11.26.2012

The Agent Coma's Demise

Ok, so maybe I didn't exactly do that ^^ to my guitar. That would have been pretty awesome. However, I am publishing this post today for one reason: to announce an indefinite hiatus to my solo musical project, The Agent Coma, and solo writing in general.

The Agent Coma, my stage moniker, has always been a silly name. In fact, I always figured I would use it for a post-rock band name. However, that experiment never happened and I thought it sounded cool, so there you have it. No one ever really asked me what it meant, which is great because I haven't the slightest clue myself.

I'll try not to drag this post out as some sort of self-serving commemoration to glorify my achievements. In fact, that is far from my intention. I mainly want to reflect a little bit and express my gratitude to those who have helped me along the way.

I've only officially been using the name The Agent Coma since the spring of 2011, but over the years as a solo musician, I've played at numerous events - a memorial service for a friend, in a psych ward, service projects, music festivals, open mics, coffee shops, and of course the many impromptu living room sessions, which were always fun.

This project is coming to an end for several reasons, the first and most candid reason being that I have simply lost interest in it. I never intended to be a solo artist - it's boring, narrow, competitive, and too easy to think highly of one's self. I always wanted to be in a band. In addition to that, I realize you have to have a lot of talent to be a solo musician. I'm not trying to be self-deprecatory, but to be as honest as possible, I've never enjoyed my own voice. Who does, really? Either way, these are the reasons I've decided to end it.

You could also say my interests have shifted. These days, the only kind of musical writing I do is for the band that I am in. I have somehow managed to join an organic musical project that I'm pretty dang excited about. Trust me, you'll be hearing from us. Also, I spend much of my time writing for literary reasons. Short stories, poetry, this silly blog - these are my priorities.

Here are a few pictures from some of my favorite events spanning The Agent Coma's existence:
This was at an event called "Take The Mic," an show organized by my good friend Tyler Mask. It took place in Weatherford, TX and the crowd was always great (mainly because it wasn't college students). I got bored of playing to students fairly quickly.
My friend Earl took this photo from the stage at my first official show. It was in September of 2011 at a coffee shop called Monks in Abilene. Not to brag, but this picture doesn't do the crowd justice - it was literally packed wall-to-wall with friends and spectators. I would never see Monks that crowded again nor would I ever play to such a large crowd again. It was quite the inaugural event.
Lastly, there was Springfest 2011, a festival showcasing ACU's musical talent. This was taken by my buddy Jordan Bell. The crowd was scattered and it was hot, but my friends were there and I got to say a lot of stupid things over the very loud PA system. I had a penchant for doing that. I blame nerves.

Lastly and most importantly, I would like to thank all of my friends and family members over the past few years for just being supportive. My musical endeavors almost led to some drastic career choices, and no one ever contested them because they were adamant in their support. Seriously. For those of you who came to open mics week after week even when you knew what to expect; for those of you who have ever downloaded, shared, or streamed my music online; for those of you who have stood in unbearable heat to hear my voice crack and tell dumb jokes....I thank all of you. A musician is nothing without fans. Who would want to play to themselves?

But you weren't my fans. You were my friends.

So along with my decision to put this project to rest for now, I am grateful to all of you for the love. I won't stop writing music - that will never happen - but as far as this project and its immediate future are concerned, it was a fun ride.

Of course, my music will always be readily available for download and streaming online. Hope it can still make someone smile every so often:
http://jordandavidsmith.bandcamp.com/

Cheers, everyone.

JDS

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UPDATES & SUCH

 For the first time, I really don't have a lot to say here. As far as music goes, my steady As I Lay Dying regime has been tempered after seeing them in concert last weekend, which was AWESOME. These days you'll find me spinning the Deftones' new album Koi no Yokan. Also, I've finally jumped on The Wailin' Jennys bandwagon. Here's why:
Wonderful.

Still reading The Hobbit. December 14th can't come fast enough. My dwarf beard grows thirsty. 

See you there, maybe.



11.18.2012

Thoughts On Suicide



I have wanted to die exactly twice in my life. And I mean genuine death, not that lackadaisical exclamation of despair that results from having to write a 20 page research paper, where you find yourself saying "Kill me now!"

I mean the deep, cerebral yearning to no longer be. To have your heart stop pumping blood to your brain and in turn to have your brain shut down, no longer transmitting your thoughts. In these times of desperation, I had imagined such occurrences to be inviting, tantalizing even. To no longer have to put up with the bullshit that comprises 95% of my existence sounded like too good of an offer to pass up. Of course, in hindsight that number is ridiculously inflated but I couldn't tell you that in the moment.

