello. Welcome to the 2019 edition of A Good Book’s bookish newsletter. We might have resolved to be a bit more eclectic this year. If that were possible. 

And speaking of eclectic tidbits, if you were one of the 45,037,125 Netflix account holders who watched Bird Box over the break and are now wondering who the heck this Josh Malerman guy is, well, we’ve got a few of his books on the shelf. Right over here, between Lovecraft and Matheson. And no, we haven’t been trying to hand-sell them to you over the last six months (*Cough* Unbury Carol *cough*). But, hey, Malerman. He does good work. Has a new one coming out in April. Let’s plan according. 

And if you were NOT one of the forty-million plus people who were bingeing Netflix over the holidays and are curious as to why everyone is freaked out about aliens invading our eyeballs, may we suggest you try Josh Malerman’s creepy Bird Box? There’s a well-produced cinematic version that can be found on one of them fancy streaming services, but come on, we know you’re book people. We've got you covered. 

Anyway, let’s see what publishers crammed into the last day of 2018, shall we? 


We have Verses of the Dead, which is a new Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston Pendergast novel, and as a final note to 2018, it may be peak serial killer thriller. Firstly, we have Pendergast, whose initials are A, X, and L—like Axl Rose, but with fewer rock star tantrums and more literary rolling of the final letter; secondly, aged know-it-all Pendergast is saddled with a new partner, whose name is Coldmoon. We don’t even know if Coldmoon has a first name or a gender, and frankly, it would be interesting if Coldmoon was androgynous and possessing of less than 2% white European DNA. But we doubt it. 

Coldmoon and Pendergast—hang on, we just rolled our eyes so hard that we let a lot of light into our brains—go to Miami to investigate a killer who is leaving freshly harvested hearts on the gravestones of women who have committed suicide. The killer, who goes by the name Mister Brokenhearts, also leaves a bit of T. S. Eliot poetry along with the hearts, as if they are caught up in some terribly fin de siècle More Goth Than Goth version of Thanos’s love affair with the living embodiment of Death or something (you know, that part of the Thanos’s backstory that got ignored in the last Avengers movie). Naturally, Pendergast (and Coldmoon!) discovers a conspiracy that goes back hundreds of years, because he’s that awesome. He doesn’t just solve last week’s murders; he also clears every cold case ever, because they’re all related. 

We’re not sure what Pendergast (and Coldmoon!) are going to do in the next book. We think they should go on tour as an acoustic duo and perform songs written by dead lovers. While dressed in black. And drinking sherry. While roses slowly die on stage. 

Oh, look at the time. And we’ve only covered how many books so far? 

Anyway, also released on the last day of last year is the third volume of Terry Goodkind’s latest epic fantasy series. Usually we take a gander at the book jacket in order to tell you what they’re about, and we know that Goodkind appreciates readers engaging with the art of his books, but given the absolutely stock fantasy city illustration that graces the cover of Siege of Stone, we’re at a loss to tell you much about this book. It’s book three, though, so unless you’ve read the first two, you probably don’t care. Decent color scheme on the cover, though. Looks like it is warm there. Must be nice. 

And speaking of covers, we have A Delicate Touch, the forty-eighth Stone Barrington novel by Stuart Woods. It was also the fifth novel in the series that was released—in hardback—in 2018. This one continues the tradition of a generous color palette on an image that suggests luxury, money, murder, and sex. We suspect Mr. Woods has finely tuned himself to his audience, and we commend him on his efforts. 

The next Stone Barrington novel is scheduled for the end of March, and it has an explosion on the cover, suggesting that things are going to be a little different next time around. We hope you’ll tune in then and find out. We may have to draw straws around the store to see who gets to read it first. This is not one of those drawings where contestants are eager to win. 

And speaking of making a little extra cash for the holidays, Christopher Paolini sneaks one in under the wire as well. The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm is a collection of short pieces set in his wildly successful fantasy series. We say “pieces” because the marketing copy says “pieces,” and we’re not sure why they are saying “stories,” until we look a little more closely, and then we say, “Oh, so it’s a collection of character sketches and teasers wrapped in a framing device which is then dusted off to look like an actual narrative.” 

It’s labeled as Volume 1, as well. So, plan accordingly. 

And while we’re all snarked up, let’s cover the first cookbook of 2019. Here is A Very Serious Cookbook, which we’re not going to take very seriously. Why? Because the media coverage is saying things like “a fun peek behind the curtain of two of the country’s foremost purveyors of new romanticism,” which makes us wonder when did dining out become the pinnacle of romantic engagement? And “good for ambitious home cooks who care about plating.” To which we have to note that if “plating” means something more extreme than “getting it out of the pan and onto a plate without dropping any on the floor,” then we’d like to suggest that “ambitious home cooks” need to chill the f*ck out a bit. And finally: “You’ll laugh, you’ll reminisce about all the damn good meals you’ve prepared in your life, and you’ll be inspired.” Hang on. Let’s roll back and check on the last “damn good meal” we prepared . . .  

SCENE: The family kitchen. 

DAD: So, let’s see . . . you want to have taquitos, which cook for eighteen minutes at 425 degrees, and you’re going to have a mini pizza, which cooks for twenty-three minutes at 375. So, if we’re going to eat at the same time, what do we put in when and for how long? 

THING ONE: This sounds like math! I don’t like doing math when I’m not at school. 

THING TWO: Will we be quizzed on this? 

