Halloween Reads 2020

Halloween for me is half about escapism and half about loving that downward slope that is Halloween into Thanksgiving into Christmas into New Year’s Eve. I want an even split in October between snuggling under fuzzy blankets and also reading about haunted houses where there’s something thumping down the hallway.

That said, here’s what I’ve got on the list this year. (This may be ambitious, seeing how much my reading pace has slowed down this summer, but let’s see what happens.)

A Shirley Jackson novel I haven’t heard of before! And it’s a gothic novel from the 50s. I’m in. The Haunting of Hill House remains one of the scariest books I’ve ever read, and I think about the Netflix adaptation of it probably weekly. It was surprisingly good. Shirley Jackson is amazing.

Seed is for my Book Riot Read Harder Challenge—this is “a horror book originally published by an indie press.” It’s a little bit of a cheat, since Ania Ahlborn is a pretty established writer now, but this was her first book. And she’s a new writer to me, so I’m counting it. I’ve had this one on my list all year but I’ve been saving it up for October.

The StoryGraph description of this book says it’s “in the tradition of Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, and with a deep bow to Daphne du Maurier”—this book takes place at Manderley Resort, and you know how much I loved Rebecca. Honestly, I found this because I was clicking through recommendations on The StoryGraph and had filtered down to horror books under 300 pages that are fast-paced, mysterious, and tense, or something like that—and I basically clicked “want to read” on most of the recs.

Have I not already pitched The StoryGraph to you? It’s my favorite replacement for Goodreads, if you’re interested in that. It’s a new site, but has a super clean interface, gives AMAZING recommendations, and they just added content warnings as an option. It’s also not owned by Amazon, for what that’s worth. You can transport your entire Goodreads library so you don’t lose anything. They don’t have an app yet, but they have a Progressive Web App, where you save the safari page to your homescreen, and it’s basically an app. Okay. They’re amazing. I’m finishing up the year in both Goodreads and The StoryGraph, but next year I’m jumping ship.

Back to Halloween reads.

Scary short stories, a “secret garden of dark, glorious flowers” (says Joe Hill). Another StoryGraph find. I’m down!

It pains me a little to break with my single-word titles for this one, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I love this cover and the description is giving me a version of haunted house. The ebook is also available for immediate download to my kindle through the library, so I’ll probably be starting with this one.

A few short story collections this time around. Maybe that’s how I’m reading these days—in shorter bursts. That’s just fine by me. These take place in and around contemporary Argentina, and Enriquez is compared to Shirley Jackson and Julio Cortázar. (The translator for this book is Megan McDowell, who also translated Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, which was great.)

The latest Stephen King collection of four novellas—I’m looking forward to making this a part of this year’s Halloween festivities. I haven’t read any King lately and haven’t actually unpacked those boxes yet. Two of my bookshelves didn’t make the move with us and so I’ve been having to unpack books based on where they’re going, and I just haven’t figure out where Stephen King books live here. So maybe I’ll see where I set this one down when I finish with it, and then I’ll just put everything else there too.

My Ira Levin re-read for the year. This remains, weirdly, a comfort book to me.

That brings my total ambition to…eight? Is eight too many? Probably. But there’s no harm in trying!

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Know when to fold em

I am not a plant person. I have accidentally and/or neglectfully killed multiple plants, which makes me sad but it’s true. My mom has this extremely green thumb and I just didn’t get it.

But I guess I’ve been nesting, because I went to Lowe’s and bought some succulents for my zoom background space, and a calathea for my bedroom, because I thought it was pretty. I didn’t even know what it was. I had to send a picture to my sister-in-law (also green thumbed) and say, “What is this?”

She responded quickly and thoroughly with the name and some details about what it likes, and also what kind of plants I would be less likely to harm. She said this one is a prayer plant, because it will open its leaves for the sun and then fold them up at night.

So I spent the next day staring at this plant, trying to see it move. And when it didn’t look like it was moving, I started wondering if I had bought a plastic plant thinking it was real. Those pieces along the base of the stems—they kind of look like they were made in a plastic mold, right? The leaves feel real…or do they feel like fabric? But I mean, you wouldn’t craft fabric leaves and then put a hole in one of them, right? So a vote for real. But then why do the stems feel so rigid?

