I’ve been thinking a lot about why brutal crime stories are so compelling. Why are there so many excellently written and absolutely gripping murder stories? If you believe, as Harold Bloom does, that Shakespeare is the greatest writer of the Western Canon, you have to consider how many of his greatest, or really the greatest, plays involve atrocity.

It’s not just that these stories are popular, it’s that so many of them are truly great. If you believe, as Harold Bloom does, that Shakespeare is the greatest writer of the Western Canon, you have to consider how many of his greatest, or really the greatest, plays involve atrocity.

Some say Edgar Allen Poe was the first detective fiction writer. I’ve read their arguments and I’m innclined to agree. You also have Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood as a towering example of immersion journalism in the genre.

Silence of the Lambs took home seven oscars in 1992. Before that, there was Hitchcock’s auteur work. One of my favorite living directors, David Fincher, did Seven and Zodiac.

Television has been offering crime drama for as long as its been around. Love it or hate it, Law & Order is still going strong after something like 180,000 episodes. The first season of True Detective is, to my tastes, an absolute masterpiece. Netflix’s recently released Mindhunter  (produced by David Fincher and others) is decent as well, showing new media is a fertile ground for murder tales.

I haven’t explored crime novels much since high school, but since I like reading more than watching TV, I asked some friends online what their favorite crime/murder books  were. I got a lot of response I’ve posted the list below. The only one I’ve already read is Capote’s.

I’m going to work my way through most of it this year and will likely keep writing on this blog about this subject over the next few months. I figure this will be a nice compliment to the horror podcast I do, Scary Thoughts.
American Pain by John Temple

Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh

In My Father’s Name by Mark Arax

The Innocent Man by John Grisham

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larsen

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry

The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

Black Dahlia, Red Rose by Piu Eatwell

Black Dahlia Avenger by Steve Hodel

Who Killed These Girls by Beverly Lowry

In His Garden by Leo Damore

The Dracula Killer by Lt. Ray Biondi

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Killer with a Badge by Charles Hustmyre

Practical Homicide Investigation by Vernon J. Gerbeth


Kylo Ren

It took me a while to see The Last Jedi because I’ve found the most egregious mouth breathers, chatterboxes, and face-stuffers generally pour their malformed low-impulse control bloat into theaters in the first three weeks of a film’s release. I also had to wait for my wife, who despite having no interest in any other Star Wars films, has a thing, like many do, for Adam Driver.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, there will be spoilers from this point on. 

In general, I like the new trilogy so far, but not nearly as much as I liked Rogue One. I could’ve handled an entire 9 episodes of Band of Brothers style war drama with those characters. Now, I know one of you is going to say “that’s what The Clone Wars is!” Maybe, but I have zero interest in cartoons and will likely never watch it.

In the new trilogy, for every truly cool element, there is an utterly worthless one. You get Kylo Ren’s Darksider aggression, but you also get Finn’s complete and utter lameness. It’s a shame, because John Boyega was a charismatic and believable hero in Attack the Block. Which brings me to my first point.

#1 Change Finn Into a Man with Some Rage

Finn is a dude who was stolen from his family and trained by the First Order his whole life to be a soldier, but ended up pushing a mop instead of wrecking shit. I’ve personally known a few guys who joined the military of their own will who’ve had this same experience. They are not plucky, bumbling do-gooders just waiting for their chance.

They are hilarious, cynical, and tough. The military didn’t provide them an opportunity to smash things, so they got into stuff like Jiu-Jitsu and boxing.

Imagine if Finn was a guy who spent his free time training to kill, but his attitude or maybe even something more insidious, like racism, kept him from advancing in rank. This is a powder keg of a man who would love a sexy rebel to show up and give him the push he needed to tear down an evil empire that had shit all over him.

#2 Make the First Order Leadership Scary 

The First Order needs to be as scary as the Nazis they are clearly meant to represent. General Hux is often played for comic relief. He should be evil, and forceful, like Ralph Fiennes as Amon Göth in Schindler’s List  or Christoph Waltz as Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. Instead, Hux is essentially an Alt-Right doofus.

Captain Phasma. Where to begin? She is basically the Boba Fett of this series. Looks cool, but does absolutely nothing. I’m not even sure what would’ve worked. Maybe have her command an AT-AT in the final battle?