As for the moments (which have both been described in length HERE and HERE so I'll spare you the stories), they both obviously bore similarities but the depth of my willingness to die was far greater the second time. The first time was on October 30th, 2011. It was a day where I was consumed by what I now consider to be the single most debilitating symptom of Major Depressive Disorder - overwhelming apathy. That apathy in turn gives over to despair, and from there you MUST engage in a very quick uphill climb - mentally speaking - or you will find yourself so mired in despair and hopelessness that getting out will be near impossible. This is what ensnared me the first time I wanted to die.

The second moment was met with as much levelheadedness and resolve as I could muster in though that is a highly contradictory statement. September 27th, 2012 was mostly a normal day, except that I knew it would be my last day on earth. What separated this moment from the previous attempt was that my initial go at killing myself was steeped in desperation and utter despair. I literally could not endure the pain I was feeling and I decided it would be better to die than to deal with it, thus extinguishing the need to possess such endurance.

Not so with the second attempt. I woke up that Thursday knowing I'd be dead by dusk. But it was not conjured in a manic episode nor a morass of apathy. It was calculated and precise. I knew where and when I would do it. I even planned my last meal and last recreational activity to coincide with my final wishes. Instead of feeling fear, I felt peace. Peace as such I have never known and hope I will NEVER know again because it was the most artificial and deceiving peace I had ever experienced. I had warm thoughts about dying because I saw it not as a way to suppress the pain but as a way to transcend above it, leading me to an even greater peace. I remember smiling at the prospect of such freedom.

Of course, it's disturbing now to recall that those thoughts went through my head. My mind has broken down exactly two times in my life and both times I was able to recover, though not by my own efforts. And I could never again think of ending my life, at least not in the way that would lead to the act of doing so. But that is not the reason for this post.

I am writing this because I submit to you a theory: I believe that some, if not all of us, have thought about suicide at least once in our lives.

Now bear in mind that I said SOME and not MOST of us. And you know what I mean when I say that you have thought about it; that is, contemplating the act of it or what the consequences would be if you were to ever go through with that impulse.

Before I go on, I would like to quote a passage from one of my favorite books, Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell). It describes the subject of "level-headed suicide" better than I can:

"A true suicide is a paced, disciplined certainty. People pontificate, "Suicide is selfishness." Career churchmen like Pater go a step further and call it a cowardly assault on the living. Oafs argue this specious line for varying reasons: to evade fingers of blame, to impress one's audience with one's mental fiber, to vent anger, or just because one lacks the necessary suffering to sympathize. Cowardice is nothing to do with it - suicide takes considerable courage. Japanese have the right idea. No, what's selfish is to demand another to endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soul-searching. The only selfishness lies in ruining strangers days by forcing 'em to witness a grotesqueness." (Pgs 469-470)

I must say, this quote described my mindset perfectly my second suicide attempt. I've heard all my life that suicide is selfish, the act of a coward. And I agree with that, to this today. But what I also believed, if not for a brief period of time, was that suicide does take a courage that the majority of people are not capable of achieving. Anyone can think about it and embrace the act with a tearful resignation, but to do so with a calm demeanor and a steady hand takes something abnormal. I thought Mitchell had it right: there is no selfishness in the act, only in keeping one from going through with it if they are absolutely resolved to do so.

Now I want to issue a disclaimer. I am NOT advocating the idea of suicide or its practice. I am in no way agreeing that it is an acceptable way out or that the "courage" one needs to perform the act is an admirable thing. These are the things that my brain once believed, in moments of what can be described as pure mania. Suicide is an awful, horrible thing - and I ache for those who have lost someone in their life to the despicable deed. It is not the act of a brave person, but of a lost person.

That is what I am trying to convey. What I thought to be an escape or a euphoric solution to what I viewed as a hopeless life was nothing more than a staunch refusal on my part to realistically face my problems. I mention that some of us have pondered on the idea of suicide because despite the evils of it, some twisted part of our brains may see the enticing nature of it. But the way to deal with your problems is not to engage in an act of desperation; an act that guarantees the death of your struggles but at the same time buries the beautiful aspects of life with your body. The way to deal with your problems is to stand up wherever you are in your life and face them the same way you would face death were it staring you in the face. If I can embrace the willingness to end my life with such a collected and fearless resolution, then surely I can stand the hell up and look my sins and fears in the eye until they shrink away and become no more than distant disturbances.

