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.
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.