Also, do I even deserve a plant if I literally can’t tell the difference between a real one and a fake one?

So the next morning I put it down in the patch of sunlight on the floor, and left it there all day. And when I came back upstairs at the end of the day, as the light was moving out of the room…


What a thrilling moment! I’m not an idiot.

I named this plant Lydia. I’m thinking of getting some more plants.

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Recently* I got this little tune stuck in my head and was singing it at Drew (doot doot doot doot doot doot doot doot etc). Then I said, “What is that? Do you know that?”

He remembered it, but couldn’t remember what it was.

“Is it like a video game?”

He said no.

I still thought it was like, Centipede or something. (But now I’m searching for Centipede videos on YouTube and maybe it doesn’t have a song? Did I just make that up? Did it get a song in the 90s and I just quit googling before I found it?)

My mystery song doesn’t have lyrics so like, how am I ever going to search for this online?

So I did what anyone does when they’re trying to remember something, and I went to sleep. And I had a dream that I was listening to the song, and in the dream I remembered it had to do with popcorn, and I used that to look it up.

Then I woke up, and googled “popcorn techno song,” and discovered this:

So I’ve never seen this…..very incredible dance video before, but this is absolutely the song that I was singing and that I remember from high school, from the time period that I was following around friends who liked techno and dance music, and so I have a bunch of mix CDs with random songs on them, including some created by those same friends (shout out Mandolin Bill). And now I can also be haunted by this dance. As can you.

This is just a fun story about all the things you have buried in your memory that you don’t have immediate access to, and how sometimes you have to just walk away and let the little chickadee in your brain rifle through the files for a few hours until they finally find it and send it down to you in a dream.

deer popcorn GIF

*This happened like. Two months ago. And I’ve had “blog popcorn” in my notes app since then. You’re welcome!


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I like to go through my phone and clean out photos. You know how you take 10 pictures to get the good one where both kids are looking at the camera? I like the delete the ones I won’t ever need. I keep some of the outtakes, but generally I like to try to save space by cleaning things up. I also have two kids who like to take my phone and take a bunch of photos of their feet. I delete those also.

It occurred to me I haven’t done a purge in a while, so I went back to see how long it had been. Answer: Feb 7 is the last time it looks like I’ve cleaned up my photos folder. That means I had to go through all the photos from our Tahoe trip in February, when things were basically totally normal, as far as we knew.

As we go forward in time, you start to see things creep in. Like this photo from the bathroom at work, when we were totally still doing The Rocky Horror Show in April/May, but everyone should wash their hands to stay healthy. This is from early March. Things were getting a little scary, but not super real yet.


That first weekend of March, B had a birthday party on Saturday, and H had a playdate at a park on Sunday. The birthday party was the first drop-off party B has ever gone to. It’s a friend of his from school, we’ve met his parents, they live nearby us, and it seemed pretty low-risk. I dropped him off, came home for like, an hour, and then went back for the end of the party. It was Mario themed and all the kids were dressed up, and it was super cute. B and I took a picture with two of the other moms and their kids, who we’ve cultivated relationships with, and I was so excited that we were moving into this part of life, where B is making friends at school and we have this local network of people.

On Sunday, this was H’s first one-on-one playdate with a friend of hers from school. We met up at a park, the girls played together, they were adorable. The other mom and I talked about how stores were being mobbed for toilet paper, and how the lines to get into the Costco parking lot were crazy. We all went to Starbucks and the girls drank hot chocolate and sat in one big armchair together and touched everything. We bought drinks for our husbands, all hugged goodbye, and promised to do it again soon. Later that day I went to the grocery store, and afterward I texted the mom and joked that I had bought toilet paper, even though we didn’t really need it at the time, and she wrote back and said she’d done the same thing.


The next week was our last week at work and school before shelter in place landed. One morning that week I took a picture of myself on an empty BART train during rush hour. So weird. I’ve always been really diligent about not touching anything anyway, so I just doubled down on that, but it was eerie seeing how empty everything was. The train, the streets in San Francisco, the stores. There were still some people out – but not many. People were starting to wear masks. It was reminiscent of the wildfires in 2018.


