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  1. Latest Entry

    By Andres,

    We'd like to get your feedback about GDC, the mod team, and ... GDC. Please take a few minutes and fill out this survey (it's only 5 questions) and let us know how we could improve this place.




  2. 4933457_orig.jpg

    It's Romantic Isn't It?


    Maria Gloria

    One of the many wonderful photographs by Maria Gloria. Take a moment to check out more of her photography and leave a comment


    Make a suggestion for next weeks MasterPiece of the week my sending BeachBum a pm.

  3. Latest Entry

    from snowy mountains
    to frozen riverbanks -
    of aching feet and
    tiring arms, I
    sighted pine trees
    bathing in snowy delight
    as footprints that followed
    became buried and lost
    much like the time that never was.

    drifting apart or holding still,
    of wandering memories
    between the sounds,
    a hooting owl that claimed
    the night and of bliss
    found in sight.

    the moonlight noticed
    by howling wolves
    uttered a mirror
    of their voice,
    a reflection they call home -
    surrounded justly by their

    and atop of this, I adore
    nature's beauty and more
    that so stood for an eternity.
    I carefully embraced
    the windy nights
    in warmth at the log cabin
    of roaring fires. breathless,  
    have we become to our
    loving thoughts escaping
    from near and afar.

    days were met so long ago
    as if I were to be enveloped
    around energetic melodies
    that listened intently,
    closely and unending
    to the chorus that swept
    my ears to ecstasy and jealousy
    would become an emotion
    not realized by flawless dreams.

    before long nights owe
    a daring glimpse
    beyond a soulful
    whisper that touched
    the very regions of
    mortal wounds,
    to test and let us
    not forget the patience
    that divided our hearts.
     from harmony
    to tragedy witnessing
    a newer beginning
    like sunrises
    just before the
    red light favored morning skies
    and damped after the moonlight.

    by morning, into day,
    I am saved by the voices
    that lead me home - closer
    to Heavens peaceful serenade;
    ah, by a dream, I loved
    what came true and beneath all,
    I am presented - adoringly to
    your presence.

  4. Latest Entry

    I decided to experiment with pop art in this piece with Gerard Way.

    Line art:


    Finished piece:


  5. Latest Entry

    i told you that i felt really sad

    so you let me braid your hair and line your eyes with black ink

    just to make me smile and laugh


    i told you that i felt really bad

    so you bought me vegetable soup from the shop

    for $4.25, which was all you had


    i told you that i hate myself

    you took me to the park and played me songs on your guitar 

    just so i could love myself


    i told you that i felt alone

    you drove two hours in a storm

    just to watch tv at my home


    i told you that i miss you

    and you called me for an hour or so

    just to explain that you miss me too


    (I don't know how to end this, so I'll end off here for now)



  6. The cold wind blows,

    I can feel it in my bones,

    I think to turn and run home

    but I won’t


    And I suppose I’m not a pro,

    but I take pride in my prose, 

    there’s a power behind every 

    question I pose and every

    word I chose and every flow

    I wrote meant something,

    I know that now is my time to show

    that I don’t give a fuck about the cold,

    it’s my time to step forward and 

    take hold of that golden dream that 

    I’ve been seein’ every night

    in my sleep and I have to keep 

    reaching for it cause this is

    what I’m breathing for as

    these feelings pour out on

    to the table so that everyone’s

    able to label me this or that

    I’m not stable, this is a fact 

    but we’re all a little crazy 

    it’s just the way we 

    respond to this life 

    and lately I’ve thought about

    escaping but I hate being

    the dramatic one so instead I’ll

    just pull some acrobatic stunts

    I’m dogmatic and I’ve had it

    with those that don’t matter 

    as I’m dodging this disaster,

    doubling down to dance a 

    little faster and words blast 

    past so fast it hurts, put the

    place on high alert cause

    I’m melting faces that were 

    once nonbelievers but now

    they’ve got this fever as

    they watch me- the word weaver

    wade a little deeper in to the

    ocean and now they’re all eager 

    to claim they were my teacher 

    but they speak falsely, my only teacher

    is the reaper cause nothing inspires

    like death and I have this desire

    to me remembered long after my last breath

    so I write words to the worlds of the living

    with the hope that they’re giving 

    my words a chance, because I’ll

    prance and dance from rhyme to rhyme

    connecting every line to find the combination

    of words that’ll send chills down your

    spine and stick in your mind if it means

    you’ll give my work the time to shine

    so listen to me whine as I grind through this

    winding life of mine with a voice

    no longer confined to the design of time

    because now I write my lines 

    down on paper so that I leave behind

    words not restricted by 

    my own mind

  7. I've written a few more songs since "Broken, Wooden Boy" but this is the newest and one I instantly liked, so I thought I'd share it. I'd love any feedback from it, or if you'd be interested in helping me actually make this a song (AKA vocals, guitars, bass) thanks :) 


    A missing parachute 

    and two left feet

    leave me bruises

    on life's concrete


    Oh, Oh, Oh, it hurts

    The stress and pain, will never work


    And you came, like  a bandaid

    picked me off my feet

    sank into my soul

    The shame, that's been guilting me

    you healed up

    and took me home


    Now we seem in love or what used to me

    but the truth ain't always what is told to me

    I've got miles to go, but the cord's too short

    so wrap it around my neck instead...


    And you came, like  a bandaid

    picked me off my feet

    sank into my soul

    The shame, that's been guilting me

    you healed up

    and took me home


    Life is gonna hurt,

    like, pulling off a bandaid

    Life is gonna hurt,

    like, pulling off a bandaid

    but it's time to say goodbye (x)


    thanks for reading! 

  8. For those who have watched the anime, and listened to the opening, here is a little something I did. 


    An acoustic cover of it. Please tell me what you guys think of it! :) I still have a lot to learn, but this is probably my best one yet! 

