Sunday, May 30, 2010

"The Sleeper Curve does not mean Survivor will someday be viewed as our Heart of Darkness"

Johnson continues his argument that pop culture is becoming on average more complex instead of the perceived race to the bottom.  The rest of part 1 of the book focuses on pop culture in the forms of movies, the internet and TV.  He makes compelling arguments in all three cases but I liked his TV section the best and since this is my blog I'm going to discuss that section.

He splits the TV argument into 2 sections: traditional narrative TV shows with actors and a script and reality TV shows.  It's easier to make the argument that traditional narrative TV shows are becoming more complex.  He looks at theme of "multithreaded" stories, stories that follow multiple storylines and have multiple important characters such as The Sopranos, Lost, ER, and The West Wing.  It's not only the amount of threads a person has to keep straight while watching, the shows now lack the "narrative handholding" (74) shows used to feature.  TV shows force you to fill in the blanks and probe the show to understand the narrative, just as the video games force you to probe the worlds.  It takes more mental exercise to follow these complex stories than it does to follow a simpler show, such as Dragnet.

It doesn't take too much to go along with Johnson in his argument that dramas such as these are becoming more complex but it's his argument that reality TV is also more complex than TV shows of previous generations.  It's hard to really imagine a way that reality TV can be cognitively good for anyone.  When people think of pandering to the lowest common denominator reality TV is at the forefront of that argument.  But Johnson manages to make a convincing argument that even TV shows like Joe Millionaire have a cognitive benefit that other game shows lack.  I don't want this entry to be me just rehashing the arguments he makes in the book, but the argument I found most compelling is the idea that reality TV shows focus the audience to analyze people on these TV shows: why do they make the alliances they do, what did that look mean, etc.  Reality TV shows exercise the audiences autism quotient, or the ability to "read emotional cues, anticipating the inner thoughts and feelings of other people" (98).  One of the most interesting arguments Johnson makes centers around the Nixon-Kennedy debates, "where the guy with the best makeup always wins" (100).  Much is made about this debate and the dumbing down of the nation, where appearance is more important that the substance of what people say, but Johnson argues that those watching the debate on TV had access to extra emotional information that wasn't available to those who were simply listening.

"TV viewers...thought Nixon's sweating and five-o'clock shadow made him look shifty and untrustworthy...What if it wasn't Nixon's lack of makeup that troubled the TV watchers?  After all, Nixon did turn out to be shifty and untrustworthy in the end." (103)

So what do you think?  Is there some benefit to reality TV?  Are narrative TV shows getting more complex and engaging the audience more?

Title quote from page 132

Johnson, Steven.  Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.  Riverhead Books, New York.  2006.

Friday, May 28, 2010

"The sky is not falling. In many ways, the weather has never been better. It just takes a new kind of barometer to tell the difference"

I've started re-reading my next book Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson.  I picked this as my next book because I figured I've read a couple fiction books and I should mix it up with a non-fiction one.  Originally I was going to re-read Kitchen Confidential but I've read that one a number of times and I've only read this one once before.  Don't worry, my next book will be completely new to me.  By the way, the title quote is from the intro, page xvi.

Steven describes the book as "an old-fashioned work of persuasion" (xv) to prove that today's pop culture is not a brain drain on the culture that every op-ed piece seems to suggest, but rather that there are actual cognitive benefits to TV and video games. 

His first section, and the section I've just finished reading, concerns video games, which is probably one of the most demonized forms of pop culture.  I will start this by saying I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, though I did grow up with one in the form of my brother and thus have seen them in their natural habitat.  I can also say that my Brother the Gamer is far smarter than I am, so anecdotally I can see the brain drain is not affecting him.  I suppose this means I don't need to be persuaded but nonetheless, Johnson makes a compelling argument that video games have evolved from the days of Pong and PacMan to a system of complex tasks, learning through action or "probing" and delayed rewards.  He describes the "mental labor" it takes to complete the tasks "telescoping because of the way the objectives next inside one another like a collapsed telescope" and "part of this skill lies in focusing on immediate problems while still maintaining a long-distance view" (54) which Johnson argues is an important skill exercised by video games that is used in other aspects of life.  It's easy to judge video games by the same criteria books are judged by, but that misses the benefits video games do provide.  Video games won't replace Shakespeare, but then again neither will physics.