^^Look at me, wearing makeup and jewelry and real clothes! Amazing!

That week, I was thinking things were going to shut down soon. We opened a show on Wednesday, and that day the mayor made a decree that gatherings of 1000 or more were banned. We thought we’d get through the weekend with the show and then decide what would happen. But it was the next day that she said gatherings of 250 or more were banned, and that opening performance ended up also being the closing performance.

My boss talked about how we might be working remotely for a week or two. I started packing up stuff from my desk. (Although if I knew then what I know now, I would have brought more stuff home. Just because.)

One of those last days, on a lunch break, I went to Macy’s and bought some makeup remover—hilarious because I haven’t opened it yet, since I haven’t been wearing makeup. I bought a lip color on a whim, which has been in my purse, also unopened. I stopped and got iced coffee on the way back to the office. I took a picture to send my friend Michelle, with a very “treat yourself!” kind of message.


(Please continue to wash your hands.)

On Friday of that week, we heard from both kids’ schools that they were going to close for a bit. My boss asked us to tell her if we were planning on working from home the following week, and I was like, “Yup.” I think there was still the idea it would just be a couple weeks until we figured things out. I said to people, “Those kids are not going back to school this year.” People scoffed at me. I went home.

That first weekend was just a weekend, but it was also the start of social distancing for us. We went on walks, took pictures of the kids in puddles, and captioned them #socialdistancing. It all felt weird, and still panicky. In those couple weeks when things ramped up so quickly here, I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on groceries, not knowing what was going to happen with stores. I took out a bunch of cash from the ATM and hid it in an envelope. I made an amazon fresh order that couldn’t be delivered for two weeks, and I put random weird things in my cart, because a lot of stuff was already sold out, and also I just wasn’t sure what I would want in two weeks’ time—cans of beans? or bags of chips? I bought both.

It’s been almost 11 weeks, and I think I kind of have a handle on what this new world looks like, temporarily? This is the last week of distance learning for B, although I think we’ll probably keep him doing some light schoolwork stuff through the summer, since what else are we going to do? H is not going back to her preschool…right? So she just…doesn’t get closure on that? I’m not sure what that means for the future.

We had just started going to the movies as a family. We saw Cats and Frozen II in the theater in the few months before shelter in place started, and it was great. Both kids liked it. It was pricey but it was fun. And now I don’t know when that will happen again. In the meantime we’re watching movies at home. It’s not the same.

Toilet paper is coming back into the stores. Nature is healing.

H is learning to read. B is learning multiplication. They both look and seem older to me, although I don’t know whether that’s just parenting, or if it’s related to this situation. They’re getting used to workdays being workdays for us, and that we have phone and zoom meetings, and that they’re on their own sometimes.

My alcohol (and Oreo) consumption has gone up. I’ve been cooking as therapy, and trying to make new and interesting things, using new and interesting ingredients. We’ve nailed how to hard boil the perfect egg, how to make perfect rice, and I’ve learned how to use ginger and lemongrass. Our meat consumption has gone down—not to zero, but less than before. Our bean and rice consumption has gone up.

I did eight weeks of online playwriting classes. I’m proud to have gotten through it, and feel good about the work I did, and I hope I can carry that forward.

We got into the track at the local high school this weekend, and B ran a full lap without stopping. I think he was craving it. Drew and I are thinking we should all go over there more often and run laps. You can tell when the kids haven’t been outside for a while. The energy around them is palpable.

I continue to be grateful that we’re both still employed full-time, and we have tons of entertainment options in home. I’m grateful that we live in a place where we can go on walks in nature. I’m grateful that we’re all healthy. I’m grateful that we’ve been able to stock up on the medication we need, so we don’t run out. I’m grateful that we have options for groceries, and plenty of food saved up. I’m grateful (in a weird way) that everyone is kind of settling into this new routine, and we seem to be getting through it together.

I’m grateful for all that, but I’m still mourning the things we’ve lost, and that we’ll continue to lose over the next year or more.  It goes back and forth every day as to which side is louder.