Killing one's self is a final act. We don't come back from that. But we do come back from our struggles. Those are never final, and they don't get to choose whether or not we get back up. Only we can do that.

I say this to you, as a man who has tried to interrupt the flow of my life on multiple occasions: death is not your friend. Death is not a warm promise of a pain-free existence. Death is not a means to cover over your problems. It merely multiplies them, so to speak. You MUST choose to take a stance that opposes the hopelessness we so often feel. Bear in mind that many of us are living our lives with some sort of pain clawing away at our inner consciousness. Some of us are failing at dealing with it. But many of us are succeeding at it, because that is the only choice we have.

So in the words of water-dancer Syrio Forel, "when death looks us in the eye, what do we say?"

"Not today."

I for one believe it.

Blessings, everyone.
JDS

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UPDATES & SUCH

It's true, I finally started reading The Hobbit. I am getting more and more excited about the movie.

Still spinning a healthy metal regime, but I am getting ready to choose my favorite albums of 2012 and the band Now, Now has put out a stellar album entitled Threads, which I frequently find myself going back to. As always, here they are in action:
Lastly, I am very excited for Tuesday night, because I get to go see As I Lay Dying. This band is also from San Diego and I've loved them for 7 years but I've never been able to see them. I finally get to this week. And of course I'm stoked for Friendsgiving, the family-lacking version of Thanksgiving. I get to make the deviled eggs! My mother would be so proud.

Cheers, everyone.

 

11.12.2012

Choose A Story Topic For Me! (Part One)



So a few days ago, I asked for some ideas about short stories on Facebook. The creative side of me is desperate for some way to express itself in ways other than music. Because of this I have been wanting to write stories in the vein of modern fiction for some time now. It will be a strict departure from my old style, which was 100% classified as fantasy/science fiction (it's no secret that I'm a huge nerd).

All of the ideas contributed were terrible.

I'm kidding, but I was able to come up with a list of some interesting ideas as prompts for stories. Bear in mind that these are super vague and only to be considered starting points and basic premises. For many of them, I obviously have ideas of where the story would go but I would like to offer you as the reader an opportunity to choose which story you want to see written first.

In short, I'm allowing you to vote on which one you want to read first.

Here are a list of the prompts. You can either vote here or on Facebook. Just do so by picking the adjacent number of the topic:

1. A story told from the point of view of a house (not haunted), but sentient and keen to its residents.

2. A story about an outcast kid at a school who is regularly bullied and becomes incredibly cynical and antisocial.

3. A story about a man who lives inside of a square and has his entire life, knowing absolutely nothing about the outside world.

4. A story about an old man rapidly losing his memory; he consequently hires a ghostwriter to record his memoirs before it all fades away.

5. A story about life in the psych ward (you saw this one coming).



6. A story about a grade school student that begins a pen-pal correspondence with another student in a nearby city, revealing grim aspects of a child's life.

7. A story about a man who spends much of his time smoking on the balcony of his apartment complex and observes the disputes, conversations, and lives of his neighbors.

8. A story about a butler who is also a kleptomaniac.

9. A story told in a series of letters that detail a person's routine walks along the beach and writes about the interesting things they discover.

10. A story about a person walking in a field and they come upon another person (can't reveal too much more).


Those are all the topics for now. As I mentioned above, many of them may sound dull or silly at first look but I have a fairly strong idea of where each of them would go. I must also say that I plan to use all of these in some form or other so if your idea doesn't get chosen the first time, I'll eventually get around to writing about all of them.

That's all for now, I hope it is a simple process. The power is in your hands. I look forward to your feedback!

Regards,
JDS




11.09.2012

When I Was An Adult, I Didn't Put Away Childish Things


I was six, maybe five. My family and I lived in Amherst, TX - a town that no one in their right mind had ever heard of. My kindergarten brain was easily amused, taken by hours of escape that things like Legos offered. But my life was soon to be changed. An event would occur that would shape the way my childhood was formed. It would take hold of my imagination and fancy and proceed to occupy it for the rest of my life in some shape or another.

I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A  New Hope.