#3 Stretch the Timeline to Accommodate Rey’s Training 

When Rey was introduced to audiences, there was some talk about how she was an unrealistic hero. I may have even shared some of this sentiment, but I’m willing to suspend some disbelief now. She spent her whole life fighting for her livelihood on a hellish desert world. She shares the same impoverished, harsh origins that makes fighters like Mike Tyson so great. All she needs is her own Cus D’Amato to hone her raw talent.

Unfortunately, she has Nü-Luke.

In The Empire Strikes Back, everything that happens on the Millenium Falcon, from the repair of the hyperdrive, to Leia and Han’s romance, takes weeks. That means Classic Luke spends more than a few days with Yoda. When he shows up to fight Vader in Cloud City, he’s still totally outmatched, but has the rudiments to get to the skill level he shows up with at Jabba’s Palace in Return of the Jedi. 

All Rey gets from Luke is two and a half lessons, some chat time with her no-good boyfriend, a few old books, and a trip down a moist hole that leads to a Black Swan moment.

I think it’s valid to accept Rey as some sort of natural-born Force badass, but so is Kylo Ren. He was trained by Luke and had some legit Darkside lessons from Snoke. Rey needs the equivalent. Imagine if Luke knew he couldn’t talk her out of confronting Kylo Ren and instead of trying to get all emo about his own faults, he took the Mr. Miyagi route and showed her the Way, condensed.

That said, she’s already beat Kylo Ren and she saves his ass in the throne room, so maybe she doesn’t need anything.

To stretch the timeline out, just change how the cat-and-mouse chase between the Rebellion and the First Order worked. Hell, just rip off the Battlestar Galactica episode 33. Make the fleet trackable, but put some time between jumps. This would’ve also allowed Finn and Rose’s side quest to be a little more developed.

On a related note, I’ve heard Billy Dee Willians isn’t up to acting these days, but when you have a gambling planet, why not CGI old Lando at a card table, staring at some Twi-lek’s booty?

#4 Have General Leia Organa Pilot the Cruiser Into the First Order Fleet

It’s tragic that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. But it’s strange and probably inconvenient that her character is the only one from the original trilogy that survives (other than Chewbacca, but that’s not relevant to this point). It would’ve been so much more powerful to have her deal the killing blow to the First Order ships.

Her death would have saved the alliance. It would have been dramatic. Just before she hit the hyperdrive, she could’ve seen Han’s Force ghost say, “I love you” and when she responded with “I know” there would not be a dry eye in the house.

It would’ve also allowed Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo to be a strong lead in the final film of the trilogy. Now she’s just a misunderstood purple-haired scold who got in Poe’s way, but came through at the end. It would be interesting to see her in action and learn why she was considered such a powerful General.

But really, why have anyone die? Isn’t there one droid sitting around to push a button? I mean, C-3PO has had a pretty good run. Why not have him actually do something useful for once? Hell, you know BB-8 likes to kill First Order sodiers. He would probably love to go out in a blaze of glory.

#5 Make the Final Battle Echo the Assault on Hoth 

How much cooler would it have been if the ships sitting in that old rebel base were rebel “snow” speeders? Remember, they weren’t technically built for snow. In Empire there’s a bit of dialog about how they are having trouble getting them adjusted to the harsh conditions.

It would’ve been badass to have these old rebel ships fighting the new First Order AT-ATs. Imagine Finn and Rose Tico fighting back-to-back in a speeder, cementing their love/friendship/whatever.

I would’ve actually appreciated some characters dying in this battle. One of the things that made Rogue One so great was there were deadly consequences to the war. I would’ve had Rose eject Finn to save him and crash her speeder right into the cannon. She still saves Finn, but goes out like a hero, just like her kickass sister did. Right before she runs her ship into the cannon, she would close her eyes and touch her medallion the same way.

I can hear all you naysayers ready to complain that she’d just be a one and done Asian character, but so was the blind dude in Rogue One, Chirrut Îmwe. His death was glorious and he’s one of the all time best Star Wars heroes.

#6 Don’t Make Luke Such a Sad Chump

The whole idea of choking out the Jedi order makes sense only if the Sith are vanquished. Until that happens, Luke’s withdrawal basically amounts to resignation. He is a veteran of two Death Star battles, the Assault on Hoth, and he fought his own father in front of the Emperor.

