The Fireman, my fourth novel, will be available everywhere in paperback on January 3rd. So if you get a bookstore gift certificate this Christmas? Now you know what to spend it on.

Want a signed copy? Get in touch with Water Street Books, one of America’s great indie booksellers. I’m autographing their pre-orders. Don’t get burned! Order today, before it’s too late!

(and before you ask, yeah, they ship everywhere, as long as you’re willing to pay the postage.)

RECOMMENDED READING: 2016

You don’t even have ten full days to find those last couple Christmas gifts and maybe you’re starting to sweat it just a little. Don’t give in to panic. I’m here to help. The best thing you can do for your loved ones is get ’em a book. Nothing will more convincingly show your love.

Diamond ring? Pfff. What’s a cold little rock next to the scintillating wit and warmth of great literature!? The latest gizmo? Just more crap you need to keep charged. Who needs another fucking charging cable??? Cool new app? To hell with that. It’ll probably get hacked in six months and uncork a flood of embarrassing personal revelations. A book is the only Christmas present you can really count on.

But what book? What if you accidentally get your lover/parent/child/best friend something BORING? Oh, man! You don’t want to give a Christmas gift that feels like homework! You want something that’s going to give the person you care about a great time – a rocket that’s going to take them out of the every day drudge at Mach 4. You want something that’s going to make them feel all the feelings and keep them up too late at night.

You want something with an Awesomeness Guarantee.

I’ve got you covered.

Here are my 10 favorite books, culled from my year of reading, and every one of them comes with my personal King of the Hill Awesomeness Guarantee. If ANY of these books fails to entertain, it means the person reading it is badly broken inside,I guarantee it.

Best of all: 9 of the books on this list are available for purchase right now!! (I’m mentioning the 10th, because Christmas comes every year, and it’s not too early to get a head start thinking about the 2017 holidays).

The following has been arranged in alphabetical order, because I didn’t want to do a 10 – 1 countdown. I’ve also put an asterisk next to my very favorite book of the year. Here’s hoping you find something here for the loved one in your life… and maybe something for you too. Because let’s face it: the best Christmas gifts are the ones you get for yourself!!

The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder (2016)

“You were never actually halfway through your life. Not in the sense that you were halfway through a… tank of gas or a trip home from the beach. You were always, instant by instant, at the very edge of your life, at the end of it, in it’s entirety, and so never at any point in the middle.”

The Throwback Special is a morbid, hypnotic deep drill down into the essence of busted 21st century masculinity, a horribly funny, horribly sad look at the state of the middle-aged, mostly broke, mostly disappointed, emotionally inarticulate, curiously adrift American male. As a side note, I read this book in serial form in The Paris Review, where it was published in four parts. Got a writer in your life? A subscription to the Review, with its reliably great fiction, and amazing interviews with working writers, would be money well spent. I learn something from every issue.


Kindred by Octavia Butler (1979)

“That’s history. It happened whether it offends you or not.”A black woman of the free love 70s contracts a bad case of history and begins to suffer from feverish leaps backward in time… spells that fling her into the days of pre-Civil War slavery, where she finds herself forced to protect a man-child who views her as a sub-human. For if anything were to happen to her great-great-great grandfather, the monstrous and tragic Rufus Weylin – a white slave-owner with a penchant for trouble – her own existence would be erased from time. For more in this vein, see The Underground Railroad, which is also on this list.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)

All The Light has had over a hundred weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list, and let me tell you… it is so rare for a book to have that kind of unstoppable success and really deserve it. This book really deserves it. Doerr follows the lives of two kids caught up in the tidal surge of history, trying not to be drowned: a blind child who has accidentally come into possession of an invaluable diamond, and a German orphan with a genius for radios. As the war intensifies and destroys everything and everyone around them, they are driven relentlessly toward an encounter with one another in the blazing, bomb-shattered ruins of Saint-Malo. Every chapter has the exquisite perfection of a carefully designed circuit board. Brilliant, unexpected history; fierce, desperately exciting storytelling.

The Switch by Elmore Leonard (1978)

Prime. Like listening to late 60s Stones, or watching an early 70s Bronson flick. Elmore Leonard, like Le Carré in his field, or Richard Stark in his, will always be fundamental.


The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (1954)

“He had not yet learned that if you do one good dead your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.”

I’m reading my way through the Narnia books for the first time in my life. I missed ‘em as a kid, except for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which we read together as a family, and which I loved. People spend so much time atomizing the Christian subtext of these books; I wish a little more attention would be paid to C.S. Lewis’s unmatched sense of humor. Lewis wrote funnier sentences than just about anyone. The first line of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might just be the best opener in the history of children’s lit (“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it”).

Horse and his Boy is far from perfect – we are occasionally very aware we are reading a book by a white Christian Englishman who genially assumes the superiority of his culture over all others. But it seems to me the main narrative is clearer and stronger here than in any of the other Narnia books that I’ve read, except for Wardrobe. That said, I won’t get to Silver Chair and Final Battle until 2017.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (2015)

“Some animals could see in the dark, but it was only humans who deliberately sought out every possible route into the darkness of our own interiors.”