And that was it. Those stormtroopers with their gleaming white armor and propensity to be completely and utterly useless in battle. Han Solo's glorious "Yahoo!" as the Millennium Falcon descended upon Vader's TIE Fighter to give Luke a clear shot at destroying the Death Star. The streams of blood flowing openly from Ponda Baba's arm in the Cantina on Mos Eisley after Obi-Wan had severed it. These events, rapidly flickering across an old JVC television, projecting across a curiously brown-hued living room, would meet my six year-old eyes, traveling along my optic fibers and eventually lodging themselves in a very special chamber of my brain, one that would be forever reserved for all the glory of Star Wars in subsequent years.

Over the years, my obsession with Star Wars never faltered (at least not until Revenge of the Sith was released). I quickly procured an unhealthy amount of SW merchandise throughout my childhood. When the "Special Edition" re-release of the films were unleashed in 1997 to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the franchise's original theatrical release, I went to the theaters with my family to experience the magic of SW all over again.

I can't begin to tell you the excitement I had as a 6th grader in 1998 when I saw the first theatrical trailer for Episode I. It was magical. I absolutely, positively flipped when Darth Maul appeared on screen and powered on his double-edged lightsaber. My mind was crushed with the sheer awesomeness that came along with the thought of experiencing a new SW in my lifetime. I was eleven.

The prequels came and went. I saw them all, took them in, obtained more merchandise, etc. But things began to change as I grew up. Accompanied by the fact that I would never again have the opportunity to witness a new Star Wars film in my lifetime, growing older brought different interests into the place in my mind that had originally been captured by the films a decade earlier. That small compartment began to shrink as other chambers in my brain condensed and grew, begging to be tended to, shoving my Star Wars vault into a dark corner, only to be recalled upon for the sake of nostalgia or other trivial matters.

That brings us to today, without wasting too much of your time. I am twenty-four years old. Star Wars has been out for 35 years. It has been almost twenty years since my first encounter with the franchise and at least seven since the last film was in theaters. Obviously, the times for my excitement concerning this galaxy far, far way have peaked and perished long ago.

I won't make the case for myself that I am necessarily an adult. Sure, I pay bills and have a piece of paper somewhere that says I went to school for some such thing or other. Legally, I guess you could say I am an adult. My problems are adult-sized in shape and form. I no longer worry about raising the funds I gained from hours of yard work and selling Kool-Aid to purchase the latest Kirby video game; I worry about raising the funds to pay for hospital bills and rent for a dingy apartment.

Perhaps the following anecdote will make my point infinitely more clear:

I have a friend I met in the summer of 2005. She was visiting from out of state for the summer and would soon return home to the east coast. I was seventeen at the time. Without getting into too much detail, I made a point of befriending her before she departed. What ensued was the most improbable and strange relationship I've ever had. Though separated by thousands of miles and several years of age, we began a friendship that defied the typically selfish nature of humans everywhere.

Let me make this clear: I am atrocious at keeping in touch with people. I am content to have as few friends as possible in my life. I routinely leave people and relationships behind without much regret. Most of you are aware that I am notorious for "un-friending" people on Facebook for the slightest offenses. What's that? You and your boyfriend got engaged? UN-FRIEND. You are obsessed with your pet and you love nothing more than to post pictures of the both of you at every occasion? GET OFF MY NEWSFEED. But I digress.

It's been seven years since I first met this friend. Many, many, many things have changed since I was 17 and she was 15, respectively. We have changed to the point where we probably wouldn't recognize the kids we were all those years ago. In fact, I was just on the phone with her last night and we were reminiscing about how young we were and the problems that faced us then. Back then, we would worry about when the best time was to call one another would be, seeing as how long distance was expensive and I didn't have a cell phone. We would wonder when and if we would ever get to see each other again.

Seven years later. Different people, different problems. Last night she was enumerating to me some of the problems and conflicts that have been plaguing her in recent years. I shared my struggles with suicide and my recent diagnoses for my Bipolar disorder. I would have never been able to predict ourselves conversing so calmly about such massive problems all those years ago. In fact, I didn't have the slightest idea of what type of person I would be. I knew one thing, I was sure that I would like Star Wars no matter how old I came to be.

My conversation with her last night got me thinking at length about what it was like to be a child. Plenty of the early years are blurry and some details will always be sketchy at best, but certain memories - both of the fond and terrifying variety - will never go away. I will never forget the first time I rode a bike, downhill - without knowledge of how to use the brakes. I avoided bikes for years after that. I'll never forget about the time when someone told me Oreos had a lot of fat in them when I was in 5th grade. I didn't eat Oreos for probably three years. I won't forget these things in the same way that I will never forget what it was like to experience Star Wars as a kindergartener.

