Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review of “Fahrenheit 451”

Guy Montag lives in a world without books. In fact, he burns them. But after meeting a strange young girl named Clarisse, she asks him if he is happy, and Montag begins wondering if being a fireman is worth it. His wife, Mildred overdoses on sleeping pills and nearly dies – something which she denies because she is so caught up in this world of watching interactive television. After Clarisse dies and Montag witnesses an old woman who would rather be burned alive with her books then part with them, he begins to revolt against the world without literature. He steals a book himself. Eventually after Mildred betrays her husband, Beatty, Montag’s boss, decides to burn Montag’s house due to his new-found love of books. As the mechanical house from the firehouse tries to capture Montag, he escapes and finds a group of men who have made themselves into books by memorizing whole texts.
This dystopian novel is astounding even for today with the idea of television over books. What makes the novel so lovely is the language of Bradbury: “The books leapt and danced like roasted birds, their wings ablaze with red and yellow feathers.” I liked the concept of the book very much and I appreciated that the whole thing was pretty quick. It was confusing at first, being in 2012 to get the idea of the family on television but then I understood it as a continuous reality show that Mildred watches around the clock. That isn’t very far from reality now, is it?
I would recommend this one as a good look at a classic dystopian novel. Since The Hunger Games are so popular now, students would be able to get the gist of this, I think. The idea of television rotting your brain so much that books are silly, ridiculous things is something I’m sure young adults can understand that idea.

Review of “A Moveable Feast”

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”
Ernest Hemingway wrote of his time in Paris in the 1920s. This was a time of painters, writers and the Lost Generation between World War I and World War II. While Hemingway and his wife Hadley are poor at the time (as he claims in the memoir)  they enjoy good food and the kindness of others to get good books. Many of these creative minds are wonderful people personally, as Hemingway tells us of Ezra Pound, tiresome and unnerving as well. We get a look inside what these friends of his were really like in the way only Hemingway can do.
I wanted to re-read this after going through passages here and there over the years. The best part of Hemingway, to me, is his life. His style of writing is so interesting when he’s talking about himself and people he comes into contact with. His descriptions of physical features, conversations and the way he feels about these people is extraordinary. You don’t even have to know all of their works to get the idea of them as people who are intermingling in a play, of sorts, during this time in Paris.
For anyone who wants to read Hemingway in a quick and dirty way, I highly recommend this. I know some have been scarred by their high school assignment to read Old Man and the Sea but getting to know Hemingway is really rewarding. It’s all in his style that makes the reading so good. He doesn’t mess around with his readers – he tells you the story as straight as he can and it’s totally worth taking the time to read his short memoirs of Paris.
Best line of the whole book, when describing an Wyndham Lewis, "I do not think I had ever seen a nastier-looking man.... Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.” Only Hemingway can explain things like this, bless him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review of “1984”

The thought police would get him just the same.

We’ve all heard of 1984 and since I wanted to go into some classic literature that I had passed up during my formative years, I decided to read this one.

The story is about Winston Smith who lives in Oceania. The world that he lives in is surrounded by surveillance and continual threat of being caught for even thinking something against The Party’s beliefs. Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth is to rewrite history, literally. He goes through old newspaper articles and rewrites them in Newspeak, the language of The Party, to make the articles reflect The Party’s beliefs. Winston hates The Party and he hates Big Brother, the ominous presence that The Party has to keep a close eye on everyone. Julia, who fixes the novel-making machines and whom is a member of the Junior Anti-Sex League, gives Winston a note one day that says, “I love you.” He finds out that she too hates The Party and they start a secret affair. However, the more time they spend together the more willingly they run the risk of capture. When they are taken by The Party to jail, Winston is subjected to numerous forms of torture until he breaks and betrays Julia.

Forgive me for talking myself through this book as I do the review because there were some things I had a hard time with. I really hoped and expected to like this book. I heard over and over how much people loved it so I thought it would be face-paced, exciting and interesting. However, I got frustrated with the descriptions of the dystopian world, which I understand is necessary, but I am not interested in politics so this was the worst book for me to chose to read. Orwell took so much time creating the world that I didn’t care about Winston. I didn’t care about that book he got either. I skipped through the entire section. It was dead boring and it just wanted to show that the real history wasn’t what The Party tried to tell everyone it was. I got it.

Maybe I wasn’t supposed to care about Winston either. He says, “I am thirty nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.” This isn’t the most desirable character to chose as a hero, especially when he wants to rape and murder women. I guess he’s supposed to be a product of his environment but his willing rebellion from Big Brother is simply sleeping with Julia. That was his motivation. Julia had been with a ton of Party-hating men so her only form of rebellion was by seducing men (this would make more sense in 1949 when the book was written, I think.) Still, it seems a bit weak for a motivator when you have the whole dang world going to pot. I guess that’s the only way they could rebel since Winston says that the Proles (normal people) were the only ones who could potentially rebel with any success. Those in The Party had no chance.

Once Winston is caught and under unspeakable pain, he still argues with O’Brian, his captor. He even tells him that he hasn’t betrayed Julia so he hasn’t won. I understood that the interrogation was just to show how people have to accept whatever garbage their told to believe. 2+2=5 if you hear it long enough and it keeps you from dying. Winston’s capture was his own fault - he willingly got sloppy. He must have wanted to get caught just to get the looming inevitable over with.  He went romping with Julia, tried talking to people about hating The Party, and then fights them while his back is breaking. He ends up saying he loves Big Brother and he doesn’t feel the same about Julia. They’ve won. His whole purpose in the story was to show us how bad The Party can be.

Again, it’s just not my kind of book. I was interested in the parts about Winston and Julia but that’s only some of the book. The rest was too much description and political discussion that I didn’t have the patience for. I know it’s supposed to be an indicator of present times in society but in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we celebrate vapid, talentless rich people vapid who have 74 day marriages. I don’t think anyone’s going to get a rat cage attached to their face anytime soon for having an opinion on that – thank God.

Anyway, I agree that students in senior high should read this to get an idea of how politics can be. I’m not saying it’s not culturally or historically significant or that it’s a “bad” book. I just didn’t enjoy it as much as other classic books I’ve read. Politics aren’t my thing so any discussion of war puts me to sleep (just like baseball.)