What are your general thoughts?  Are the majority of video games mindless wastes of time?  Or is there something more to them?

Johnson, Steven.  Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter.  Riverhead Books, New York.  2006.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sweet Madness

I finished The Eyre Affair on my way home from work.  Thursday changes the ending to Jane Eyre by calling to Jane in Rochester's voice and thus leading Jane to return to the now burned down Thornfield and finish the narrative the way it is know in our world.  In an excerpt from Thursday's diaries she mentions that changing the ending of Jane Eyre violates "[her] training...[and] everything that [she] had sworn to uphold" but that she "acted out of compassion, not duty, and sometimes that is no bad thing." (351) Obviously this works for the story.  Throughout the novel various characters talk about what a let down the "real" ending to Jane Eyre is so having Thursday change the ending is natural and it leads to some nice symmetry when Thursday's own ending is saved by a similar deus ex machina.  I wondered, are there stories I would want to change?

The first thing that comes to mind are Shakespeare's tragedies.  I think one of the many things that make Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet and Othello so great is that even though I know from the beginning how the story will turn out, I always kind of hope something will happen to engineer a happy ending.  But if that were to happen, it wouldn't be the powerful story it is and I wouldn't enjoy it.  Same thing with Lamb by Christopher Moore.  You go into that book knowing how it's going to end, yet by the time I get to the ending I keep hoping things will turn out differently.  But I suppose my emotion at reading one of these tragedies is different than the dissatisfaction everyone felt for the "original" Jane Eyre ending.  I'm at a bit of a loss as to finding a book I enjoyed all of except for the ending.  I can think of books I would change, but it would mostly be to make the story itself not exist.  I can't say I'd be too upset if someone were to jump into American Psycho and kill off Bateman in the first couple chapters.

Are there any books you would change if you could?  

I was thinking I should review The Eyre Affair, but there seem to be plenty of places to find reviews so instead I'll just say I love this book and would recommend it to anyone I think will enjoy the literary humor.  If you want to read an actual review and The New York Times both have reviews I find helpful.

Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin Group, New York. 2001

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"You're Upsetting The Wor'ms! They're Starting to hy-phe-nate!"

The title quote, from page 313, is one of the reasons I like the Thursday Next series so much, as well as one of the reasons the series wouldn't really work as a movie or TV show. The book worms "had just digested a recent meal of prepositions and were happily farting out apostrophes and ampersands; the air was heav'y with th'em&." (312) The whole series is peppered with jokes like this; jokes that only work if you're reading the story. Sure, I suppose you could have apostrophes and ampersands floating around the screen but how would you indicate that the characters' speech is affected by the worms punctuous gas?

There are a lot of books that have been called unfilmable but this is the only series that I think actually fits this description. I'm not sure why everyone made such a big deal about The Watchmen being unfilmable. It's already set in a visual medium, the graphic novel, so it's part of the way there. Maybe the special effects aren't currently quite at the point that they can seemlessly integrate without taking you out of the story, but SFX are always improving. This series is the first one that I think the story would be severely hurt if it's told via some other medium. But maybe someday, someone will prove me wrong. I don't know if I would like the movies, at least not better than the books.

A teacher once explained to me the reason books are better than their movie adaptations is that with the book you make all of the decisions. You are an active participant in creating the worlds you see so you have, you could say, a vested interest in the novel. I've certainly watched movies, Pet Semetary comes to mind, where all I could think was "well that's not what Church looks like! What's Rachel doing? She doesn't sound like that at all." It took me out of the story for no reason other than the fact that I had already decided these details when I read the story and the movie didn't match.

