|The last time I monopolized this space at the back of the magazine, I wrote about pet peeves and petty annoyances, but now it’s the Thanksgiving season, and time to turn the flip side. I can usually find about five things that cheer me up for every one that pisses me off, and I think that’s as good a recipe for happiness as any. Family, friends, work, peace of mind…those are the biggies that almost go without saying (although they probably shouldn’t). But here, very briefly, are some fish from the popular-culture stream for which I’m grateful right now.Call him Donald E. Westlake when he writes under his own name (usually funny, but not always) or Richard Stark when he writes about the violent single-named (and single-minded) thief Parker, you can always call him great. He’s got two recent books, Money for Nothing as Westlake, Nobody Runs Forever as Stark. One book by this guy is cause for happiness. Two is truly cause for thanksgiving.
Who’s the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum, the outlaw horror writer whose terrifying first novel is finally available uncut from Overlook Connection Press. That would be Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition ($21.95, paperback). If you read it on Thanksgiving, you probably won’t sleep until Christmas. Don’t say your uncle Stevie didn’t warn you (heh-heh-heh). Other Ketchum titles include She Wakes (Leisure Books, paperback) and The Crossings, a blood-spattered Western — think Sam Peckinpah in maximum overdrive (Cemetery Dance Publications, $35, hardcover).
I’m thankful that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, was almost as good as its lyrical first reviews…but it’s not Harry Potter for grown-ups, as so many of them said. Harry Potter is Harry Potter for grown-ups, you dweebs.
I’m thankful I found Laura Lippman’s suspenseful — and ultimately moving — Every Secret Thing, not one of her usual Tess Monaghan mysteries but a stand-alone novel now available in paperback (Avon, $7.99). Not as good as Mystic River, but almost as readable, and with that same grim vibe.
I’m thankful for a new album by Tom Waits (Real Gone) and that I discovered an old one by the Inmates on iTunes — Fast Forward has a gorgeously soulful cover of ”Turn Back the Hands of Time” and a hilarious take on Brenda Lee’s ”Sweet Nothin’s.” Listening to this record was like revisiting the Commitments.
Come to think of it, I’m thankful for iTunes.
I’m thankful for Lost. Of course, I’m jealous that ABC has a hit show with a strong suspense element after mine flopped last season, but Lost is pretty great. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.
I’m thankful that the new season of 24 is going to start in January. Sure, it gets harder with every passing season to believe anyone has days like this, but I’m perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief, because Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer continues to be knocked-out cool. Also, Elisha Cuthbert is the best supporting actress on TV. Case closed.
I’m thankful for All My Children. Nothing is better than visiting Pine Valley in the early afternoon. It’s been especially exciting there since Babe told Jamie that Bess (who is Babe’s baby — sort of — it’s complicated) is really Miranda, and Adam turned over the incriminating footage of Jamie to Brooke. I’m not kidding about any of this. And you have to love a soap that has an evil (but dreadfully conflicted) young villain named JR.
I’m thankful for the DVD release of the new Dawn of the Dead, because it’s even more gruesome than the one that bit and gnashed its way into theaters this past winter. There’s even — don’t faint now — a little extra character development in the unrated DVD version.
I’m thankful every time I visit the Filthy Critic, because the guy who writes it is howlingly funny as well as honest (he was the first critic I read to point out that Open Water just wasn’t that scary). Filthy, as he calls himself, gives films raised fingers instead of stars, and very little of what he writes could be quoted in a family magazine (such as this one, with its ads for booze and cigarettes). There is this, however, from his review of I Heart Huckabees: ”When we share our wisdom, we all become stronger. Like that guy who wrote to tell me not to purchase seafood at garage sales.” The movie, by the way, received a single raised middle finger, Filthy’s lowest rating. He called it ”an unfunny, self-serving pile of dung disguised as a comedy.” Yeah, you’re musing to yourself, but what did he really think?
Last of all — of course, you saw this coming — I’m thankful to this year’s Red Sox, from Johnny Damon at the top of the lineup all the way to Mark Bellhorn at the bottom, for first putting those upstart New York Yankees in their place and then bringing Boston its first World Series championship in 86 years. No more chants of ”1918”; no more foolishness about the so-called Curse of the Bambino. After half a century of telling people ”Just wait until next year,” I can finally just smile and carve the turkey.
And for that I am totally thankful.