It feels like it’s been much longer and much shorter than eleven weeks. I wonder how long this will go on, and how much it will change before it’s finally over. I will continue to remind myself to count my blessings and stay positive. I will draw on the support system I have and try to be a good support system for other people. (I will break out of this overly dramatic voice I’ve drifted into here…) I will model good behavior and attitude for my children. I will give myself grace. I will bake cookies this afternoon. I will text my friends and check in. I will keep making myself write. I will drink some water. I will take us out for a walk this afternoon. I will stay home and stay safe.

I will clean up the rest of the photos on my phone! That should distract me for awhile.


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The week we went into shelter in place, I was supposed to have a root canal, which was, obviously, canceled. At the time the tooth didn’t hurt, although it was annoying because it was very much broken, but I figured I would see what happened in this brave new world.

At the same time I kind of feared we would slide quickly into a dystopian wasteland and I would end up with a rotting tooth, in crazy pain, but with no hope of fixing it. So I bought some Orajel and was just like, Welp. Here we go.

I’ve been chewing on the other side for awhile, and avoiding certain crunchy/chewy foods. Last week I started having more sensitivity to cold, until it got to the point that I was drinking and brushing my teeth with lukewarm water and I couldn’t drink anything fun (iced coffee, pineapple bubly, white wine) because it was all too cold. Then I also started having some pain, so I finally called the dentist emergency line yesterday to see if I could get an appointment.

He was super responsive and so this morning I went and had a root canal that took four hours?? but ended with me having a giant temporary tooth, no cold sensitivity, and a much better outlook on this faux-pocalypse. And I got to make a very icy peach margarita tonight which makes me very happy.

Season 4 Nbc GIF by The Good Place


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Act Without Exit

For tonight’s playwriting class, we read Samuel Beckett’s Act Without Words I, which is a short (3-minute) drama with no dialogue, where a man onstage is tantalized by various objects. We wrote out all of the “rules” that Beckett had imposed on himself writing this world, and then we each chose three and wrote our own piece conforming to those rules.

So I give you my quickwrite piece from this week, following these three rules:

  1. All objects come in from above
  2. Every object must be addressed by the character
  3. Character can’t leave the stage/can’t escape



A kitchen set, linoleum, backsplash. Clean, tidy, functional. No furniture or appliances. Morning light through the curtains in the windows. ELENA stands center, on the phone.

Yup, 10am. I’ll be there by 9:45 just to be sure. I’m just about to leave.

The fridge flies in, and ELENA goes to it. While she is there, a table flies in behind her and lands in the center of the room.

I remember how to get there—it’s off the second exit, near the bank. Right by that new car wash.

ELENA takes out eggs, milk, chives from the fridge, goes to table; chops, breaks, combines, whisks.
The stove flies in behind her. ELENA reaches for it, turns on a burner.

Of course I know. This is your first apartment, you think I would miss this?

ELENA goes to the stove, looks around.
A pan flies in from above.
ELENA takes the pan, sets it on the burner. Takes the bowl, gives it one last stir, and then pours the mixture into the pan.

I wouldn’t say that. I’m sure he’d be happy to do it, but I really do think he was busy this weekend.

A dishwasher flies in from above.

Oh honey, you’re being dramatic. He loves you. He’s just working.

She looks at dishwasher. Is it clean or dirty? Opens and checks. Dirty.
Behind her, the sink flies into place. She looks. It’s half full of dirty dishes. She considers. Does she have time to fill the dishwasher before she leaves?

Yes, leaving soon.

A clock flies in above the sink. ELENA checks it. It’s 9:30.

Oops…Very soon.

A towel flies in and lands near the sink. The eggs are cooked. ELENA turns off the burner, looks for a plate. A cupboard flies in.

Just eating quick breakfast. Real quick.

She opens the cupboard and takes out a plate, dumps eggs onto plate. Grabs a fork from the sink, wipes it on the towel, starts to eat.

Almost done. I’ll leave right after this. I’ll see you soon.

ELENA finishes the eggs, dumps the plate and fork in the sink. It’s time to go. She grabs her purse, starts to exit.

A broom and dustpan fly in from above and land near the fridge. ELENA looks at them and sighs. Puts her purse down. Grabs the broom and starts to sweep.