I could see him giving up the idea of training more Jedi, but I don’t think he would’ve quit without trying to kill Snoke and Kylo Ren. Once the Sith were vanquished, he could go die on a rock in the ocean, but not until then.

Instead of being a hologram, I’d have Luke physically present at the final battle. Right as the rebels start to lose, have the Millennium Falcon drop down in the middle of the battle  with Luke and Rey on the Falcon’s guns. Chewbacca drops Luke on the ground and he calls out Kylo Ren. Maybe Ren still unloads all the ordinance on him, but he stops them with a Force shield or something.

In the final scene, have the lightsaber duel work about the same way, with the nod to Ben Kenobi’s death. But have Luke cut Kylo’s hand off, stop before dealing a killing blow, stare off into the distance and hallucinate the twin suns of Tattooine (easily the best moment of the actual film), and have Ren strike down an empty cloak.

You don’t get the final Luke and Leia scene, but maybe you get a scene at the end where Rey looks over her shoulder and sees their Force ghosts waving at her. What a tearjerker that would be!

#7 Tone Down the Democratization of the Force

I know, we’ve officially entered the “everybody gets a trophy/lightasber” era of Star Wars. But the Force should still require dedication and practice. Otherwise you end up with an utterly insipid X-men situation where you have all these corny Force using kids blasting around doing space wizard shit. I get it. That sells toys, but come one. People should have to at least work hard to develop those skills.


This is the first time in years I’ve had a four day weekend off with no plans or commitments. It’s glorious. 

All I wanted to do was read as many books as possible and as of today, I’m on my 6th since Friday. I feel pretty strong about my chances of hitting my 100 books in 2017 goal. And I’m pleased that there’s been so much variety so far. 

I’ll write another post about what I’ve been reading specifically down the road, but for this post, it’s just about the ad  of reading. Specifically reading with nothing else to do. 

When I was a kid, nothing made me happier than opening a book in the morning and finishing it before I went to sleep. Especially if it’s a really fun and immersive book. 

I stayed up late last night reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It completely captured the magic inside to feel decadently crushing through a non-school book. The subject matter helped too since it’s so 1980s heavy and ludicrously intertextual. It brought up a lot of fond memories of time I spent alone. 

If I won the lottery or sold a screenplay for big bucks, I’d do this shit every day. 

The last few weeks have been fairly intense. There’s no need to bore you with too many details: wedding, comedy shows, recording more podcasts, new job, dogs with diarrhea, purchasing major appliances. I’ve been pedal to the floor. 

It does feels a bit like the prequel to Fight Club, like how the narrator went crazy polishing his Scandinavian furniture. 

My time these days is almost completely accounted for, but I have made a good effort of seeing friends. Usually I’m pretty bad about it. If you’re reading this and thinking “what an asshole, I never get to see that guy,” well, I’ll try to do better. 

If you’re wondering how that whole writing a book thing is going, it’s not going. After leaving Whole Foods my interest in food culture got turned way down. Since The Goblin Chef is so rooted in food, that’s sort of a problem. I might revisit it eventually, but getting acclimated to tech and finishing up some projects I agreed to work on for other people is talking priority. 

But inspiration hasn’t abandoned me. I’ve written quite a bit in support of Scary Thoughts (very raw, not publishable). Most of that writing informs what I bring to our conversations. After I read The Argonauts, I started thinking a lot more about the possibilities of blending theory with biography. I haven’t quite figured out a way to make it less solipsistic. Maybe that’s impossible. 

Books and films, are as always, a source of inspiration, but what’s really breathing life into my ideas is my physical navigation of Oakland and the trains of the Bay Area. When I took this new job I thought I’d need a car, but it turns out I can save money and have more time to read on the trains. The grime of the city, which used to just bum me out has started to color my thoughts in unexpected ways: I’ve been writing short pieces, taking loads of photos. 

Hell, I’ve even gone out a bit more than usual. 

The proximity to my fellow primates has also put me in conversations I never thought I’d have. 

This morning I missed my train and spent about ten minutes in conversation with a dude in seriously rough shape. Two weeks ago he was helping a friend put a motor in an old Buick and their makeshift lift failed. He was under the car and his knee was crushed. 

He had surgery eight days earlier and showed me a scar that looked like something out of the Civil War. He needed help with his fare to Santa Rosa and I had a few bucks to spare. He said no one had given him a dollar since 4am. But what was most upsetting was no one even said a word to him. 