The Sympathizer is an excruciating work of suspense married to a masterful exploration of what it’s like to be expelled by your own country and become an alien in another. The narrator is a communist sympathizer who has worked his way up into the highest ranks of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, spying and lying all the way. When Saigon falls, the sympathizer is sent to America along with the last dregs of the fallen South Vietnamese army, to make sure the defeated stay that way.

Our nameless anti-hero catapults from concussive battles to squalid little murders, from hushed stealth missions to interrogation room mind-fucks. In his first novel, Nguyen pulls off the greatest trick in literature, right before your eyes: The Sympathizer is a relentless page-turner that never-the-less dares to explore big ideas. And the biggest of those ideas is the notion that the Vietnam War was something that actually happened to Vietnamese people; it wasn’t just the steamy jungle backdrop for stories about John Rambo and Colonel Kurtz. The Sympathizer is great entertainment. It’s also a lot more.

The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian (1986)

The Aubrey-Maturin novels are, to my mind, the best set of serial adventures ever written, surpassing even the Holmes-Watson stories. This one, the 11th book in the run, ends with a sledgehammer of mingled horror and triumph. By the time this novel came out, O’Brian had been writing about his heroes for over a decade and a half, but his vigor, focus, and feel for action are just as sharp as when he began. (If you’re looking for a Christmas gift, though, best to start at the beginning, with Master & Commander).


The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

The Secret History introduces maybe the most adorable, erudite gang of murdering misfits in the history of fiction and it’s a story on a classic theme: that some moral errors, made at a young age, can never be fully recovered from. Beneath the surface crackle of wit and cleverness, there’s a low, deep hum of despair running throughout the book, like an abandoned radio station transmitting a dead, dreadful silence.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)

“Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden.”

The Underground Railroad is a (subtly) alternate history that plunges us into a blood-stroked, nerve-shredding vision of American slavery. The craft is set to a high literary pitch, but the underlying engineering of this railroad is pure widescreen horror. Whitehead’s locked down, fully armed America looks and sounds like the 1800s, but feels like the post-apocalypse. His heroes are the hunted, not because they’re the rebels of District Nine, or because they’re the sworn enemies of Immortan Joe. Their crime is blackness. The sentence is slavery, torture, death, or any combination of the three. This train runs screaming at full speed, from the moment it leaves the station, to the very last violent stop. Get on board.


Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (unpublished – expected in 2017)

I left this one for last because you can’t have it yet. But you’ll want to keep it on your radar. I saw a very early draft this fall and was blown away. Sea of Rust is a cruise missile of action and feeling, and blasts along like the guy who wrote it is a specialist in engineering summer blockbusters (oh, right, he is: Cargill scripted this year’s Doctor Strange, maybe the best Marvel origin story since the original Iron Man).

I just could not fucking believe how hard this book runs. It’s relentless in a no-time-to-catch-your-breath way and I flew through it faster than I flew through any other book this year. It is to the science fiction novel what Fury Road was to the science fiction movie… something that resets all the rules and all our expectations.

It turns out it really is better to RUST than to fade away…

One more for the road…

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (2016)

At the time of this writing, I’ve only listened to about a third of the Bruce Springsteen memoir on audio… which is enough to tell you that this book has all the thrills and delights and thunderous power of a Springsteen concert. It might just be the best gift option on the list. I’ve already bought three copies of the audiobook to give to friends this holiday season (and I do think listening to it, read by the Man himself, is the ideal way to enjoy it).

It’s so goddamn funny. It’s also a remarkably vivid recounting of what happened to this country in the last 50+ years. Family, heartbreak, young lust, race, upheaval, personal discovery, work, faith, and rock & roll… it’s all here.

Merry Christmas to you: the first new issue of Locke & Key in three years is out on December 21st. Like “Grindhouse” and “Small World,” this is a throwback story to the beginning of the 20th century, part of a future collection to be named The Golden Age. It is, uh, increasingly clear that’s an ironic title.

I’ll be signing issues of Locke & Key: Small World in Portsmouth New Hampshire, at Stairway to Heaven comics, 4PM on the 21st. And when you think about it, wouldn’t a signed funny book by yours truly be a waaaaaaay better gift than any of the books on the above list??? Yeah, I’ll see you there.

Wow, that was a lot, wasn’t it?

I know it’s been a shitty year, in so many ways. It’s been so rotten, I almost didn’t do this list. It just seems things are happening that make recounting our favorite books and movies and shows of the year kind of silly.

But I still believe art matters. Maybe in times like these, it matters more than usual. A good story can set you free from the day-to-day shitty horribleness of the world. A good story can teach you how to make a stand (and can also help you recognize when it’s time to haul ass and get out of there to fight another day). Maybe most of all, stories can slip you out of your own life and into someone else’s, let you see the world from behind a different set of eyes. If we can’t try to understand each other, there’d be no hope for us at all; but we can and there is.

However bad your year might’ve been, I hope you had some good reading in 2016 and even more in the year to come. And – all my usually silly bullshit aside – I wish you love, happiness, and joy in 2017.

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