DAD: I know, right? Okay, how about I just cook it all at 400 for twenty minutes and then use the broiler to crisp it up at the end? Great. Who wants ice cream for dessert? 

Ah, sweet, sweet family dinners. So inspiring. 

Oh, and Martha Stewart released a book this week. It’s called The Martha Manual: How to Do (Almost) Everything. We appreciate that Martha is ready to help us brace 2019, but we would have liked the opportunity to try to tackle 2019 on our own before we had to, you know, admit that we needed help. 

And because we’re vain and we like to pretend that we’ve got things under control, how about we ignore Martha’s Manual for a few minutes and look at, say, 300 Most Important Chess Positions instead. Let’s see . . . 50 openings, 150 middle-game positions, and 100 endgame positions versus 14 ways to refresh and embellish, 16 ways to craft and create, and 12 ways to garden and grow. Wow. Page for page, it’s hard to say which is a better way to spend your Christmas money. You get a lot more chess openings, but creating festive ties, tags, and toppers might mean everyone is a little happier when the day is over and they go home with a party bag of themed goodies. 

But seriously, if we only suggest one book earnestly this week, it’s going to be Maria Popova’s A Velocity of Being. Popova has been writing the Brain Pickings newsletter for awhile, and while we don’t read it as often as we’d like, we’re always moved and delighted when we take the time to do so. A Velocity of Being is a collection of letters to young readers from established creatives about the impact reading has had on their lives. As you can imagine, each of these authors, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and philosophers has good things to say about reading, and sure, it’s a bit of a stretch on how you’re going to get someone who doesn’t like to read to read a bunch of letters about how awesome reading is, but that’s not the point, really. The point is that reading changes things, usually for the better, and if we do anything for each other, it is helping find time for reading. 

So, charge on into 2019, dear readers. You don’t have to read everything, but you should read things that move you. We’ll be here, stacking books up and making all sorts of noises about the one we like (and the ones that annoy us). Come tell us tales about the words that move you. Laugh with us about the words that don’t. And make sure to tell those who write the words you love how much you appreciate their craft and their effort. 

[Except Mark. Don’t say anything like that to Mark. The only thing you are allowed to say to Mark is: “When is [insert title of next book in whichever series you are waiting for] coming out?” That’s how he knows that you care. Anything else is just going to make him impossible to work with.]

Meanwhile, Outside Portis Books & Gas »»

GUS: You from the big city? 

BOB: No, south of it.

GUS: Any place I’ve heard of? 

BOB: They make good pie there. 

GUS: Ah, I’ve heard of that town. They have a summer festival, don’t they? Pie-making contests. Pig riding. Sasquatch costumes. 

BOB: Mostly. 

GUS: Must be nice, having all that culture roaming about. 

BOB: There’s a bookstore. You know how that draws stuff in. 

GUS: Sure. Sure. 

BOB: Are you Portis? 

GUS: Me? 

BOB: Yeah, the sign says “Portis Books & Gas” 

GUS: Oh, nah. I’m Gus. I work the pumps. Have since ’51 when the legislature passed that law. 

BOB: You been selling books since then too? 

GUS: Nah. Used to be a burger joint. Had little carhop stands over there. These gals on skates would bring your food out to your car . . . 

BOB: . . . 

GUS: Rachel was my favorite. She did this twirl when she was carrying a bunch of shakes . . . 

BOB: What happened to Rachel?

GUS: Went to school in the big city. Got a degree in anthropology or something. I dunno. She was always talking about history and stories and stuff like that. 

BOB: I see. 

GUS: This here bus takes a lot of gas, don’t it? 

BOB: Yeah, it does. I put a secondary tank in. Just in case. 

GUS: That’s a good idea. You can never be too careful about that. Never know when the Big One is going to hit. Wouldn’t want to be stuck somewhere without gas. 

BOB: I . . . I could probably manage without gas. 

GUS: You one of those survivalist types? 

BOB: I’ve spent some time in the woods. Plus I have some friends who know their way around. 

GUS: That’s good. That’s good. 

BOB: So, after this was a burger place, is that when it became a bookstore? 

GUS: Nah. It was antique mall for awhile. 

BOB: Oh. 

GUS: But they sold all the antiques. Well, except for the books. That’s when it became a bookshop. 

BOB: I see. And is that when Portis started to run things? 

GUS: Run things? Portis? Naw. Portis is the cat. 

BOB: Excuse me? 

GUS: Yeah, tells fortunes too. Lots of folk come around to have him read their palms. 

BOB: But the sign says “Portis Books & Gas” 

GUS: Oh, that. That's that damn county ordinance they passed a couple of years ago.

BOB: An ordinance? I didn't know there were rules about signs. 

GUS: There are rules about everything, son, and in this case, it's a bunch of hootenanny regulations about excessive comma use. Damn county said the Oxford comma was not mandatory in local signage. A bunch of us argued otherwise. Got called “literary” by some folk at city hall, which didn't bother us none, frankly. Puts us in company with people who actually know how the English language works. 

BOB: But your sign doesn't have any commas. 

GUS: Got me an ampersand. Don’t need a serial comma with an ampersand. Six dot two-one of CMS. Yes, sir. You can county up the rules all you like, but you don't get to walk all over CMS. 

BOB: Uh, okay. But there’s no comma after “Portis.” 

GUS: Oh, that. That’s just me being ornery. They ain't outlawed that yet. 


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