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One-quarter of the year down and I figure it’s time for a report on the best of what I’ve read, seen, and heard in the first leg of 2014. Someone has to make sure you’re all properly entertained. I feel like if I don’t take action you might wind up sitting at home in your Captain Caveman jammies, eating Pop Tarts and watching 3-year-old episodes of Wipeout.

Here are five reasons to live:

THE BOOK:

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Lexicon by Max Barry

Holy shit can this guy write. It took a week to burn through Lexicon and in that (too brief) span of time this book exerted a drug-like hold over my imagination. It’s just the most outrageously entertaining thriller to fall in my lap since I read Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls last year.

Barry has a killer idea here - a secret society of people euphemistically referred to as Poets who have perfected the art of disabling free will through the manipulation of word fragments - and he sells the idea by reminding us of how easy it is to manipulate us already through the apparatus of mass media. If Marshall McLuhan wasn’t already dead, Lexicon would finish him off: he’d keel over laughing.

Oh, man, and it has brilliant set pieces too, like when a whole small town in Australia transforms into a village of homicidal maniacs.

Ultimately, though, you wind up falling in love with Barry’s characters even more than his brain-busting concepts. His cast of heroes, anti-heroes, and outright villains rage and regret; they plead, often with themselves, for mercy or understanding or love; they take enormous risks with their lives, futures, minds, happiness, and hearts. All this, rendered in scenes that are small and sharp, like a bright collection of stainless steel surgical tools.

THE MAGAZINE:

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The Paris Review #207

I’m only about 50 pages in, but that’s 50 pages of sheer, uncomplicated happiness. There’s a 10-page story here by Jenny Offill that went through me like a spear. It’s so slight, it’s like a wafer of ice that would vanish the moment after you pop it in your mouth… but the shiver of pleasure goes all the way to your toes.

"A Dark and Winding Road" is hilariously nasty, gloriously rude. I know nothing about the author, Ottessa Moshfegh, except: awesome. On the basis of those two stories alone, this is a good buy. Plus, naked pictures, so you pervos are all set.

THE MOVIE:

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20 Feet From Stardom

I’ve seen some good movies in the early going of 2014, including, recently, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Grand Budapest Hotel. But this picture, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary, completely ran away with my heart. I fell in love with all of these beautiful women: with their struggles, their deep love for rock, pop, and soul, their humility and grace and toughness. Here is a movie that will make you listen better and feel more, that will make you walk away singing inside.

THE ALBUM:

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Bruce Springsteen in Perth, 8 February 2014

Because he fucking covered “Highway to Hell.” Do I really need to say more?

Okay, I’ll say more. How about this?

The energy and mastery on display in this show would be, for any other band, the stuff of a career-best, pull-out-all-the-stops live album.

For Bruce… it’s just another night on the job.

THE SHOW:

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The Fall, Season One

There is so much fine television now - so many shows of depth and intelligence - it can be overwhelming. But even in this period of obscene plenty, a few shows race ahead of the field, and The Fall is one of those programs. This one can stand with the best of anything on TV anywhere. It has the grim and malevolent texture of David Fincher’s Zodiac, and the delicate characterization and operatic force of a Tana French novel (I initially assumed the show had to be an adaptation of one of her books). It has something more on its mind than your standard cops-hunt-the-serial-killer story, too. The Fall is a relentless examination of misogyny from the extreme (ritualistic murder) to the very subtle (the PR cost of missing a button on your blouse).

All that and rain-spattered and weary Belfast, looking beautiful and cold.

And on top of everything else you have Gillian Anderson, who can be found here doing the best work of her career, and you’re hearing that from a confirmed and passionate fan of The X-Files. You simply can’t have a better time in front of your television.

Yes, I’m done talking.

No, you can’t watch anymore Wipeout.

Yes, I ate the rest of your Pop Tart. It was for your own good. Like everything else on this list.

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  • Question: If you could choose only one, what book do you wish you had written? - lmlarry18
  • Answer:

    I’m going to give the lamest answer in the world and say I only want to write the books I’ve written and the ones I hope someday to write. I love True Grit, Dog of the South, The Dead Zone, Under the Dome, Watership Down, Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Fixer, Y: Last Man, Moore’s run on Swamp Thing (just to mention a few titles). But those are other people’s stories. I want to write whatever I’ve got in me that is all mine.

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  • Question: Hi Joe! I love your short story My Father's Mask. What inspired you to write it, and can one interpret it as a coming of age story--horror style? Really enjoyed making that Locke And Key gif by the way!--Cristinaowl88. - cristinaowl88
  • Answer:

    I don’t know exactly what the inspiration for that story was, but I know I was strongly under the influence of Kelly Link’s story, “The Specialist’s Hat.” I was also thinking about the card game Lewis Barnavelt invents at the end of The House With A Clock In Its Walls. And I was thinking about a house on a lake that I know, and what the woods are like in early November, when the trees are stripped of their leaves and the wind is shrill and uneasy.

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  • Question: Hey Joe, have you ever thought of making Search Engine a reality? - adonisus
  • Answer:

    I almost did a Search Engine feature as part of the Wraith comic book.

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  • Question: Hello Joe! I know you aren't a fan of the omnibus format, so what are the chances of a slipcase set collecting all of Locke & Key being released once the series has run its course? Neil's Sandman FINALLY got one last year and it's super duper awesome. Please please please push for it! xx - watercolorstain
  • Answer:

    It’s always possible IDW will have me killed, in which case an omnibus is certainly possible.

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  • Question: As I read NOS4A2 I imagined Manx as a cross between Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel and an even more demented Mr. Burns. Right or really, really wrong? - heychamone
  • Answer:

    A surprisingly high number of readers would cast Mr. Burns as Charlie Manx if they were making the film.

    I might be inclined to cast David Hasslehoff in a fright wig and phony teeth. Because, Knight Rider.

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  • Question: Hello, Mr. Hill. I was wondering how long you had been writing before you were confident your work was good enough to get published? - jenlammey
  • Answer:

    When editors began sending me checks instead of rejection letters, I became 100% confident my work was good enough to get published.

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  • Question: Which cover of Horns do you like best? - queencyane
  • Answer:

    The one with my name on it.