What I Read and Wrote and Did in 2020

What did I do in 2020? Who the hell knows! I spent a couple months of it flat on my back with a slipped disc, and then a couple more months of it doing physical therapy every day (I’m fine now, thanks). Beyond that, I mostly watched a lot of movies. At some point (& for some reason) I decided to see every horror movie that came out in 2020, and I don’t know if I actually accomplished that, but I definitely watched at least 100 of them. My favorite by far was Relic, which was perfect, one of the best haunted house movies I’ve ever seen. I also enjoyed Sputnik, Swallow, After Midnight, VFW, Sea Fever, Gretel & Hansel, The Deeper You Dig, The Assistant, Platform, The Dark and the Wicked, and the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. I didn’t like The Hunt but I thought Betty Gilpin was incredible in it, and I thought Freaky and Spontaneous were both really charming. My least favorite horror movie I watched was the remake of the The Invisible Man, which I found to be idiotic and infuriating garbage. So there you go! That was pretty much my year. I also loved the entire 7 UP documentary series (RIP Michael Apted), but that’s not exactly horror, unless you deem life itself to be horror, which is certainly your prerogative IN THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES.

Reading-wise, I had an off-year. I couldn’t concentrate, mostly I guess because of the overwhelming fear of death. (Hence the horror movies.) But I did read, I think, around 75 books? It got a little harder to calculate than usual because I also gave myself permission to stop reading books I didn’t like… which lead to me abandoning more novels than I actually finished. Which felt great! Why did I wait so long? And why do people write so many novels?? (Anyway I didn’t count the ones I didn’t finish.)

Some of my favorite books I read this year were: All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer, The World Doesn’t Require You by Rion Amilcar Scott, Aventine by Lee Killough, The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, Cult of Loretta by Kevin Maloney, The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorized Biography by Charles White, Sleepovers by Ashley Bryant Phillips, Serotonin by Michel Houllebecq, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, The Night Visitor and Other Stories by B. Traven, Foe by Iain Reid, The Throat by Peter Straub, Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories by Sholem Aleichem, Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern by Francine Prose, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami, The Ice at the Bottom of the World by Mark Richard, The Nix by Nathan Hill, Gilded Needles by Michael McDowell, How Far She Went: Stories by Mary Hood, When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes by Lawrence Block, and the new translation of Beowulf by Maria Dahvana Headley.

I also had the pleasure of blurbing six books I really loved this year: Babel by Gabriel Blackwell, Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty, Death, Desire, and Other Destinations by Tara Isabel Zambrano, Road Seven by Keith Rosson, There is a Man by Pete Hsu (one of my old students!), and Zero Zone by Scott O’Connor. Check ’em out! You won’t be disappointed.

Storywise, my favorite discoveries of the year were: “Her Favorite Story” by Mark Richard (one of the greatest stories I’ve ever read), “The Seventh Man” by Haruki Murakami, “Flying to Byzantium” by Lisa Tuttle, “A Friend of Kafka” by Isaac Bashevis Singer, “Firelight” by Tobias Wolff, “Broken Stairways, Walls of Time” by Lee Killough, “The Pink Cloud” by Alireza Mahmoudi Iranmehr, “Who Invented the Jump Shot” by John Edgar Wideman, “Previous Condition” by James Baldwin, “Lonesome Road Blues” by Mary Hood, “Desertion” by Clifford Simak, “The Strange High House in the Mist” by H.P. Lovecraft, “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen, “Honeymoon” by Leonard Michaels, and “When the Priest is Not at Home” by B. Traven.

Writing-wise, what can I say? I wrote a lot but didn’t publish much. I had a new story called “God” in Bomb Magazine (which has since been nominated for Best Small Fictions!), and one called “Pictures of Heaven” in the Tiny Nightmares anthology. My story “Death and the Lady” (from Tales of Falling and Flying) was reprinted in an anthology called Devil’s Ways, and “The Man, the Restaurant, and the Eiffel Tower” (also from Tales of Falling and Flying) appeared on the Selected Shorts podcast again (as read by actress Stana Katic). I had three stories (“God,” “Mystery (The Third Man),” and “The Friend with the Knife in His Back”) translated into Chinese and published in the journal 外国文艺 (Foreign Literature and Art), which was an incredible honor. I was interviewed by Tommy Dean for his blog about flash fiction. I read a story every day on Instagram Live through the first three months of the pandemic, mentored two high school writers as part of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, taught my usual Short Story I & II classes at UCLA Extension, ran some private workshops, taught a class called “Writing Modern Fables & Fairytales” at The Los Angeles Writer’s Grotto, and did a bunch of readings and appearances, including (live) at The Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore’s Grand Re-Opening Celebration in San Diego, and (via Zoom) at College Place High School in Washington State, Orani National High School in The Philippines, Alice Cai’s Student Novel Writing Class at Buzz Online, and at the Adroit Journal 10th Anniversary Reading. I also appeared (voice only!) on the OtherPpl Podcast‘s Holiday Spectacular (Episode #686).

As a teacher, I had past or current students accepted into writing programs at NYU, Rutgers, the American Film Institute, and Clarion, and another who was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship to Brazil (!). Others published stories in The Los Angeles Review, Atticus Review, BULL: Men’s Fiction, The Paris Review, New England Review, Speculative City, and Southwest Review, among others, and were nominated for Pushcart Prizes and inclusion in The Best Small Fictions. (For some reason their accomplishments make me prouder than my own, even though I didn’t do anything? Kind of a neat trick…)

Anyway, here’s hoping 2021 will be a better year… for everybody… in every way. (Except those who are impeached and/or sent to prison for treason & sedition & suchlike.)

Oh! One last thing! My favorite albums of the year were Gillian Welch’s sublime Boots No.2: Volumes One, Two, and Three, and the gloriously infectious Lapse of Luxury by Brian Wright & the SneakUps. (As well, of course, as the usual Danzig II: Lucifuge (the gift that keeps on giving.))

One thought on “What I Read and Wrote and Did in 2020

  1. Ben, so good to hear from you! It’ll take me a while to digest all you’ve said. You did so much. During this helluva year.

    I’ll write some more when I’ve had a chance to digest what you wrote.

    All my best, Helen

    >

    Like

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