I post these thoughts today for one reason. Most of you have probably heard (if not, you're probably reading the wrong blog), but the entire Star Wars franchise has been sold by George Lucas to Disney. In light of this, a new film has been announced - Episode VII - and scheduled for 2015 or so. I'll be 27, maybe married. That's scary. As much as I didn't know how I would turn out as a 24 year-old when I was 17, I have no inkling of what the 27 year-old me will be like. However, I do know one thing.

He'll like Star Wars, just like he did as a 6 year-old.

You see, the conversation with my friend last night and my rapidly growing excitement over the fact that yes, I will indeed get to experience a new Star Wars film in my lifetime has made me realize what was so great about being a child all those years ago. In the words of author Bill Watterson (of "Calvin & Hobbes" fame), "I'll never understand people who remember childhood as being an idyllic time." Sure, as a kid we had our kid-sized problems. But countless times, I would climb into the family's suburban and get in the backseat, imagining the passing countryside as the landscape of a distant planet or making the action figures I'd brought along fight each other in a contest of brute strength. I never once gave thought to my parents' driving or whether we would get to our destination safely or not. I just blindly trusted that they always knew where they were going and we would get there without harm.

Now, decades later, I sit behind the wheel of my own car, responsible for the safety of myself and others. Perhaps one day my child will climb into the backseat and give no thought to our destination, getting lost in the imagination passed down from his father.

I loved being a kid. As far as I'm concerned, I am a child in a 24 year-old's body, stumbling about in life in unfamiliar territory, somehow managing to survive in a world that has lost its sanity long ago. I seriously cringe at the idea of bringing up a kid in today's world. I know that's a silly fear since I'm not even married, but it isn't entirely unfounded. It remains a beautiful thing that I still possess the ability to have my imagination be captured by things as frivolous as fictional characters set in a far-off time and place. I hope I never lose the ability to maintain a child-like joy about things that others would consider silly. It's an important part of growing up, which I will forever be doing. I just hope to never lose that ability to have my mind be carried away to distant galaxies and planes of existence.

So yes, you'll see me in a Jedi robe at the midnight premiere of the yet-to-be announced date of the new Star Wars film in 2015, with all the other fanatics and losers. I would like nothing more than to see you there.

JDS

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UPDATES & SUCH

(I've been posting these updates regularly at the end of each post recently, mainly for the benefit of my distant friends and family. I've just now given it a title.)

Of course, it's obvious that I'm excited about the new Star Wars film. I'm also stoked about the 80$ I spent today on two concerts - As I Lay Dying on November 20th and Coheed & Cambria/Between the Buried & Me/Russian Circles February 19th. That's a lot of money. But hey, I got paid today and these are the things that a 24 year-old child spends his money on.

Still reading Life of Pi. The Hobbit is next, followed by The Night Circus, Glaciers...the list goes on.

My latest two musical refuges have been the new Deftones album and the self-titled EP by UK-based djent/rap band Hacktivist. It's a strange hybrid, but I enjoy it in a silly way. Here's a video of them for your indulgence:

Cheers, everyone.

11.05.2012

V for Very Freaking Amazing


Before I even got out of bed today - heck, even before 6 AM - I had received two identical text messages:

"Remember, remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot."

That will serve as a preface to this story.

Rainy day, 2006. My dad and I decided to go see a movie. For reasons I can't recall, we decided on the Wachowski's film adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel, V For Vendetta. I don't know why I wanted to see it or what piqued my interest, but that's what we chose. My dad ultimately fell asleep, waking up for the ending to groggily mutter some words about several plot twists. I don't remember anything else he said as we left the dimly lit theater. I was transfixed.

That movie changed my life and the foundations of my then-18 year old mind.

Maybe a pit hyperbolic on my part, but it didn't end there. I starting working at a music store the summer after I graduated high school and when the DVD release for V For Vendetta approached, I was told by my manager about out store promo - anyone who preordered the DVD would receive three movie posters of the film. I immediately signed up. I still remember the incredulous look on my manager's face as I told him that yes, I did indeed want those posters.

Those posters have hung proudly on my walls for years. They have since been killed off prior to my recent relocation to the Pacific Northwest because they have been taken on and off walls so many times during so many moves that they are just too torn up to look good. Upon receiving my preorder, I watched the movie countless times. I remember thinking for the first time that Hugo Weaving was quite possibly one of the best actors ever.