The clock ticks.


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About a month ago, before I realized how just stressful it was going to be all the time to be sheltering in place and living in this uncertain world (and I 100% know that I do not have it that bad), I had the option to sign up for free for a once-a-week, online playwriting class. And I thought, this is my chance to do something creative, and it’s only eight weeks, and why not? Let’s go for it!

Our first assignment was to quickwrite a burst of dialogue we had overheard in public, and then to quickwrite a description of a landscape, and then our teacher swapped them all around, and we each received one of each from other people, and then we had to create a short play using them.

It was weirdly intimidating to me. Like, I didn’t do the project until the very last minute (2 hours before the class started) because each time I thought about it I just felt a combination of panicked about having to be creative under deadline, and exhaustion. So I just whined about it until the last minute, then went into my bedroom, and put it together.

I actually kind of like it, and after we read everyone’s out loud in class, I felt pretty good about mine. So I thought I’d share it here.


Setting: A ridge on a hiking trail, a scenic view spot about halfway up Mount Tamalpais. Golden hour, about half an hour before the sun sets. There’s a bench, and some rocks and bushes. JUNE and SAM, both older, are sitting on the bench when the lights come up. They sit near each other on the bench, although not close enough to touch, and take in the view.

LYNN and CARA arrive together at the ridge, and stand off to the side, six-plus feet away.

Alfie? (No response) Alfie? (No response) Where’s Alfie? (No response) Has anyone seen Alfie?

(mildly) I don’t know. I could have sworn he was just here.

Alfie? Alfie! Did he go somewhere?

I’m sure he’s fine.

He’s not supposed to just go outside.

(“there is no Alfie”) He’ll be just fine.

(catching her breath) Did you hear what Trump said?


Alfie’s blanket—



It’s not on his bed—

Everything’s fine.

(holding up a finger signaling “one sec”)

Did you put it in the laundry room?

The blanket?

SAM nods, working his fingers along the bench beside him.

You know, I think I did. Yes, I remember I think I did.

(finally catching her breath) Oh no, what did he say this time?

Trump said— (sneezes) Sorry. Allergies.

(Has found a leaf growing up underneath the bench, and pulls it off triumphantly.)
I found it! I found it!

Trump said that— (sneezes again)

(Pointing offstage away from LYNN and CARA) And there he is! There’s Alfie!

(doing stretches against a nearby rock while prompting LYNN) Trump said…?

Trump said this whole thing would be over by June.

(happily) Alfie! Hi Alfie! Hi you little butterball! (waves)
(to JUNE) Has he been fed yet?

I was going to feed him, but is it too early?

I heard that everyone has to be wearing a mask now. Like we should always be wearing masks.

We should order more masks online.

Maybe I should feed him now.

I think we should wait.

Yeah, maybe we should wait.

We should. We should order some masks online. How many do we have?

I have the mask your mom made me but it’s— (gestures at her face)

Or maybe he’s hungry now.

Let’s wait and see.


You can’t wear that one all the time, though.

JUNE and SAM sit back against the bench. He lets the leaf fall and it flutters to the ground. After a moment, he scoots close enough to her that they’re touching. Then he puts an arm around her. She sighs and leans into him.

That mask is just for going into grocery stores.

CARA realizes LYNN is watching JUNE and SAM, and she starts watching them too. LYNN looks at CARA, smiles, and takes her hand. They stand silently. All four looking out at the view.

After a moment, a dog runs onstage and puts its head into SAM’s lap. He strokes its ears.

Good boy, Alfie.

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Snow coincidence

Back in February, we took a somewhat spontaneous family trip to Tahoe for a quick weekend with some framily (the friends that turn into family). It was H’s first time in the snow, and the first time B has been there since he was 2 1/2, so basically his first time too. The entire point was just to go stay in a hotel, play in the snow, and spend some family time together.