  9. I saw the light before darkness came to pass over me forever
    A beautiful transition to a cold and harsh truth I now must face
    Embrace the cold, so pale and old, enshrouded in eternal
    I close my eyes one final time, a last goodbye
    All love leaves from my lips, my body lifeless
    Sifting through this grand oblivion
    The veil of mist consumes all that I am
    All that I was merely a shadow
    In the greater null and void
    My victories forgotten, all tragedies now rotting and in vain
    Futile in the end, succumb to fate
    Eradication of the essence I once held
    Isolation is the purest agonizing hell
    Desolate seclusion from the passing of myself

  10. Latest Entry

    This blog is for all you stupid fucking trolls and haters online saying inhumane and hurtful things about fedoras. Well guess what? They rule harder than YOU, DIPSHITS! You don't know fucking anything about this hat, Idiots. Quite frankly, I just think you're jealous ass haters. 'Cause you couldn't even pull off this look. You couldn't even wear a fedora if your lives depended on it. Because you know what? It's class, And class is for men and swag is for boys, but you wouldn't know shit about that, Fucking haters. This hat is for what cool people wear, And you can't figure it out! You sit there online on your fucking websites and you're stating bullshit about it, but guess what? It's just a hat, And you're not even cool enough to wear it! So next time, You think before you do trolling. I'd Implore you to do a little bit of thinking, If that's even possible for you, To think before you do fucking hating on fedoras. They're just a hat... And you're just a stupid SWAG idiot. You think swag is sooo cool, Well guess what? ITS FOR BOYS and class is for men! My fedora is class. That's all i gots to say to all you stupid ass haters and bullshit bully trolls. You don't know shit, You don't know fashion, You don't know anything about this world if you keep saying bullshit jokes. I know you're just trying to be stupid and ass funny but it's not fucking funny. Get the fuck offline if you're gonna keep saying this bullshit keep spouting this out of your stupid ass keyboards. That probably aren't even mechanical. Listen, Log off, Idiots. You don't know shit, You stupid swag. You don't know shit and I DARE you to say one more fucking joke and i'll slit your throat neck. Anyway that's it. See you later fucking idiots.

    Yes much better now!

  11. Thing

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    Recent Entries

    Since Invision Board 4.x is managing to confuse even us web folks, it just took me about two hours to find what I've been looking for. And since this is not the fault of the board staff, or my own; rather a result of a "what the hell they were thinking?" sort of a move on the behalf of Invision Board developers and their blissfully ignorant betas, I thought I'd share my list of gotchas as I discover them.

    The only way to see new content on threads you follow, since your latest visit.

    This won't work from the followed content panel.

    This won't work from the notifications panel.

    This won't work from your user profile.

    This won't work from any of the front page widgets.

    Go to New Content and set the filters like I did in this picture.


    Congrats, you can now follow your subscribed threads. I have added the link to my bookmarks as, so far, getting things to show the right way would require setting the options each time.

  12. Dear Alissa,

    Congratulations on being promoted to moderator at Lauren's Swimmers forum! Your achievement is especially notable given the fact that you are not actually a member there!

    That being said, you can PM me anytime you'd like your password. :D


  13. I noticed Swimmers (formerly known as Emily's Army) didn't really have a fan site or a forum, so I made one.


    The site is http://swimmers.band and the forum is http://swimmers.band/forum 


    Please sign up if you can; it would be really nice to start getting some content up on there before I publicly launch it.


    and I'm definitely looking for some dedicated Swimmers fans to help me with editing content on the site, so please let me know if you're interested! :)

  14. Think your lost 10,000 posts are a big deal? That's not the only thing that was deleted in the upgrade. This is very serious business!

    1. My extensive potty training. Gone! That's right! I no longer know how to use one of those things. And it's all thanks to Andres.

    2. My grandmother. Vanished! Poof! Abra kadabra she disappeared into the night! Invision says they don't have a plugin that can bring her back yet

    3. My blue eyes. Yup, now I'm stuck with regular old brown ones and everything looks sepia tone.

    4. My ability to speak properly. Nothing but adorable jibberish has come out of my mouth since Andres upgraded to 4.0

    5. The high interest rate on my car loan. How does Invision expect my bank to turn a profit? Unbelievable!

    6. My refined fashion sense. I've only been wearing graphic t-shirts and my pants haven't been nearly skinny enough. Invision is clearly trying to rattle the cage.

    7. My bottom 4 inches. You read that correctly! Feet, ankles, lower shins, all gone! Shoe collection rendered useless! Foot modeling career out the window!

    8. My inflated ego. Ugh. I've been nothing but humble and have treated people equally for the past week. How do people live like this?

    9. My fine motor skills. No more sending handwritten online posts to my GDC penpals. Nope, now I can only send them crayon drawings of my imaginary friends.

    10. My manners in public. I'm gonna be staring at people nonstop and telling them embarrassing stories about my parents. Elbows will almost certainly be on the table from here on out.

    11. John's desire to vape. I haven't seen a single cloud coming from the east in over a week. The man has moved on to edgier hobbies it seems.

  15. New lyrics. Enjoy.


    Heavy Signs


    The unexplainable explain

    how heavy hearts remain

    Strung from beams

    made up high


    I grant you my reprieve

    so blue minds won't deceive


    in the sky



    Hold the phone, dear friend

    talk me out of time

    You run my world

    and keep my mast unfurled

    Send me out in sign


    Pick up my call, dear friend

    Hold me out of rhyme




    Did you get my message, dear friend

    Listen to my crime





  16. I’ve needed to take some time to collect my thoughts. Yesterday, when the Unsecreting Thread was posted, I really didn’t have time to do anything other than react, but I have more to say and I’ve had time to think it over, so I’d like to speak my piece, especially since I was the person most targeted by the “secret.” I'm posting this publicly because honestly, if these people don't feel that I deserve a real apology, I don't think they deserve for me to keep my thoughts and feelings on them confined to a private message. 
    I find it truly disgusting and disturbing that, none of u have ever been cuckold irl. Wat a shame to america. This is 2015 people. Cuckold is an art. You guys don’t deserve to be a part of this community ever again and frankly you’re all scum to me.

  17. I’ve needed to take some time to collect my thoughts. Yesterday, when the Unsecreting Thread was posted, I really didn’t have time to do anything other than react, but I have more to say and I’ve had time to think it over, so I’d like to speak my piece, especially since I was the person most targeted by the “secret.” I'm posting this publicly because honestly, if these people don't feel that I deserve a real apology, I don't think they deserve for me to keep my thoughts and feelings on them confined to a private message. 