So therein began a tradition: every year, on the 5th of November, I would watch V For Vendetta. I've watched it in a shed-turned-bedroom, a band hall on a massive projector - heck, even last year I watched it in a psych ward because that was the week I was hospitalized for mental reasons.

In all circumstances and in all places this tradition remains the same. There is also another constant I'm not ashamed to admit - I tear up during the same exact scene every single time I watch this movie since I've owned it. I won't tell you what part it is but it's possibly the most triumphant moment in the movie.

Since its release, I've enjoyed sharing my enthusiasm of V For Vendetta with many friends, introducing it to countless dozens of people over the years who have never heard of it. I've wanted nothing more than to dress up as Guy Fawkes for Halloween every year (I can never find the costume but I admittedly don't look hard enough). I even wrote a critical essay entitled A Marxist Reading of V For Vendetta for my Literary Criticism class my second semester at ACU. It wasn't very interesting.

The point of this post is mostly singular in form - I simply want to share a favorite annual tradition of mine. The timing is of course interesting because of our country's impending presidential election on the morrow, but I refuse to let this blog venture anywhere near the waters of political commentary. I've even thought about deactivating my Facebook account this week to avoid all the naysayers, show-boaters, and blind fools but there will be far too many trolling opportunities ripe for plunder.

However, I will say this again - just so this post isn't a completely meaningless fanboy-ish rant coming from a nerd: this movie changed my life. It changed the way I viewed governments and their role in our everyday lives. It got me interested in literature and films I would have never expressed a desire in before. It shook free my perceptions of what it means to hold on to grudges. It has taught me more than anything else how much difference a single determined individual can make in a corrupt and dark world. Most importantly, it taught me the importance of redemption and sacrifice. Some of that may be a stretch but I assure you it's all there.

So now I'm off to watch the film for the thousandth time, quoting every line and performing every "karate gimmick" in the not-so-private privacy of my cramped apartment.

Don't forget to vote, folks. Viva la Revolucion!

PS you didn't seriously think I'd leave you without this, did you:

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Still reading Life of Pi, biding my time until the November 21st theatrical release.
Listening to unhealthy amounts of less-than-stellar metal (i.e. The Black Dahlia Murder) for the sole purpose of increasing my guitar playing strength and agility. Some people don't get that, and sure it sounds nerdy but it's an amazingly simple concept. And it works - my right arm is visibly stronger each day. Weird.
And I'm excited about a spring tour that was announced today featuring two of my all-time favorite bands co-headlining in the spring, including a February Seattle stop: Between the Buried & Me and Coheed & Cambria, the best bands around with the "&" symbol in their names. But seriously, these two groups are two of the best prog-rock acts of the modern era. I saw Coheed once back in 2006 and I've seen BTBAM three times. They will be joined by post-rock band Russian Circles, which is another band I enjoy. Hot dog!

Cheers,
JDS


11.02.2012

Book Recommendations From Me, The Deranged

Since graduating from ACU in May earlier this year, I've read 14 books and I just started my 15th one yesterday. I have time beyond time to read now that no one is telling me what I have to read. You know, we all make the excuse that we don't have time to read for leisure because we're too busy reading our assigned texts for coursework. This is true for students, at least.

But not anymore! I read whatever I want. No more Nathaniel Hawthorne or essays about manifest destiny.

Since I'm unabashedly one of the biggest nerds I know, I used to exclusively read fantasy/science fiction. This is why I was a terrible English major - I hadn't read any of the classics or Shakespeare. Who the heck is James Joyce? It matters not. When it came to fantasy authors, I could literally name a writer for every letter of the alphabet. From Frank Herbert to Steven Erikson to George R. R. Martin to Terry Brooks to Robert Jordan, I had my bases covered. Then something occurred to me.

Sure, fantasy is entertaining - but it would be nice to read some modern fiction for a change, or something that didn't occur in a galaxy/plane/universe far, far away.

So I set out on a quest to read the best books in modern fiction that are out there today. Basically I just went to the top 100 books on Amazon and looked up novels that looked interesting and read reviews of them, clicking on related reads until I had a pretty good list going. The Hunger Games and 50 Shades of Grey aside, there are some gems on the top 100 that I had never heard of. I've given much of my time to reading since graduation and I would like to share some of my personal favorites from the past six months with you.

