I have never ever been shy about my love for Stephen King. Today, on Hulu, the finale of the second season of the Stephen King-inspired show “Castle Rock” aired. I had two thoughts as the credits rolled:
- Damn, that was better than season one.
- I want to re-read Misery.
I really enjoyed the performances by Lizzy Caplan and Tim Robbins as two well-known Stephen King characters: Annie Wilkes and Pop Merrill, respectively. I listed Caplan first because she honestly steals the show. She’s riveting as Annie Wilkes and masterfully pays tribute to Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning portrayal in the nearly perfect film while somehow making the character her own. It is truly a masterful performance. As a viewer, I hated Annie, pitied Annie, feared Annie, laughed at Annie, and just went along for the ride. From her awkward gait to her unsettling gaze, Caplan created an Annie Wilkes that is as heartbreaking as she is horrifying. One of the standout episodes in the season, although Caplan and Robbins do not feature, is the fifth episode, titled “The Laughing Place.” The episode is beautifully shot and delves fearlessly into the troubled past of Annie Wilkes. While some aspects of Annie’s character were expected, like her sociopathic and psychotic tendencies, others were new and interesting. I was particularly fascinated by Annie’s struggle with dyslexia and was enthralled with the depth it added not only to character but to the complexity and intensity of the events as they unfold in “Misery” (I’m specifically referring to the film as it has been quite some time since I read the novel, which was a knockout by the way. I might not remember specific plot points, but I remember loving the book). Annie’s “Castle Rock” arc ends where we first met her, worshipping Paul Sheldon and I have a strong desire to revisit the book.
Tim Robbins played Pop Merrill who was a complicated character to say the least. Robbins played it beautifully, expertly navigating the fine lines that kept Pop from being an all-out villain or an all-out redeemable, tragic hero. Robbins absolutely radiates in the second-to-last episode titled “Caveat Emptor” as Pop tries desperately to right the many wrongs he’s guilty of at staggering prices. Robbins is the perfect cranky, old bastard that deserves whatever he gets but that you hope gets better. I won’t spoil anything for anyone interested in watching, but will say that Pop Merrill’s storyline is one familiar to King’s Constant Readers and it does not disappoint.
The first season of “Castle Rock” was close to being great, but for me, the finale kept it short of the mark. It was all so ambiguous which would be fine if there was at least a little something for the viewer to stand on or hold onto. I understood the nod to “Thinnys” and immediately thought of The Dark Tower series, but something was missing. I was dissatisfied and ambivalent about even watching the second season.
But man, am I glad I did.
Not only is it the last month of the year, but everyone seems to be harping on the fact that it is the last month of the decade. I don’t remember people being this pumped when 2009 was drawing to a close, but truth be told, I don’t remember much about that time in general. I know I was in college, I know I was student teaching, and I know I had a lot of plans. Looking back, I realize I had a pretty fantastic decade.
- I graduated college magna cum laude.
- I lost nearly sixty pounds … and then gained it back. But then I started losing again, so let’s call this one a draw, shall we?
- I bought a convertible, my dream car! And when the water pump somewhere in Pennsylvania and left me stranded on the shoulder of a steaming highway, I bought a Jeep! And when the Jeep was too expensive, I bought a brand new car, the first one I’ve ever owned.
- I met Andrew McCarthy and Gary Sinise. And I yelled to James Franco that I liked his collection of short stories, and he mouthed “thank you.” I don’t think he was allowed to talk to anyone outside the theater after the performance of “Of Mice and Men.”
- I published a novel (the first of many, let’s hope)!
- I traveled to places I’d never been before, specifically Colorado and France.
- I attended seven weddings and eight funerals.
- Three of my loved ones deployed and returned home safely, but two made the ultimate sacrifice.
- The New York Giants won a Super Bowl with Eli Manning as quarterback.
- I worked my ass off and earned my dream job.
- I finished the manuscript for a second novel and started the manuscript for a third.
- I attended three absolutely wonderful writer’s conferences.
- I bought a home.
- I fell hopelessly, irrevocably, and dangerously in love.
- I had my heart absolutely decimated. But hey; that builds character (Jane Austen wrote something like that, I think).
I’ve seen a lot of lists like this while scrolling through social media and “decade challenges” and similar sentiments. Recently, I was on LitHub and read an article titled “26 Books From the Last Decade that More People Should Read” (which can be found here and is definitely worth more than just a scroll-through) and it got me thinking: what would my reading list from the last ten years look like? I went over to my Goodreads page (and you should visit it too so we can be friends!) and scrolled through to revisit some of the titles that came along for my journey into the woman that sits in her kitchen, typing furiously on a cheap laptop that needs to be wiped down.
So here’s my list of ten books (with accompanying reviews I previously posted on Goodreads (except for my comments on The Spinning Heart)) that I read in the last ten years that molded me into the woman, writer, friend, lover, daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, human being I am today:
- Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
“I absolutely adored The Remains of the Day. Thus, I had very high hopes for Never Let Me Go, and I was not disappointed. The story was completely original and the novel’s structure served it well. I appreciated the real human elements of the characters and it was those elements that made the story as engaging as it was. I am a huge fan of human drama, and this book offered me all of that in a new and interesting way. Pondering what to do with one’s short and limited time on earth is not a new concept. However the way the author investigates what that means to the particular set of people with extreme circumstances is breathtaking.”
