Here are my favorite books, short stories, movies, albums, songs, and podcasts of 2020. Note that not all of these came out in 2020, but 2020 is when I was first introduced to them. Also, I haven’t ranked these favorites in any particular order.
TOP 5 BOOKS
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty: this book changed the way I thought about death. Deeply moving, insightful, and healing.
- In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado: I’ll read anything Machado publishes. Her prose is top notch, and this book is her best yet. As someone who’s never been in an abusive relationship, this book helped me better understand what that experience is like. It’s horrifying, tender, and razor sharp.
- And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe by Gwendolyn Kiste: the best short story collection I’ve read in ages. Fabulously weird, inventive, and disturbing.
- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones: I didn’t read many novels this year (mostly novellas and short story collections), but I adored this one. Genuinely frightening and has some wonderfully complicated characters.
- A Sick Gray Laugh by Nicole Cushing: this novel is weird as hell, boldly experimental, and deeply rooted in the pain of being a Midwesterner. I love it.
TOP 5 SHORT STORIES
- “In the Hills, the Cities” by Clive Barker: there’s a reason this short story is a classic. Unforgettable strangeness, imagery, and agony.
- “Skin Like Honey and Lace” by Gwendolyn Kiste: this story has so many potential layers of interpretation — pun intended. One of the best uses of body horror I’ve seen in fiction.
- “The Penance Lake Roadside Wax Museum” by Max D. Stanton: this story blew my mind the first, second, third, fourth time I read it. I can only assume it will do the same on my fifth reading. Surreal, frightening, and tense all the way through.
- “Cellar Door” by Emma J. Gibbon: I love ghost stories, and I love weird, hallucinatory tales. This is the perfect combination of the two. Some truly excellent storytelling here.
- “Deathlike Love” by Sam Richard: this story is tough to read by design. Every sentence I read felt like an intrusion on a deeply private moment, but that’s what makes this one so powerful. If you can stomach it, it’s absolutely worth your time.
TOP 5 MOVIES
- Little Women directed by Greta Gerwig: this film is the strangest one of the list. I’ve never read the book it was based on, nor did I go into the film with any expectation that I’d love it as much as I did. Greta Gerwig nailed it, and the casting was perfect.
- The Invisible Man directed by Leigh Whannell: the scariest film of the year. I was terrified within the first five minutes of the film, and it didn’t let up. An astounding reworking of a classic story.
- Relic directed by Natalie Erika James: dementia stories mess me up, and this one did exactly that. A phenomenal horror film rooted in a reality I’m all too familiar with. Highly recommended!
- Possessor directed by Brandon Cronenberg: I love body horror and near-future hyper-capitalist dystopian stories, so it’s no surprise I dug this one. The Cronenberg legacy is in good hands!
- How to Survive a Plague directed by David France: I’ve wanted to learn about the AIDS epidemic for a long time, but I’ve shied away from it out of fear for how much it would devastate me. This documentary is a fascinating look at AIDS activism during the height of the epidemic. Tragic and inspiring in equal measure.
TOP 5 ALBUMS
- Signature by Teton: I love gloomy music, and this band brings the gloom…but makes it catchy! I also got a chance to play with them when my metal band was still active. I love everything they’ve put out, but this album is their best yet.
- Lesions of a Different Kind by Undeath: I’m super picky when it comes to death metal, but this album checked all the boxes. Intensely catchy, groovy, and fun!
- Vacation Man by Adrian Knight: I know I’m not ranking these top 5 lists, but this is for sure my album of the year. Very rarely do I get as obsessive about an album as I got about this one. Virtually every track is revelation. I love Vacation Man to death.
- Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll by Couch Slut: my go-to feel bad album of the year. This is the perfect album for when I want to embrace life’s grime and negativity. Sometimes it feels good to feel bad!
- Wilting in Mauve by Gláss: this album was an unexpected surprise, and I stumbled upon it purely back accident. Every track has a gloomy, punk catchiness to it. I’ll still be spinning this one well into next year.
TOP 5 SONGS
- “Signature” by Teton: beautiful gloom, haunting vocals, and fantastic synth production. What more could I ask for?
- “SIHEYMN’s Lament” by Liturgy: Liturgy has been killing it the past couple years. This song is a fantastic blend of metallic, orchestral, and electronic music.
- “Back to the Playpen” by Adrian Knight: my favorite dorky, sleazy, unbearably catchy track of the year.
- “The Stupid Man” by Couch Slut: the best feel-bad song I’ve heard in ages. It goes to some dark places and brings the riffs like no one’s business.
- “Take Down” by TOPS: a perfect song for feeling wistful and reflective. I appreciate the band’s other music, but this song is the best and most different of the album.
TOP 5 PODCASTS
- 2.0: this was a dark year, and 2.0 made me laugh when things got rough. Bless them for that.
- Against Everyone with Conner Habib: I can’t always intellectually follow where Conner’s big brain goes, but his conversations are consistently interesting and perspective-altering.
- Spooked: beautifully produced true ghost stories perfect for nighttime walks in the woods.
- My Friend Chuck: I’m bummed that this is no longer an active podcast, but Chuck and McKenzie brought a smile to my face countless times this past year. I’ll miss hearing their kind, funny words!
- Dead Headspace: Patrick and Brennan are lovely hosts, and their interviews with horror writers are always a blast to listen to. Maybe we can collab someday???