Now, I know the world is full of creeps and scammers, I’ve seen the same woman tell the same story about her kid being stuck at the same airport three times in the last year. But some people are in obvious need of help and it’s a shame we get so hardened. 

I don’t really have a prescription for this. No one does and it would be pretentious to assume you had the solutions (I’m looking at you boomer liberals). I think we can do better, though. 

This is a major change in my earlier outlook. I used to be a pretty hardcore social Darwinist. And in some ways I still am. If you’re an able bodied young gutter punk asking for beer money, I’d run you out of town like they did in the old west if I could. 

I guess you never really completely change. 

The picture above is from my first day at school. My mom, oddly fearful of people in the future not knowing who was pictured or what was going on, staged the scene with my name and a questionable “school” sign. This may be the first time I ever had to wear a nametag. 

My mom always says, “If you don’t have to wear a name tag at work, you really made it.”

By her standards I made it years ago, but by Bay Area standards, I’m in my second week of making it: I work for a tech company that’s paying me well. I’m still adjusting to the job, but it seems great so far and the switch to technical writing and editing from mostly sales and CPG copy has been stimulating. 

It’s been fun to see the Silicon Valley stereotypes up close. I take two trains to get in to the office and get a lot of people watching in. One of the things I’ve noticed is how popular fancier versions of the classic Clark’s desert boot are for men. I’ve always gone in for the regular beeswax brown or black leather options, but dudes down here wear all manner of oddly colored and contrast stitched shoes. 

Plaid shirts or branded t-shirts are the norm for men. Women tend towards modest and patterned business casual. They are, on the whole less schlubby than their male counterparts. 

All manner of accessories are employed to better manage the commute. I’ve seen a smorgasbord of laptop backpacks, motorized skateboards and noise cancellation headphones in the last two weeks. It’s like a Sharper Image couture show. 

Personally, I haven’t changed really anything about my gear, but I do have my eyes on some nicer headphones (piped in office music is extremely distracting to me when I’m writing) and those Mission Workshop bags look pretty sturdy. I’d like to get myself a cool bicycle built up, but my trusty old Diamondback is holding up just fine. 

The magnificent author Jean Luis Borges.

I like to give myself annual challenges. Last year I set out to write a blog post every day for a year. After the success of that project I set my sights on something equally as intellectually enriching. For 2017 I would read 100 books.

I came to this number because I saw quite a few people who set 50 as their goal and I have become increasingly competitive in just about every pursuit I value.

As of today I’m halfway there and 13 days ahead of schedule. There’s no particular guiding theme behind what I read. I own and frequently purchase books that are both old and new. I seem to have a habit of reading personal development books, but I enjoy fiction and memoir more. Interestingly enough, I think I’ve read more female authors this year than in any before it.

I spend time with a lot of books on business, writing, editing, and marketing because it’s my career and I believe you should be constantly increasing whatever skills put food on your plate, a roof over your head and ammo in the magazine. I stumbled into a pretty good career and now that I’m making a fairly substantial income (for me), I aim to become world class.

What humans do in extreme situations is of some interest to me, which is why I really enjoy war and addiction books.

If someone gives me a book to read, I’ll usually bump it up to the top of my list, though I don’t often follow up on suggestions unless the person is also a writer or an equally heavy reader. Another frequent influence on my list is my podcast, Scary Thoughts. Most of the philosophy and criticism I’ve read in the last year eventually shows up on the show.

A lot of people seem to think this is a brutally difficult goal, but it’s really not. It takes an average of a book every 3.65 days. Some books are shorter, some are longer. If you spend a little time in the morning and don’t watch Netflix at night, you could do this too. I have a brutal train commute thanks to my new job, which will give me even more opportunity to rip through pages.