- American Pastoral by Philip Roth
“I loved this novel I am going to begin by imploring anyone reading this review to take my comments with a grain of salt, as I now realize I have a rather bizarre emotional connection to this novel. I believe I read this novel at the exact time I was supposed to; its plot, which focuses on the varying tragedies of the ‘everyman,’ relates to one and all. The prose was engaging and layered, so that every phrase contained a superficial significance and a deeper message that reveals itself in time. I loved this novel and highly recommend it.”
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
“Romance is usually never my genre of choice. It’s my literary snobbery, but I’ve always assumed romances left nothing for the serious reader to sink her teeth into. I’d just always assumed romance novels were nothing more than pages torn from some woman’s diary, some woman desperately trying to recreate a forgotten relationship from her past and doing her utmost to make sure she gets it right this time. All of those assumptions and assertions are insulting and unfair, I know. This novel, ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes, helped me to see the error of my ways.
The characterization is outstanding. No aspect is obviously conveyed or conveniently created for the reader; there’s some work involved, but man oh man, is it worth it. These characters are developed and authentic so there is a genuine emotional investment in how this particular story unfolds. It’s not just the romantic relationship that has longevity with the readers, but all the friendships and familial entanglements. The characters were lovingly crafted and it helps the reader to stomach an unbearable plot.
What I mean by that seemingly harsh phrase is that Moyes is not in the business of granting wishes; she’s being real. This novel is not what you think it is in the best of ways. I was very pleasantly surprised and intend on picking up the sequel soon. Definitely recommended.”
- Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
“I purchased this book for three reasons: 1) I love ‘True Detective (particularly the first season which is absolutely flawless),’ which Pizzolatto created and wrote; 2) While binge watching the first season of ‘True Detective’ for the thousandth time, I finally watched an interview with Pizzolatto where he discussed his writing process and talked about illuminating the characters through nuances, and I thought that was just brilliant; 3) I spent a lot of time in a bookstore and would feel like a total asshole if I didn’t buy something.
This crime novel is entertaining. I kept having to turn the pages to see what was going to happen next. The pacing was maddeningly appropriate, but this novel is so much more than a hard boiled crime story. Similar to ‘True Detective,’ Pizzolatto uses a fluid narration to not only blend the present and past to keep readers on their toes, but to develop characters in that subtle, illuminating way. Sure, the troubled hero and grizzled damsel who still needs saving are somewhat stock characters, but Pizzolatto’s talent and attention to detail creates living, breathing identities for those characters. They can’t just be compartmentalized or written off; they’re complex and layered, and engineer a real attachment. I wasn’t reading just to find out what happened to satisfy curiosity; I wanted – needed – to know if they made it, to know how they made out in the end.
Highly recommended if you enjoy crime thrillers and/or good writing.”
- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
“Stephen King at his best … Some stories were downright delightful and ultimately satisfying, but most were disturbing and unsettling and masterful. There were rare moments when the voice seemed stale and archaic, but King’s power comes from his knowledge of human nature. He gets it, man; and whatever that is, it’s terrifying and funny and entertaining and beautiful. Some stories in this collection are undoubtedly better than others, but King is a master storyteller, so each and every yarn is undoubtedly worth the read.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Mr. King, and have suffered through some of his recent work (which feels awful and unkind to admit), but this collection felt like a return to what made me fall in love with his prose in the first place.”
- I’d Die For You and Other Lost Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Fitzgerald is a brilliant writer; I did not need to read this collection of short stories to learn that fact. The greatest thing about this collection, then, is that it shows Fitzgerald as an artist and a man. He truly believed in artistic integrity, and was brutally honest with himself about many things, including his talent and his drinking and his relationship with Zelda. The stories in the collection are evidence of Fitzgerald growing and evolving with the times, with his own life, and with his own interests. This is a must read for any and every Fitzgerald fan.”
- Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
“As I start taking my aspirations to be a successful published author more seriously, I find myself attending conferences that assign required readings. Some are pretentious, some are obvious, but few are as practical, helpful, honest, and entertaining as BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott.
I felt validated and challenged and, most importantly, inspired to really write and give it all I have all the time. Lamott’s advice and insight are not meant to placate or manipulate aspiring writers into following her footsteps or buying more of her books or anything so capitalistic or self-serving. She talks about the reality of being a successful published author and how the realization of that dream still leaves something to be desired because it is human nature to never be satisfied. That truth, crushing though it may at first appear to be, makes the whole endeavor more manageable.
I am forever indebted to this book, to this absolutely wonderful author. I also plan on reading more and more of her work.”
- The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by Elizabeth Kendall
“I can’t remember the last time I read a book in two days.
The honesty of the author’s account of her life with Ted Bundy is remarkable. Kendall freely admits her own shortcomings which may have attracted Ted to her in the first place. She does not deny any facet of her relationship with Ted and while some readers have found her to be irritating in her inconsistencies, I felt it made her human and actually gave her credibility.
Unfortunately, now having read the source material for the wildly popular Netflix film starring Zac Efron, I dislike the film as they weren’t true to the material.”
*A new expanded and updated version of this book will be released in January 2020.*
- Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10 by Marcus Luttrell
“This book was profoundly moving. I will not entertain anyone’s opinion about war or the military unless they’ve read this book.”
- The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
“This is one of the most gorgeous novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring. Achingly beautiful and haunting, there was not a single wasted sentence. Remarkable. Powerful.”