    I find it truly disgusting and disturbing that, as Lil freely admitted, the group went around and “mined information” from various users in order to put it in their sick secret. What a complete and utter betrayal of the trust that makes this community, well, a community. How very dare any of you think that your stupid, deranged revenge plot be more important than having basic respect for very personal things told to you in confidence by users who trusted you and considered you friends. How dare you think it was justified of you to spread things told to you in confidence around the forum just so you could get some weak, stupid “revenge” on people who made jokes you don’t like on the internet. And how dare you bring Lindsay, Hannah, Ola, Nora, Jizz, and Liam into your demented “plot”? It completely takes the cake that you saw fit to drag people who have been nothing but kind OR who don’t have access to the forum to defend themselves into your disgustingness. I can honestly say that I have never felt as grossed out by behavior on the internet before. The violation of trust is mind-boggling. 


    I’ve said it before but I'd like to reiterate - I have no idea what I did to Ceri to make her hate me enough to be okay with those lies being spread about me. Ceri, I sat up with you so many nights trying to help you with various things. I sincerely worried for you, tried to help you, valued you as a person, valued your friendship, enjoyed you for who you are, and was real with you about my thoughts and problems. Your involvement in this stings the worst. I know you had to have been heavily involved with the shit that was written about me because you were the only one who would have even thought to put any of that together. And now I find out that apparently you’ve messaged everyone you thought deserved a message from you, but I didn’t warrant one. You have turned out to be the most two-faced cunt. I don’t wish ill on you - I don't think I could ever bring  myself to wish ill on you - but I’m incredibly saddened by your true colors and regret having wasted the time I did on you. 


    As for the rest of you - Lil, Tom, Graham, but Tom and Graham especially - I knew there was a reason you all rubbed me the wrong way. I knew you weren’t as squeaky clean and awesome as you all claimed to be. I knew you were vicious little fucks behind it all, and it’s really nice to know that I was right, after I’ve been reviled by you guys for months and months because my posting style doesn’t fit your tastes. Your half-assed, self-serving, unapologetic, self-righteous “apologies” make me sick. I hope you’re all too ashamed of yourselves to ever show your faces on this forum again. You don’t seem to feel a lick of real remorse for any of the people you hurt with your bullshit, as your ridiculous explanations so clearly prove. You guys don’t deserve to be a part of this community ever again and frankly you’re all scum to me.

  18. Latest Entry

    I don't know, I thought maybe I should make some sort of announcement about this. I'm gonna be leaving GDC, at least for a while. Besides yesterday's shitstorm, I just generally don't have much desire to keep posting on here. Not to complain, but I just don't feel like the forum is what it used to be. I don't feel like it's much of a "community", that whole community feel is just gone. It feels more like fucking high school than anything else nowadays.

    Additionally, I also kind of get the feeling that maybe I've outgrown my time on here. I don't know, it's weird. I kind of wish I could write more on the matter but I really can't think of much else to say. I've enjoyed my stay on here, I've met some of the most wonderful people ever on here but I really feel like I must go. This is the best online forum I've ever been on, so huge thanks to Andres and everybody for making it what it was. I've had some of the best times of my life on here, and I'll always keep those as special memories.

    If you want to get in touch with me, you can find me on Facebook (Alan Conner) or you can send me a Skype request at minigun121696 (however, if you do that please tell me who you are so I don't write you off as spam lol).

    Thanks to you all!

  19. Maybe it's for the best that GDC was down, I never would have completed my projects for county fair. :lol:


    Here they are :wub: Pain in the butt, should I add? :lol:

    I'll post additional artwork in my art thread, but I'm going to drop this here. I drew it exclusively for the auction. Basically a visual middle finger to the flag burners, social media brats and the ones who disrespect our veterans. They seem to forget that they're only allowed to burn that flag and bitch about hating the US because those soldiers died for that freedom. They hate it so much here? Go live somewhere else. :lol: 


  20. Ok sorry this took like 5 months but I had no lyric inspiration and I would've had it up sooner but Andres broke GDC. So. Here. 
    Link: https://soundcloud.com/walkingc0ntradicti0n/inner-monologue

    Lyrics (which are in a spoiler cause it's long as hell):

    Part I - Intro to Frustration

    This is the time for honesty
    You'll be surprised, just wait and see
    This is the story of my life 
    Watch your step, it's not that safe
    I wonder if you will relate
    To all the darkness deep inside 


    Part II – Alone


    All the way at the bottom
    I don't stand a chance 
    No one will put up with me
    I don't know how they can 
    Fading into the walls
    As time just passes by 
    Wondering how many
    Of you want me to die


    I'm just nothing,
    You wish I'd go away
    Don't care much,
    I'll lose everything anyway 
    I act like I don’t give a fuck
    But I’m so sick of being alone  


    At home while everyone's out 
    Who cares anyway 
    Waiting for boredom's end is
    How I'll spend my days 
    Something just isn't right but
    That's the way things are 
    Look at this pathetic life,
    Now this has gone too far 


    I'm just nothing,
    You wish I'd go away
    Don't care much,
    I'll lose everything anyway 
    I act like I don’t give a fuck
    But I’m so sick of being alone  


    Part III – Revelations


    So sure my friends would get what I see
    Yet not one of them is there for me
    Getting kicked, a laughing stock
    But they just turn away
    Hit a wall, anything to distract myself
    Even though I just needed help
    I can't stand my ground 
    Can't erase all my mistakes 


    I thought I knew what was going on 
    But turns out I was way wrong
    How could I have been so blind 
    Everything I know is a lie


    Thought it got better but that was a fake 
    Starting to think that nothing will change 
    It feels like it's just one day again and again
    To hell with this shit, I need to escape 
    At least it's not with the other way
    Who will even notice 
    They don't hear a word I say


    I thought I knew what was going on 
    But turns out I was way wrong
    How could I have been so blind 
    Everything I know is a lie


    Part IV – Fuck Logic


    They say we're all different 
    But everyone acts the same 
    They're either jerks or just insane 
    There is no in between 
    My faith in the world's gone 
    I doubt it's coming back 
    Call me anything you want
    But I'm just stating facts


    Nothing makes sense, and this place sucks
    I hope you know I’ve had enough 
    Thinking about it makes me sick
    What could I do, it’s out of my hands
    My fate rests with who I can’t stand
    All I can say is “fuck logic”


    You say you have no favorites
    But I can see through that 
    Even your first impressions 
    Seem to put me off till last
    I’m more than smart enough to hear
    What you can’t really say
    I don’t know why you feel the need 
    To lie straight to my face


    Nothing makes sense, and this place sucks
    I hope you know I’ve had enough 
    Thinking about it makes me sick
    What could I do, it’s out of my hands
    My fate rests with who I can’t stand
    All I can say is “fuck logic”


    Part V – Transformation


    I fucked up once again
    I’ve done something else I regret
    There’s not much else to say
    This is all my fault 
    There will be hell to pay
    I should expect it anyway 
    All I ever do is 
    Drive you up a wall


    I’m beginning to see
    What’s really wrong with me


    I don’t care what I do to anyone else
    I’ll blame everyone for causing hell
    There's nothing there to gain
    I can't imagine all the damage I've done
    Is this really what I've become
    I know I have to change


    This has spun way out of control
    I realize this is getting old
    How you haven’t left again 
    I just don’t know
    The guilt is starting to set in
    I don’t think I’m really forgiven 
    Please stay with me, ‘cause
    I’ll never pull this shit again

    (PS I already have an idea down for the next one, amazingly. Hopefully that gets done quicker than 5 months)

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    Recent Entries

    Todays another start to a wasted day,

    Waking up early,

    putting your sheep clothing on,

    looking the same as everybody else,

    Working on the breadline,

    just to survive,

    stuck in the same old 9 to 5 routine,

    Trying to keep your feet onto the ground,

    Not fucking around,

    Scrapping every penny earned,

    Sitting on the hilltops,

    watching the city burned,

    pay your way in society,

    repeating the same damn shit,

    but that won't ever be me,

    don't want to die alone,

    working 'til the devil gets me,

    disguised as a holy man,

    can't live just to survive,

    breaking the mould,

    i've gotta make it mine,

    make it mine to live ,

    gotta make a name for myself

  21. I built myself a time machine

    And took a stroll through Sodom

    I smoked myself a sweet pipe dream

    Down in Bikini Bottom

    My clients ring me off the hook

    For rocks while I still got 'em

    My kids, they made their teacher faint

    With all the words I taught 'em.

    But like God and punk rock

    I'll be dead

    Then you can all

    Dissect my head

    Pass the scalpel, add some salt

    It's really not your fault.

    Like God and punk rock

    I'll be dead

    Gone staler than my daily bread

    Like God and punk rock

    I'll have died

    I'll have died on the waterslide.

  22. For your consideration: the five best examples of fiction and the five best examples of nonfiction that I've read in the first half of this year. ("The first half" here meaning up to the first half of June—I'll be writing part two before December is over, so this balances things out.)


    5. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

    4. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

    3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

    2. The Regeneration Trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road) by Pat Barker

    1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

    Honorable mention: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka; The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood


    5. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch

    4. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard (trans. Alastair Hannay)

    3. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

    2. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

    1. Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads by Greil Marcus

    Honorable mention: Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay; Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    5. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

    If I could put my finger on the moment we genuinely fucked ourselves, it was the moment we decided that data was something you could use words like believe or disbelieve around.

    Paolo Bacigalupi deals in scarcity. His debut novel, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning The Windup Girl, presented a hellish future in which blight has completely destroyed most of the world's food crops and geneticists are struggling to stay ahead of demise. His short fiction collection Pump Six is filled with tiny, exquisitely crafted variations on this theme and other little apocalypses. One of those short fictions, "The Tamarisk Hunter", set the stage for what has now, years later, become his second novel for adults: The Water Knife. A slimmed-down, less exotic counterpart to its predecessor The Windup Girl, it deals with a future that is looking less and less like speculation and more and more like the day after tomorrow: the crumbling of the western United States due to drought and climate change.

    America has splintered into numerous nation-states as the coastline rises and rivers evaporate. Mass migrations crisscross the landscape, refugees fleeing from the dried-out husks of cities that have been cut off from the lines. A lifelong denizen of this hell, Angel is a water knife, agent for the water baroness Catherine Case. His job is to protect the quite literally liquid assets that belong to his boss, and if they don't belong to her to secure them. When one of his jobs goes south, circumstances force him into the company of two unlikely allies: Lucy Monore, an embittered journalist trapped in a Phoenix that is on its last legs, and Maria Villarosa, an immigrant desperate to escape from a life of constant pain and fear. Each of them is caught up in the hunt for an ancient set of water rights that will, in the right hands, either save Phoenix or sound its death knell—and Catherine Case is not the only party interested in them. With former allies turning on him, current allies proving less and less manageable, and the heat closing in fast, Angel may have stumbled onto a river that even his unique powers won't be able to turn.

    The Water Knife is a dystopia, but not in the didactic mold of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. Rather, it owes its chief stylistic debt to neo-noir, specifically Blade Runner and Chinatown. The former was also an obvious influence on The Windup Girl, but where that novel was comparatively sprawling, The Water Knife is compact and streamlined, limiting its focus to its three protagonists. It's a wise choice—Bacigalupi's worldbuilding is still on full display, but in a way that always serves the story and its themes, where The Windup Girl could occasionally feel muddled. Just as important as the world, if not moreso, is the mystery, which as said above is a spiritual successor to Chinatown—both of them rely on the damage that water scarcity has dealt to the western United States (the film focuses on the Los Angeles area while Water Knife uses the entire western half of the continent as its canvas), and in both the landscape is almost a character in and of itself. That character, in the novel, is a decidedly nasty one. The almost unrelenting grimness of the scenery and of the numerous misfortunes that befall the characters is harrowing, and at times gratuitous (one scene of sexualized violence in particular feels, especially in the aftermath of this year's season of Game of Thrones, not only unnecessary but tedious), but it serves to build the character of the world that surrounds our protagonists: an empty hell born of our own carelessness, one that is bigger than the humans that created it and doesn't care if they live or die.

    Ultimately, The Water Knife is not only a better novel than its predecessor, it's far likelier to be a mainstream success. It's a triumph not only for Bacigalupi but for SF in general, and a shining example of what that genre does best: utilizing a near or distant future to speak to the nature of our own world and the people that inhabit it. Will our own future resemble that of the novel? Almost surely not in the details, but the broad strokes are another matter. Much like Cadillac Desert, a book that its characters look to belatedly as a prophecy of doom, we may look back on The Water Knife decades from now and wonder why we didn't heed the warning.

    4. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

    This is how moths speak to each other. They tell their love across the fields by scent. There is no mouth, the wrong words are impossible, either a mate is there or he is not, and if so the pair will find each other in the dark.

    It's rather a shame that Barbara Kingsolver's most well-known novel, The Poisonwood Bible, is also one of her weaker efforts—in attempting to cover the entirety of the political situation in the Congo, she allows her narrative to expand beyond her control and eventually collapse under its own weight, resulting in a book that is two thirds excellent and one third bloated and tedious. What Kingsolver does best is not to paint a vast, sprawling canvas directly, but to examine aspects of that canvas through an intimate lens—a small cast of characters exploring the wonders and hurts of the world. There is no better example of this in her oeuvre than Prodigal Summer.

    Deanna is a park ranger who is fully comfortable with her solitary middle age, until a young hunter stumbles into her woods and ignites in her feelings she has almost forgotten. The problem is that he is intent on killing the very thing she's hoping to foster: a pack of coyotes, a species that has been absent from the Appalachian range for decades. Lusa, a former graduate student who gave up her career in entomology to marry a backwoods tobacco farmer, finds herself trapped by hostile relatives on one side and potential economic disaster on the other when her husband dies and leaves her in command of the family estate. Garnett, an aging botanist who has nothing left but his faith in an angry God and his attempts to resurrect the extinct American chestnut tree, finds himself in the midst of a battle with an environmentalist neighbor. Their stories are separate to begin with, but just as the intricate ecosystem of the Appalachian mountains depends upon interactions between organisms, so will the three protagonists come to see how integral each of their struggles is to the others'.

    There is a fierce sense of joy to Kingsolver's prose whenever she turns her pen to the beauties of nature. Her love of the land in which she grew up is evident in every sentence, every description of a forest or an animal or a mountain vista. This ecstatic prose is made even better by the fact that she clearly knows what she's talking about—each of her novels is a learning experience for the reader, as she and her characters ponder ecology, biology, and numerous other areas of natural science. In the hands of a lesser writer this density of information could come off as didactic in the extreme, but Kingsolver deftly weaves it into the plot and themes of her novel in a way that feels completely natural. This is aided by the fact that her characters are real people. Even the novel's broader inhabitants, such as Garnett, are not so exaggerated that they could not exist in real life (indeed, I've known more than one of him in my time), and the more subtly drawn protagonists, the Jewish-Arabic Lusa in particular, are complex without sacrificing likability.

    Prodigal Summer is a quiet novel about quiet people, but it deals in themes and ideas that effect nothing less than the entire world: the balance of ecosystems, the nature of love, and the human longing for things that seem impossibly beyond its reach. Its success is that, rather than attempting to tackle these issues on the scale of its predecessor, it dials things back and allows the reader to experience Kingsolver's insights through the course of one summer amongst one mountain community. What it lacks in scope it makes up for in warmth, characterization, and sheer lyrical beauty. As far as I'm concerned, these qualities will almost certainly outlast the more immediate impact of The Poisonwood Bible.

    3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

    It's a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?

    I went into The Secret History expecting myself to be let down. Ever since its publication it's been a cult favorite of sorts; literary websites all over reference it as The Greatest Campus Novel Ever Written, and it launched the career that would go on to land Donna Tartt a Pulitzer for fiction. At the same time, it's engendered quite a backlash, with its top Goodreads review bearing the dreaded single star and numerous other reviews accusing it of pretension, artificiality, and general snobbery. Thus my nervousness upon entry. I needn't have worried. The Secret History is at times a deeply flawed piece of work, and is indeed pretentious, artificial and snobbish. However, the latter qualities are not what make the novel flawed. Anyone who says so misses the point completely. They are precisely what drive the novel forward and give it its unsettling power.

    The novel opens with the murder of classics student Bunny Corcoran at the hands of his fellow scholars: Richard, Charles, Camilla, Francis, and Henry. The bulk of the text that follows is concerned with explaining the events that led up to this crime, as Richard narrates his experiences with his classmates during their tutelage under the eccentric professor Julian Morrow. A group of the classics students are obsessed with the idea of staging a Greek bacchanal, and eventually succeed—unfortunately, the ensuing chaos results in the death of a bystander, and when Bunny finds out they decide he has to be taken out of the way. After the deed is done, the students find their bonds and their minds increasingly unraveling, and it becomes increasingly apparent that Bunny's death may not by any means be the final one.

    It is the idea that a bacchanal, complete with (possibly) supernaturally altered consciousness and the like, could be successfully staged without the use of mind-altering substances, that is the key to whether or not a reader will accept The Secret History. If the reader can't accept such a thing occurring in an otherwise mundane world, the novel is irredeemable. If, however, they can suspend their disbelief for the sake of the rest of the novel, they will find their patience very much rewarded. The bacchanal is crucial not only to the novel's plot but its theme: the question of how far we are willing to go to experience beauty. The answer to this question is, within Tartt's novel, chilling: exactly as far as it takes. None of the classics students care at all about the unfortunate individual murdered as a result of their staging an orgy of pure carnal pleasure; they care very much about being caught, but the idea that the life that was sacrificed for their evening of fun might have been wrongfully taken never quite occurs to any of them. The death of Bunny affects them more deeply because of his status as "one of them", but again their largest concern is not that they took a friend's life but that they might have to face the consequences for this murder. The innate desire for beauty, Tartt says, coupled with the frightful solipsism that pervades more of us than we care to admit, can render humanity capable of anything. Thus it is that the novel's apparent flaws become integral. Its characters are self-absorbed, arrogant, stilted and pretentious, as are all of us somewhere inside ourselves. We are all convinced, whether we'd like to admit it or not, that we are smarter, wiser, better than others. Most of us simply aren't put in a position to follow through on that conviction.

    The Secret History isn't perfect. It's a good seventy pages too long, the central turning point of the bacchanal is a rather large piece of plot to swallow, and it does at times fall victim to the fact that it is essentially Crime and Punishment without the fiery humanity that Dostoevsky possessed. Despite its weaknesses, however, it is still a far more engaging and ultimately harrowing experience than many other, more perfect novels. Its characters, events and atmosphere are remembered long after its final words have been read. I'll take that over perfection any day.

    2. The Regeneration Trilogy (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road) by Pat Barker

    Sometimes, in the trenches, you get the sense of something, ancient. One trench we held, it had skulls in the side, embedded, like mushrooms. It was actually easier to believe they were men from Marlborough's army, than to think they'd been alive a year ago. It was as if all the other wars had distilled themselves into this war, and that made it something you almost can't challenge. It's like a very deep voice, saying; 'Run along, little man, be glad you've survived.'

    While it's technically three novels, The Regeneration Trilogy is one story, and for convenience comes in a one-volume omnibus. Any of the parts could be read on its own—there's enough brief recap that one could be aware of the events of the other volumes without having read them, and as the trilogy is character-based rather than plot-based it won't befuddle anyone who jumps in at the middle. However, to do so would do the story an immense disservice. Read in its proper order, Regeneration forms one of the great war stories of our or anyone's time, an epic that takes place almost entirely on the home front as it depicts the final years of perhaps the largest blunder in military or geopolitical history.

    W. H. R. Rivers doesn't carry a gun, but he sees just as much of the effects of World War I as any soldier. That's his job, in fact. He's a psychologist, and his job is to restore the traumatized, shell-shocked men under his care to some semblance of normal life. Among these patients are Siegfried Sassoon, a poet who refuses to fight not because of pacifism but because of the sheer stupidity of the conflict; Wilfred Owen, a sensitive young man attempting to come to terms with his feelings on the conflict through writing; and Billy Prior, an involuntary sadist who's disconcerted by his sexual proclivities and serves as a counter-analyst to Rivers himself. As the war drags on, and more and more of his patients are returned to the front only to be torn to rags, Rivers struggles to restrain Prior from returning to active duty. However, Prior himself finds his self-disgust increasing the longer he stays away from physical harm, and despite Rivers' protestations begins to believe it's his duty to die in France.

    A lesser author than Barker would have become bogged down in the "celebrity cameos" of her story, pointing the reader to the historical characters with many a nudge and a wink, and the novels would quickly have become cloying for it. Barker is smarter than this, and treats Rivers, Sassoon and Owen as no more or less than fellow players along with their purely fictional counterparts. A reader who is not at all familiar with the historicity of the characters would never know that they were anything but Barker's inventions (I myself had no idea that Rivers was a real man until I did some research into the novels' background), and this is a good thing. The story within which the characters find themselves would at any rate be compelling even if it were completely fictional. The sheer horror of the experiences that have landed Rivers' men under his care is far better seen in their symptoms and neuroses than it could ever be if simply depicted in the present tense. The significant amount of time spent with "shell-shocked" soldiers is incredibly effective at turning the Great War from a historical abstraction into a concrete reality; they are, of course, suffering from the same post-traumatic stress disorder that is now known and diagnosed today, and the similarities between veterans of the two eras is heart-wrenching. Equally as compelling is the interaction between characters; Rivers and Billy Prior spend the entire trilogy in a game of cat-and-mouse that is never entirely hostile but never entirely friendly, probing each other for weaknesses and explanations and daring the other man to slip first—the fact that this is intended on Rivers' part as a cure makes the game no less a battle. Nearly as interesting is the paradox of Sassoon, a man who considers it his duty to be with his men but refuses to fight in what he considers to be a pointless conflict. Barker uses her men as microcosms of much vaster societal and psychological issues of their day, but never loses sight of them as individuals.

    One thing that Regeneration most definitely isn't is a slog—its 900 pages fly by. However, the weight of its material is near-tangible. Many other novels have been written about World War I, by authors whose talent is undeniable. Barker's, I think, is the one that will go down as the definitive one. It strikes a perfect balance between the factual and the fictional, the human and the abstract, the individual and the era. Truly an incredible achievement.

    1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

    The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.

    To read Dostoevsky is to be embarrassed for all other authors during his century. He is so far ahead of any of his contemporaries that it's almost as if he was transplanted from a much later time. That's part of the thrill of reading Crime and Punishment or Notes from Underground or any of his other fictions—the reader is in awe of how different they are from the books that surrounded them, harbingers of a new literary age. And unlike other authors, who reach their zenith and then begin a period of decline, his final effort was also his greatest. The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky's masterpiece, the greatest novel of the nineteenth century, and a definite candidate for greatest novel ever written. Much like Crime and Punishment, it uses a murder mystery to dissect an aspect of the human psyche, but where that novel narrows its scope to guilt and the criminal impulse, Karamazov is concerned with nothing less than good and evil themselves, and whether either can exist without religion.

    The titular brothers are three in number: the passionate, reckless Dmitri, the cool, nihilistic Ivan, and the pious, troubled Alyosha. Their father, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, is universally despised, and gleefully acknowledges his wicked, sensual nature. However, even a man despised by his entire town must be avenged when he is murdered, and when Karamazov is brutally murdered there is a positive furor to convict Dmitri, destitute and raging at the time of the crime. As the case unfolds, Alyosha finds himself mired in a positive swamp of relationships and rivalries as he struggles to prove his brother is not a criminal, while Ivan finds himself dealing with devils both metaphorical and literal. Each of the three brothers finds his worldview rapidly crumbling around him as the case trudges on, and as the evidence against Dmitri mounts the question becomes less and less whether he is good or evil and more and more whether good and evil themselves even exist.

    It should be noted that the murder plot of The Brothers Karamazov doesn't actually kick in until roughly halfway through the novel, though copious setup is laced throughout the text before this point. The first three hundred pages are spent getting acquainted with the characters, each of whom begins looking comparatively simple but quickly reveals hidden depths. This depth is less something intrinsic to the characters themselves; it is to be found largely in their interactions with each other, their perspectives clashing and wrapping around each other. Ivan, through his interactions with Alyosha and others (most famously in the Grand Inquisitor parable, which is so well-known as to often be published as a self-contained extract separate from the novel), is revealed not to be merely a straw nihilist but a man who fully realizes the consequences of God's nonexistence and is secretly riddled with fear due to what he knows to be true; he is also deeply horrified at the scoundrel Smerdyakov, who has taken Ivan's perspective and twisted it into a self-serving, solipsistic worldview. Alyosha is pious, but this is not the vacant, unfeeling piety that renders so many "good" characters of Dostoevsky's century unreadable; he makes mistakes, he doubts, and above all he cares deeply about his family and neighbors. Dmitri could have been a caricature of the loose, immoral man, but is instead the ultimate tragic figure, a man who desperately wants to do right but finds himself irresistibly drawn to the vile; the same could be said of his father Fyodor Pavlovich. The characters' complexity is matched by the conclusions of their interactions, none of which is wrapped up neatly. No answer is provided as to whether the pious Alyosha or the nihilistic Ivan is correct in the famous Grand Inquisitor section,nor does the novel conclude with any sort of moral to indicate which of the characters has the best approach to living. Dostoevsky allows his characters to wrestle with each other and with themselves, and doesn't give them the luxury of an authorial solution from on high, which is infinitely more rewarding than his letting the reader take an easy way out and have a clear victor.

    There is a strong current of melodrama running through The Brothers Karamazov, but unlike most novels of his time Dostoevsky succeeds in making this melodrama feel completely earned. While none of his characters are people—their passions are too grand, their speeches too high-flown, their emotions too overwhelming, for this—they are deeply human. The players seem, in their immensity, to be nothing less than representatives of humanity itself. Not all of us have fallen as spectacularly or as passionately as Dmitri, but we have all felt ourselves to be of a piece with them. Not all of us have wrestled with the Devil himself, but all sceptics see our face in Ivan. Not all of us have reached the rapturous, ecstatic spiritual heights of Alyosha, but his joy is our joy. And the themes with which Dostoevsky wrestles are so universal and overarching that they legitimize the heights to which the book climbs. In a novel at which the existence of evil is at stake, why shouldn't Lucifer himself choose to stroll by? In the end, the only way for Dostoevsky to truly communicate the importance of his subject matter is to strain for emotional heights hitherto unreached, and he succeeds. The Brothers Karamazov is filled with incredible tragedy, suffering that makes the reader's heart break; but what the reader have been turned is the rapturous, uplifting feeling that occurs again and again throughout the novel. Bringing tears to a reader's eyes through tragedy is comparatively easy; to do so through joy is much more difficult, but Dostoevsky does it time and again.

    There is no way I can sum up the grandeur and beauty of this novel in a few paragraphs. Suffice to say that few reading experiences have moved me as much, and none have left me with the feeling that I had just finished something that will never be surpassed. There are many great novels in our world. There are many that I enjoy more than The Brothers Karamazov, many which I rank higher than The Brothers Karamazov on my list of favorite books. None, however, can compete with its greatness. It is a novel that succeeds at pondering, in essence, the whole of human existence, and is great literature to boot. If there's a higher praise than that, I don't know it.

    5. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCulloch

    My aim has been to seek out what I see as the good in the varied forms of the Christian faith, while pointing clearly to what I think is foolish and dangerous in them. Religious belief can be very close to madness. It has brought human beings to acts of criminal folly as well as to the highest achievements of goodness, creativity and generosity. I tell the story of both extremes. If this risibly ambitious project can at least help to dispel the myths and misrepresentations which fuel folly, then I will believe my task to have been more than worthwhile.

    It's a rare thing when the history of a religion can succeed in pleasing nearly everyone. Diarmaid MacCulloch's, however, has done just that, winning raves from secular sources as well as the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. This is in large part due to MacCulloch's attitude toward his subject matter. He is no longer a religious believer himself, but unlike knee-jerk New Atheists his treatment of his former faith is even-handed and deeply sympathetic, recording history accurately without turning into a polemic. While it duly records the atrocities and schisms that stem from the numerous facets of the Christian church, A History ends on a surprisingly fond note, looking forward to the next three thousand years and what they will bring for the hundreds of groups that are unified—well, not really, but trying for it anyway—under the banner of heaven.

    Even if one has problems with MacCulloch's attitude towards Christianity (he feels no need to put it on any sort of pedestal), it can't be denied that he is intimidatingly thorough. He begins with one hundred pages of background into the interactions between Judaism and Greek philosophical thought—it's labeled The First Three Thousand Years for a reason—before spending 900 pages exhaustively recording every nook and cranny of theological development, every splintering of yet another sect, every upheaval of the masses. Portions of these are familiar to anyone with any sort of understanding of church history, but even those familiar bits are seen in a new light as MacCulloch pushes aside the myths and prejudices that have become common and presents things such as the Protestant Reformation or the so-called "Dark Ages" as they really were. More exciting, though, are the swathes of text that deal with everything that tends to be left out of popular histories of the church: the story of the numerous Eastern churches, whose narrative is just as multifaceted and important as that of the Western churches. A whole hemisphere of arguments, trials, and tragedies is a lot to cover, but MacCulloch manages it with flair, taking care to be detailed but never allowing his prose to be anything less than literary.

    The First Three Thousand Years is a massive effort, and not one that should be embarked upon lightly. Finishing it leaves one exhausted, in wrists as well as in mind. Nonetheless, taking the time to absorb the text is well worth it. Understanding the Christian church and its many-colored past is crucial to understanding the world in which we live, regardless of one's religious persuasion or lack thereof. For an overview that is detailed as well as broad, affectionate as well as chastising, MacCulloch's can't be beaten.

    4. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard (trans. Alastair Hannay)

    For he who loves God without faith reflects on himself, while the person who loves God in faith reflects on God.

    Even when I was a Christian, Sunday-school answers that attempted to explain away the savage or bewildering nature of many of the stories in the Bible irked me. As an atheist, my irritation has only increased. Easy explanations are not only pat and insufficient, they completely fail to do justice to the texts which they attempt to unify. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the Bible is its disunity—it consists of texts from two separate religions, and numerous philosophies within those religions, separated by centuries and written by dozens of people. This of course results in a book fraught with contradictions, disagreements, and paradoxes, but for thousands of years it has existed as an uneasy whole, with people both within and without the Christian religion fighting to make sense of what such clearly conflicting views of morality and the divine can mean. I have nowhere seen this struggle more clearly and elegantly put forth than in Fear and Trembling.

    Kierkegaard chooses as his microcosm of Biblical faith the story of Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac. Much of the book is spent tearing to shreds the attempts of many theologians and philosophers to justify Abraham's actions, and by extension God's command, as perfectly moral and acceptable despite all appearances to the contrary. These efforts Kierkegaard dismisses as hopelessly insufficient, for they miss the heart of the story and of Abraham's greatness. The greatness of Abraham, he expounds, lies in the fact that he was willing to transcend the ethical/moral and commit what he knew to be an irreversibly immoral action, solely based on his belief that God would somehow do the impossible and work a moral action out of the result. This, says Kierkegaard, is true faith, not the numerous alternatives that have sprung up in an attempt to understand Abraham and by extension his god. It is this faith that a person must spend their whole lives working toward, in his view—to say as skeptics do that one starts with faith and moves beyond it is the height of folly.

    I don't agree with Kierkegaard in many of his particulars or broad conclusions. However, his analysis of the story of Abraham is passionate, literary and beautiful; and more to the point it is honest. A philosopher like Kierkegaard, willing to acknowledge the paradox behind their beliefs and to fully work out the implications of said paradox, is worth ten thousand apologists who merely try to sweep it under the rug or to dismiss it with cheap platitudes. Would that more thinkers were like him.