That doesn't mean the movie always falls short of the book. I know I'm not in the majority with this, but I do not like The Lord of the Rings books. I tried. I tried because, much to my surprise, I loved the Fellowship movie. I hadn't read the book before I saw the movie, so maybe that was my problem. I read the first book after I saw the movie and fully expected to enjoy it. And then I didn't. The setting was described in great detail but I couldn't keep the characters straight. With the exception of Frodo, all of the fellowship members just blended together for me. After making my way through the book I decided I liked the movies too much and saw the second movie before reading that book. I was now familiar enough with the movie to know the characters and be able to keep them straight while reading. I think it was this and not character development on the stories part that actually helped. I didn't like the narrative structure but I plowed through. I couldn't believe I would like a movie better than a book. I only made it part of the way through the third book before I decided I had enough other books to read that punishing myself just to get through this one wasn't worth it. Maybe I'll try again. The books are still on my bookshelf. But I think the decision has been made and I'll never be able to make The Lord of the Rings my own now that I've seen the movie.

Are there any other books that can't be made into movies? Are there any movies that surpassed the book?

Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin Group, New York. 2001

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"We try to make art perfect because we never manage it in real life"

This quote, from page 271, works both as the post title and as the topic I wanted to discuss. Bowden and Thursday are discussing the plot of Jane Eyre and how the "original" ending, with Jane going to India with St. John Rivers, is anticlimactic and how the story would have been much better if Jane and Rochester got married. I don't necessarily believe that we try to make art perfect, at least not all art. But that is the beauty of art, it can show any number of facets of life: perfect, realistic, grotesque, funny and sad.

History is the story of what happened. There can be different versions of that story, told from different point of views, but it's always what happened. Literature is what happened, what we wish happened or could happen, what we fear did or could happen. Books not only open up worlds we may not be able to visit but it let's us see the world from all different points of view, more than history could ever provide. I think literature takes from all other areas of study, science, philosophy, history (as I may have already mentioned once or twice) but it really doesn't give too much back to those subjects, other than perhaps igniting an interest in these other fields. Philosophical lessons, like those of Aesop, are told through fables and tales. I've been speaking of literature specifically, but this extends to all forms of art, high and low. The TV show CSI and similar shows sparked an increased interest in forensic science as well as creating the CSI Effect where "jurors hold unrealistic expectations of forensic evidence and investigation techniques". The point is art affects the "real world" while at the same time shining light back on it.

On a separate note, I wonder if this is just something I do or indicative of a larger theme, but when I referred to female characters I called them by their first name but when I talked about male characters I called them by their last name. This could also simply be because this is how the book lays the characters out but who knows.

Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin Group, New York. 2001

"The “CSI effect”:Television dramas that rely on forensic science to solve crimes are affecting the administration of justice." The Economist. April 22, 2010.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My quote-as-title idea is already faltering

I was trying to look for a quote to use as the title of this post, but Fforde's sense of humor is less a plethora is zippy one-liners and much more running humor, so I've been having some trouble finding lines that are short enough to work as the title. Having said that, here's a conversation I do really like, between Landen and Thursday:

"How was your first day?" [Landen] asked.
"Kidnappings, vampires, shot dead a suspect, lost a witness to a gunman, Goliath tried to have me killed, puncture on the car. Usual shit."
"A puncture? Really?"
"Not really. I made that bit up." (181)

Maybe I'm just easy to amuse but that made me laugh out loud when I read it.

Anyway, I had so much trouble trying to come up with something to write about last entry that I thought I'd cheat a bit and find some questions from some of those "discussion questions for book clubs" sites. My mom's boyfriend's* daughter read this book for her book club and recommended it to me, so checking some book club websites seemed to be a good idea. I liked this question from the BookBrowse site

If you could choose Ms. Nakajima's ability to jump into novels, Thursday's father's ability to travel through time, or Acheron Hades' ability to defy mortality, which power would you choose to have and why?

To start with, I wouldn't want the time travel ability. I would probably screw up history by squishing a bug that is responsible for the Industrial Revolution or something equally ridiculous. Or else I would be too scared I'd screw up something to ever use the ability. There's a quote describing the "schools of thought about the resilience of time. The first is that time is highly volatile, with every small event altering the possible outcome of the earth's future. The other view is that time is rigid, and no matter how hard you try, it will always spring back to a determined present." (11) I am clearly on the "volatile" side of that argument. I just can't help but think of Simpsons Treehouse of Horror V "Time and Punishment" where Homer goes back in time and keeps screwing up the future with tiny changes to the past. I hardly trust myself to keep plants alive, so having all of the future in my hands is far too much responsibility for me.