I won’t go into the myriad ways it felt like our kids were ignoring and backtalking to us, and how frustrating that was. =) Nor will I go into all the details about how H woke us up multiple times in the middle of the night to make us switch hotel beds because she decided she didn’t like whoever she was currently sleeping next to. Honestly, by 6am, Drew and I were both sitting there going…Do we just put them in the car now and go home? =/

BUT. We decided to stick it out through the second day and see if we could recover. We walked around Tahoe City a bit, went to the playground we’ve visited before, but it was FREEZING. There were icicles on the dock and on the plants at the edge of the water.


Look how sad and cold she is!

So we went and got hot chocolate, then packed up the cars and went to Donner Memorial State Park, back up on I-80, on our way home. It had warmed up a bit, and there was less wind off the water, which was helpful. We actually had a pretty good time! The snow was piled in drifts over bushes, which means that while all the kids were running around like lightfooted rabbits, the adults would occasionally break through the snow and wind up calf (or knee…or one memorable time, thigh) deep in a drift.



Finally it felt like it was time to move on and go grab some lunch on our way home. We gathered up all our sleds and saucers and dragged everything back through the snow and over bridges and back to the main parking lot at the Donner visitor center. We passed underneath the memorial that’s visible from the highway.


And I found myself thinking, The Donner party is pretty interesting. I mean it’s a little macabre…you only really learn the grisly details in school. 

Fast forward a few days, and I’m googling “books about the Donner party” to see if there are any good nonfiction or historical fiction books about the winter of 1846-47. I found one that looked promising and also familiar: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride, by Daniel James Brown. When I searched it on Amazon, I realized…it looked familiar because I had already purchased the ebook a year ago and it was currently in my kindle.

I had purchased it because (I remembered now) I had been thinking about the Donner party and I was wondering if there were any good books about it.

So on the one hand, I’m glad I’m consistent! On the other hand, I now wonder what other books in my kindle I’ve been ignoring that I would probably enjoy. (Spoiler alert: there are a lot of ebooks I don’t remember purchasing.)

I’m not sure these are the best days for reading books about families being forced to resort to desperate measures to survive. So I’ll put this one off for a summer read once things (hopefully) settle down. (That said, it would be weird not to at least mention COVID-19 here and the very strange times we’re living in, but I’m journaling all that separately and I highly recommend you do too, as frequently as possible.)

Stay safe and sane out there, friends. And read something fun and fluffy.

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To Market

Walking down Market Street at 6:30pm, just after dark, was like walking through a fever dream. I saw a man selling light up Mickey Mouse balloons, four different very fragrant hot dog carts, a man balancing on a unicycle while playing an electric violin, and a huge group of bikers on illuminated, old fashioned bicycles. What a world.

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My Oscars rankings 2020

Man, this was a quick Oscars season. From the nominations being announced on January 13 to the awards ceremony on February 9, that gave us less than four weeks to get through all the best picture noms this year.

I felt like we went and saw movies over the last year that I thought would help us out in this season: we saw Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Lighthouse, Parasite, and Knives Out in 2019. And yeah, I enjoyed seeing those other movies, but I sure wish they had been boxes to check this last month. =)

Ten days ago I had four movies to go, and I honestly thought it might not happen this year. But we made it – and so here’s my ranking of the best picture nominees this year, bottom to top:

9. Joker – Eh.

8. The Irishman – I didn’t hate this, but it was SO LONG. Like, I started watching it and then four days later I was somehow still watching it??

7. Ford vs Ferrari – I think this and The Irishman would have swapped places if The Irishman had been 1 hour shorter. Like, it was fine. Do I ever have to watch it again? No.

6. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood – Drew and I went to the movies back in July and saw this. I didn’t know the Sharon Tate story and so I think some of that context was lost on me. The performances were good but there were multiple times that I was asking, “Why are we still here?” That said, it’s grown on me after thinking about it, and I do think about it fairly frequently.

5. Marriage Story – There was something about the story of a marriage falling apart where no one was the obvious bad guy that I thought was really poignant.

4. Little Women – I assumed this would be higher on my list.

3. 1917 – I assumed this would be lower on my list.

2. Jojo Rabbit – I went into this knowing nothing about it. It was a delight!

1. Parasite – I loved every second. What an thrill ride. I’ve thought about this movie probably three times a week since I saw it four months ago.

(I still wish Knives Out had made it onto this list.)

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