I feel like I’ve learned more in the last six months than I did in my entire undergraduate course load. That line in Good Will Hunting about how you could get a better education than a Harvard one for some library late fees is legit. I actually wish I didn’t have such a fetish for owning books so I could enjoy just borrowing books. I’d save a ton of money.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of what I’ve read so far (most recent first):

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Content Code by Mark W. Schaeffer
  • Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
  • Chief Marketing Officers at Work by Josh Steimle
  • Men, Women and Chainsaw: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol Clover
  • Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free by Cody Wilson
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life by JL Collins
  • The Like Switch: An FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over by Jack Scaefer, P.h.D. with Marvin Karlins, P.h.D
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength by Scott Carney
  • Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash in On Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
  • The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trial Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
  • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
  • Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smalville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison
  • Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
  • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanne Clarke
  • A Long Slow Screw by Eugene S. Robinson
  • Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors by George W. Bush
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore
  • Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections by C. Anthony Martignetti
  • Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom
  • Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • I Remember the Last War by Bob Hoffman
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susanne
  • Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel
  • Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Major Dick Winters
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
  • Becoming a Barbarian by Jack Donovan
  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley, P.h.D. and William D. Danko, P.h.D.
  • True Allegiance by Ben Shaprio
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
  • Kamikaze:  A Japanese Pilot’s Own Spectacular Story of the Famous Suicide Squadrons by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred
  • Hard-Core Life of My Own by Harley Flanagan
  • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz







Mrs. Lott has a way of forcing me to do things I should do, but never actually make time to do. She was a big part of my decision to start taking classes at City College a decade ago. She encouraged me to go hard for this great new job I have. This morning we volunteered at the Alameda Food Bank, even though I desperately wanted to sleep in.

She signed us up about a month ago and I agreed, thinking I’d get out of it somehow.  We were up late last night at a party thrown at an insanely weird Airbnb in the Berkeley Hills built for rich sex cultists. We were celebrating her co-worker’s birthday, so there was no extramarital fornication. The place looked like it was owned by Jackie Treehorn from The Big Lebowski. There were dozens of little hideaways in the house and more than enough clues to indicate what usually goes on in this slightly feral architectural wonder is probably on the Eyes Wide Shut spectrum.

Like us, the celebrants were monogamous (as far as I know), and other than the possible destruction of a very expensive espresso machine, nothing too wild happened while we were there. That’s not the point of this story, anyway.

The Alameda Food Bank is a great organization. It deserves your donations and your time if you live near it. The money they receive is put to good use and almost all of it gets turned directly into food for the people who need it.

Most of the help needed from volunteers is sorting donated food in their warehouse or helping to hand it out on pickup days. If you’re able to pick up 50lb bags of apples and potatoes, you will be put to use hauling heavy things around and sorting them into more manageable sized  bags for people to take home. Most of my three hour shift was spent carrying large boxes around and bagging broccoli. I love this sort of work.

Mrs. Lott was assigned to the front of house and helped people shop when they arrived. This food bank has a very cool system where people are allowed to choose what they want ahead of time and volunteers guide them to different stations, making sure they get what’s on their list. The food is actually pretty healthy, there is a lot of produce and the packaged goods are solid staples.

The people who use the food bank come from all walks of life because food insecurity affects people from all kinds of backgrounds. The volunteers are about as diverse as the people they serve. About a dozen strong backed young men from a college fraternity worked alongside old white hippies, Chinese retirees, Mexican high school students and moms from Alameda. These are great people.

I made two new friends I hope to see again the next time I volunteer. The first was a retired motorcycle mechanic in his late 60s who has been riding Japanese motorcycles since the 70s. I always love talking to these grey-beard-gear-heads because I have a strong fondness for the bikes they rode when they were young. I love hearing about what it was like to buy a brand new KZ1000 from a dealership and smash it across the country. For some reason they always seem shocked that I owned a Yamaha RD400 and a Honda Dream in my 20s.

The second friend was a lady from the Philippines in her 60s. She survived breast cancer about 18 years ago and has been making a major go at life ever since. She eats healthy and goes to the gym all the time. Yesterday she went to two Zumba classes, speed walked on a treadmill for two hours and played basketball with her friends afterwards. Her energy was out of control.

I’m definitely going to make this a monthly thing. As much as the Alameda Food Bank appreciates the help, the truth is, I think I got more out of it than they did. I had really fun conversations and got a pretty solid workout in. But more than that, I got out of my own head for a little while. You can’t feel anxiety or any of the other bullshit that keeps you down when you’re serving others. It’s sort of like the Spartan thing, don’t worry about yourself, worry about the person next to you.

If you live in the Bay Area and you want to volunteer with me, I’d love you to be there. This is the real work that needs doing, not the self congratulatory nonsense political cosplay you see on the internet. That shit is for losers. Don’t be a loser. Be someone who helps people.

If you can’t make it out yourself, please consider a making donation: