Monthly Archives: March 2010

Brave New World

I was a few days behind schedule in finishing Brave New World. We had lots of goings-on here which kept me from finishing the book according to schedule, not the least of which was Flamenco Dad’s performance in the opera, Zoe having to get fitted for glasses, and assorted other stuff with the kids. Having said all this, let me go on record as saying that this book rocks! I enjoyed Huxley even more than I thought I would. I highly recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading more Huxley in the future.

Some thoughts on Brave New World:

My Russian Literature professor told me that not only did Aldous Huxley steal the idea for this dystopian novel from Yevgeny Zamyatin, but that he actually had the stones to deny it, arguing that he had never even heard of We.  Apparently George Orwell gives a nod to Zamyatin in 1984, but I haven’t read that one yet (it’s on the list, so look for it to appear here in the future). Whether or not you believe that Huxley did pretty much swipe the idea for the novel from Zamyatin’s We, Huxley still tells a heck of a story. Aldous Huxley is a genius. There, I said it. Sorry, Dr. Peppard.

There’s lots of the same stuff here as there is in Zamyatin’s novel: collectivism on steroids, this book presents the idea of a one world order, where a monolithic governing body controls every aspect of people’s lives.  Those who live outside the collective are viewed as savages or deviants. Strangely, in the “civilized” world they engage in behaviors that are very far removed from what we would consider a civililzed society today. They have turned their backs on the past, they reject high art for the sake of industrialization and conformity.

Ah, the mysterious elixir that is soma—learned about this in Religions of South Asia class, though in this novel the drug appears in pill form. Reference to soma is made in the Rigveda, or the Vedas, an ancient religious text. Gotta love how a solid liberal arts education is a gift that just keeps on giving. Thanks, Dr. Lopez (I just feel like giving some of my professors props today for all the interesting stuff I learned…and mysteriously managed to retain)!

What would Sir Thomas More have to say about this book? I read Utopia in one of my Brit Lit survey courses. I’m thinking that, given what a religious man he was, More would be pretty upset about how religion is completely rejected in this utopia. In class I learned that ‘utopia’ can be translated to either ‘happy place’ or ‘no place,’ or both. I’m guessing that More (and many others) are glad that this no-happy place is but a figment of Huxley’s (or Zamyatin’s, or Orwell’s) imagination.

As for the next book, you ask? I’ve selected a book that was listed in my recent poll (though it, sadly, got no votes): The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Au revoir!

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Some Random Thoughts on Faulkner, and the Results are in

I’m going to avoid going into lengthy plot summaries on As I Lay Dying. First of all, people who haven’t read the book may want to take a stab at it without getting bombarded with a bunch of spoilers. Second, this ain’t one of those sites where you can buy a paper; you’ll have to write your own, buddy. Finally, nobody gave me the heads-up on this book beforehand…not to get all schoolmarm-y on you, but you’re not going to learn anything if I start spoonfeeding information to you, am I right?

Man, when did I get all grown up and stuff? Anyway, here are some random thoughts on the novel. These really don’t follow any strict, logical format…I just kind of sat down last night and typed up what I was thinking as the thoughts came to mind:

Family dynamics in this novel are completely dysfunctional. Faulkner really loves doing this: he uses similar motifs in both The Sound and the Fury and Light in August. Both of those novels appear on the Newsweek list, so look for them to appear later.

Faulkner is a true master of perspective. It’s a remarkable feat to have woven together this narrative using fifteen different voices. I heart Faulkner.

Holy calamities, Batman! Illness, death, storms, floods, fires, and vultures: there’s some serious biblical stuff going on in this novel.

Two things really creeped me out in this novel: the vultures and the sound of Cash prepping that coffin. It’s like there was this constant cadence marking the end of Addie’s life. How chilling that her son was the one marking time. And vultures are scary. Period.

Anse Bundren has got to be the most obnoxious character in all of Faulkner’s works. Does the man have any redeeming qualities? He’s the laziest, cheapest, coldest, most opportunistic man I’ve encountered in literature in a LONG time. His wife’s body has just been buried, and he immediately tries to score with the woman from whom he borrowed the shovels to bury his wife? Don’t forget the fake teeth, hot stuff. Sheesh.

I lost count of how many times I misread Bundren’s last name as “Burden,” especially since Anse is constantly harping on the fact that he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone, a.k.a. a burden. Meanwhile, he’s a burden to everyone around him. Does he even know what the words ‘burden’ or ‘beholden’ mean? Because he’s using the expressions incorrectly—someone needs to get that toothless leech a dictionary, stat.

Okay, so on to other things! The results are in, and Brave New World is the next book I’m going to tackle. At roughly 260 pages, I plan to get through the book by Wednesday (so long as I get enough reading in today). I also plan on doing some cooking this weekend, so perhaps there will be a food pic (or two) in the next few days!

What’s Next?

I finished As I Lay Dying this afternoon. Great! Aren’t goals a wonderful thing? Remarks on the novel are on their way; in the meantime, I need to give some thought to what is next on my to-read list. And because I’m trying to embrace technology–and because I like encouraging people to vote–I’ve decided to set up a poll to help me decide what to read next. So here it is:

Polls will remain open for the next 2 days, which means that by this time Saturday I’ll be ready to get reading!

BTW, it should be noted that I have opened a similar poll on my Facebook page. If you vote there, please refrain from voting here–that whole “Vote early and often” deal doesn’t apply here. Thanks.

You Want Me to Read What?

One of my professors offered me a rather interesting and lofty challenge when I sought advice on how best to prepare myself for graduate study. We were sitting in his office, talking about my grad school aspirations, when I asked him for his suggestions. He folded his hands and placed them gently on his desk, leaned towards me, and simply said, “Read everything.”

Now just to clarify, I know he didn’t mean that I should actually read EVERYTHING. I dare say that Dr. G wouldn’t exactly congratulate me for reading all the Sweet Valley High books. I know he’s talking about those books that scholars would consider important books. You know, Literature. With a capital “L.” Okay, that’s all fine and good, but just how am I supposed to go about this task? Do I proceed chronologically? Geographically? Thematically? Stylistically?

When I graduated in December, I decided that I would get started on this task. And I read exactly three books in three months. That is not what I call making good progress. I realized my problem was too many options and not enough direction. It’s like being a kid in a candy store: with so many choices, it’s impossible to make a decision. I ended up wandering the aisles of Barnes and Noble with a glazed look in my eyes, mumbling to myself.

I needed to find a better way.

And that’s when it hit me that I should make a list. It’s the best way for me to get organized when I start a project. I made a list of the books I owned—both read and unread—and thought that would be a fine place to start. But then I realized that I wasn’t satisfied with simply reading the books in my collection. My collection doesn’t even come close to everything, not even by a long shot. I knew that there were many things my own book collection left to be desired, so that wasn’t going to do the trick. I decided that I would borrow someone else’s reading list as a jumping off point.

I consulted a Newsweek article, “Newsweek’s Top 100 Books: The Meta-List,” published June 29, 2009. Newsweek gathered titles from a variety of other book lists to make one, giant, mega…well, meta-list. Since I didn’t want to take on War and Peace immediately—it’s Number 1 on Newsweek’s list—I decided to use a randomizer to pick out the first title I would read. I know what you’re thinking: for someone who is approaching this endeavor so thoughtfully, it seems kind of random to choose a book that way. Well, all I can say is that I am a complicated woman. Don’t try to figure me out: many have tried, most have failed. As luck would have it, the first selection is a book I already own: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. Saves me another trip to the bookstore.

Here are my ground rules:

 I must read a MINIMUM of 50 pages per day. As an English major, that should be a piece of cake. The fact that I am currently studying for the GRE and the teacher certification exams is not an excuse.  

No Sparknotes or Wikipedia allowed. No offense, but I’ve always felt that consulting these sources is a form of cheating AND it deprives one of the sense of accomplishment that goes along with seeing something through to the end.

After I finish reading the book, I will post remarks within 48 hours of completion. That gives me time to ruminate a bit about what I’ve read, and it gives me a self-imposed deadline for sharing what I think about what I’ve read.

Not bad, right?

Faulkner’s work is 265 pages (my copy, which is by Vintage), including the editor’s notes, so that puts my ETA for finishing the novel at about 5 days; this means that my remarks will appear here in 7 days. Sounds like a plan!

Oh, I almost forgot: I have no idea what I will read once I make it through the meta-list. I’ll open the floor to suggested titles or other book lists to work with. I’m thinking the Newsweek list is going to take me a good long time, so I think I’ll leave those decisions for a much later date. Besides, the list I’m working with has some pretty intense titles on it: http://www.newsweek.com/id/204478/?q=/name:0/type:0/range:0/page:1. Go ahead, check it out.