So, without further agitation, clamor, commotion, or hurly-burly, I give you four of my literary recommendations for the year:




1. The Road (Cormac McCarthy, 2007)





I have a friend who once told me that Cormac McCarthy novels are basically all about awful people being awful to each other, basically summing up why the human race is so messed up. After reading The Road and seeing No Country For Old Men, I tend to agree with him. Set in a post-apocalyptic North America, this gritty novel follows the journey of a nameless father and son who face death every day in the blasted country as bandits and other dangers await them on the road. It's pretty intense and done well for a genre that has been beaten to death in a bad way. It was also turned into a 2010 film starring Viggo Mortensen, which is just as disturbing. Side note: my mom met Cormac McCarthy when we lived in El Paso. Said he was just a normal dude who looked like a mechanic because had wore a blue shirt that said "Mac" on it. Awesome.


2. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak, 2007)




The New York Times blurb on the cover of this book calls it "life-changing". I tend to agree. This was the first book I read after I gave up on fantasy and began my list, and none of them have moved me as much as this one. I literally wept at the end. I knew books were powerful, but this was different. It's set in Germany during WWII, following a young orphan girl who befriends a Jew and takes to stealing books in the face of the rise of the Third Reich. Much more happens, but I don't want to ruin anything. It's poignant, different, and heart-rending but yet triumphant at the same time. Anything WWII related is my jam. It's being turned into a film as well. You can be I'll be there opening night. Possibly my new favorite of all time.

3. Black Swan Green (David Mitchell, 2007)

 

Everyone here knows about my obsession with Cloud Atlas. Ever since I read the book back in July, David Mitchell has become my favorite author - which is a hard thing for me to have. Since then, I've devoured 4 of Mitchell's 5 published novels, this being the 4th. While I have yet to read Number9Dream, I believe this is his best work so far. It lacks the fragmented narrative of Cloud Atlas and his electrifying debut Ghostwritten but it contains a voice and narrative that is easily related to - that is, a thirteen year-old boy living in a sleepy town in England during the Cold War. That may sound boring, but this series of loosely connected chapters that cover a year in narrator Jason Taylor's life are anything but and will have you laughing out loud and gasping in shock as you read all about Taylor's adolescent adventures. If you've yet to read Mitchell, start here - then tackle his more difficult works.


4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
(Laura Hillenbrand, 2010)

My last recommendation and only book on this list that wasn't published in 2007 is once again, set during the Second World War. However, this one is a true story - a ridiculous true story - that follows the life of Louis Zamperini, a bombardier who served aboard a B29 in WWII in the US Air Force. If you don't know what a bombardier is, go read Catch-22. Zamperini's story begins with his troubled childhood then evolves into a ruthless pursuit of his aspirations of running the world's first 4-minute mile - only to have these dreams shattered by the war. What follows is an improbable story of survival, determination, and a portrait of the human will and its inability to break in the face of death. This is one HECK of a story, and my most recent read. Not just for history nerds, but for those who enjoy emotionally moving stories.


That's all I have for now. None of these are hard-to-find, indie/whatever cult classics - they are all just insanely good books. Not that I'm some sort of literary expert (remember, I love books about wizards and magic and whatnot), as the title of this blog suggests - I'm just a clueless 24 year-old who ended up in Seattle. But I do love books, and I see no reason not to share these treasures with you. Hunt them down, and make them yours!

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go post some tumblrs to my twittergram wall.

JDS

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As I said, I just finished reading Unbroken so I've moved onto the 15th book on my list - Yann Martel's Life of Pi. This was recommended to me some years ago and I'm only on like page 13 but I know I'm in for a wild ride. Newsflash: also being turned into a movie. Check out this trailer and tell me you don't want to read/see this:

It's set to come out November 21st, giving me ample time to finish it and read The Hobbit in time for its own December 14th theatrical release. Hard work, people.

As far as music goes, aside from the usual metal regime (The HAARP Machine, Intervals, Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, Dweller, BTBAM) I've been listening to a Swedish singer-songwriter named Anna Ternheim. I randomly heard her song "What Remains" on an indie station coming out of Bellevue last week. They dropped her name and I ordered her album The Night Visitor that day. It's a quaint and stripped-down affair, but what really gets me is Ternheim's infectious Swedish lilt in her voice. Haunting, I tell you. Here's the song I heard, for those interested:

Enjoy the weekend, everyone.