    3. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

    There’s no material safety data sheet for astatine. If there were, it would just be the word “NO” scrawled over and over in charred blood.

    Randall Munroe's webcomic xkcd is one of the more brilliant examples of internet literature. Full of pop-culture references and mathematical in-jokes along with copious amounts of genuine pathos and joy, it's like a more scientific, buzzwordy version of Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes. Of course, Munroe isn't just a comic strip writer. He's also a former employee of NASA, and in recent years has started running a side feature on xkcd's website that utilizes this branch of his talents. Called "What If?", it's like an even more over-the-top version of Mythbusters, relying on reader submissions to provide it with increasingly over-the-top questions that Munroe strives to find exact answers to. What would happen if the Earth stopped rotating? Well, most organic life would die horribly, but eventually the moon would tug us back into motion. If you were to gather a mole (unit of measurement) of moles into one place, what would the result be? In short, a spherical satellite of furry meat. Could you make a jetpack out of machine guns? Yes, but it depends on the model of machine gun and on the amount of ammunition you can carry. How long would it take a Sarlacc to digest a live T-rex? . . .we'll get back to you on that one.

    The sheer maniac joy of using scientific knowledge to provide concrete answers to the dozens of equally absurd inquiries that pack this volume of collected questions and answers is incredibly fulfilling—I found myself grinning like a little kid on numerous occasions, and in a few instances laughed out loud. Even a plain-text version of the book would be one of the best books I've read this year, but Munroe complements each entry with numerous illustrations featuring the cast of xkcd, some of which serve merely as humorous interludes and others of which are tremendously helpful visualizations of the concepts he's trying to explain. For readers of the strip, these illustrations provide more of what you already love, and for those who are new to Munroe's particular blend of science and heart, they form a perfect encapsulation of what xkcd is all about—fun, insanity, and more than a little bittersweetness.

    2. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

    The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that's why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.

    Anyone who was convinced that racism was a force long-spent within America got a rude awakening starting last year, when the contemptible police response to protests in Ferguson opened up a nationwide conversation on race and privilege. In the wake of that flashpoint and others like it, it's essential for those seeking to end the bigotry still rampant in our culture to understand how that bigotry operates. The New Jim Crow is an excellent starting place. Where Ferguson and the murders of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice were microcosms of a larger problem, this book steps back to examine it at its true, titanic scale: the systematic enslavement of people of color not through auctions, but imprisonment.

    Alexander is devastatingly thorough in her case against the United States police and prison systems. The reason she refers to their treatment of people of color as "The New Jim Crow" is that incidents of bigotry and abuse that occur within their confines are not isolated; they are systemic, engrained within the institutions, due to decades of policy and legislation designed to punish black men for the crime of their skin color. Mandatory minimum sentences, coerced felony pleas, and the like build and build upon each other to create an engine of persecution that robs families of their fathers and husbands, disenfranchises voters, and perpetuates the stereotypes that it then uses to justify its existence. The sheer horror of realization that comes with reading this book is hard to match. It's not merely a polemic, either—Alexander backs every story, every claim, with statistic after statistic and citation after citation.

    Racism is not something that simply ends when we refuse to talk about it. Discrimination is not over simply because America has Barack Obama as its president. If we are to truly dispense with this cancer at the heart of our country, it needs to be talked about and fought against, not pushed under the rug in an effort to pretend it doesn't exist. The New Jim Crow is a rallying cry against that sort of wishful thinking.

    1. Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroards by Greil Marcus

    A drumbeat like a pistol shot. 24 July 1965 was the day Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" went into the charts. It was on the radio all across the U.S.A. and heading straight up. When drummer Bobby Gregg brought his stick down for the opening noise of the six-minute single, the sound—a kind of announcement, then a void of silence, then a rising fanfare, then the song—fixed a moment when all those caught up in modern music found themselves engaged in a running battle for a prize no one bothered to name: the greatest record ever made, perhaps, or the greatest record that ever would be made.

    John Updike once said of Vladimir Nabokov that "He writes prose the only way it should be written: ecstatically." The same adverb comes to mind when reading this book—Greil Marcus' attempt to grasp just what makes Bob Dylan in general, and "Like a Rolling Stone" in particular, so great. Marcus may be an esteemed literary and musical critic, but he is before all else a Bob Dylan fan, and this enthusiasm shows forth on every page. His prose reaches near-rhapsodic highs as he seeks to describe the essence of "Like a Rolling Stone", what it has meant both to him and to the rest of Dylan's audience, and why it is indeed The Greatest Song Ever Written. If you're already convinced of the song's status, you find yourself exhilarated by the rush of Marcus' powerful mutual affection, even obsession; if you're not, the sheer force of his conviction makes you believe in what he says without question. Very few people can write about music in a way that is musical; Marcus does so in a way that seems effortless, the power behind his words causing them to transcend the page and become their own kind of notes floating through the air.

    Of course, if the book were solely about "Like a Rolling Stone" it would quickly peter out; no single song, even The Greatest Song Ever Written, can sustain a 250 page tome by itself. Fortunately, much of the book is less about the song and more about the subtitle, describing not only Dylan but all of America at the crossroads. Marcus weaves seamlessly back and forth between analysis of "Like a Rolling Stone" itself and reflections on what it represented for Dylan's artistic career, and from those reflections to further reflections on what Dylan's music represented for the entire culture of the 60s. In Marcus' view, the song is the lynchpin upon which that entire decade's culture hung, and if this isn't strictly true, it feels true, which for Marcus and for music in general is far more important than mere fact.

    Marcus is frequently accused of pretentiousness, and this is an accusation with which I won't argue—it's the height of artistic pretentiousness to insist, without irony or artifice, that a single song can really represent the turning point for an entire culture. However, this pretentiousness does nothing to dilute the beauty, passion, and truth of his musings, and if anything only serves to render them more powerful and thrilling. By the time the book reaches its final chapter, a description of the numerous failed takes, and the single successful one, of "Like a Rolling Stone" on the day of its recording—a point to which Marcus has been building, but from which he has steadily held back, for the entire book—you're near breathless. Dylan the man is sick of his legend, and it's understandable—no one really wants to be considered the voice of their generation. But what a legend it is.