Next up is Acheron's ability to defy mortality. This option is interesting. He seems to be immortal, bullet's just bounce off him without hurting him, and he doesn't appear to age, as Thursday describes: "I remembered him from all those years ago. It didn't seem as though he had aged even one day" (41). It's important he isn't just immortal but he also has eternal youth or else he'll end up like the Greek myth character Tithonus, who had eternal life but turned in to a cricket when he got old because he didn't have eternal youth. But the way Fforde sets up Hades it seems his ability to defy mortality comes from his character and his character is pure evil. Hades describes the pure evil he embodies: "The best reason for committing loathsome and detestable acts--and let's face it, I am considered something of an expert in this field--is purely for their own sake...True and baseless evil is as rare as the purest good--and we all know how rare that is" (29). I don't want to embody the "true and baseless evil" that makes up Hades, and I think that is the only way to really have his skills.

So this leaves Ms. Nakajima's book jumping abilities. And I think this would be fantastic. On the one hand, I don't have to be evil in order to accomplish this and so long as I'm not jumping into an original manuscript, I don't have to worry too much about screwing things up for everyone. You would have to be careful about which books you jump into. Really, I'd love to jump into any of the Thursday Next or Nursery Crime (Fforde's other series) books. You'd have to be careful which book you jump into. I like a lot of horror/mystery/thriller books but that doesn't mean I want to be part of the action. I definitely don't want to end up in American Psycho. I'm sad enough I've read that book, let alone ending up one of Bateman's victims. Jumping into Christopher Moore's Fool would also be fun. It's Christopher Moore, who I love and Shakespeare. Great combination!

So yes to book jumping and no to time travel and evil immortality for me, but feel free to agree, disagree, agree but argue anyway, etc with me.

Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin Group, New York. 2001

*What do you call someone's boyfriend if they're over a certain age? Boyfriend sounds juvenile, significant other takes a while to type/say, life partner sounds hippy, new-agey. I know there was a Globe Magazine article about this but I forgot what she came up with, so I'm sticking with boyfriend unless I think up something better.

New Layout!

I played around with the layout to include some pictures of books. I know, a blog about books with pictures of books on it? I'm really going in an unexpected way here. Yes, that's one of my bookshelves and they really are kind of a mess like that. I attempt to put them in some sort of order, but then I buy more books and everything gets thrown off.

I've also decided to take pictures of the books I'm reading and include them in the text. I went back and added pictures to the first Brave New World and The Eyre Affair posts.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"They keep an eye on...overtly free thespian interpretations"

I've decided I'm not clever enough to come up with my own witty titles, so I'll just take a quote out of whatever part of the book I'm in.

I have gone back and forth about what to write about. I realized I never write about the plot in these entries. And then I thought about a line in the play The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged about covering the plot of a play in a footnote and how academic papers gloss over the whole point of a book, the story, for the minutiae. Then I tried writing out the plot a few dif ways but I was getting bored with it. My original and at this point current point for this blog is to act as a book club or classroom and discuss the books assuming they've been read already. This way I can talk about certain moments within the story, which I think are more interesting. I figure if people comment there can be a dialogue about whatever part I wrote about or some other part or what have you. So instead of me writing out a plot summary, here's one from Wikipedia: The Eyre Affair plot.

I've been having trouble trying to decide what to write for this post. As I mentioned I tried a couple summaries but they just bored me. I tried finding a line or 2 I liked, but I couldn't find any I really wanted to talk about. I thought maybe I'd go over a character but it was hard for me to discuss them within this book and how far I've read, since I've read the whole series and know all the other times they pop up. I've written a few paragraphs and I keep deleting them because they aren't going anywhere. So I thought maybe I'd write about why I like this book so much and why I keep re-reading it.

It's on one level a crime drama. There's definitely a fascination with crime stories and most of the NYT Bestsellers fall into this category. Thursday is a veteran of the Crimean War, she was a police officer and now she's with special operations and she's looking for the person that stole a priceless manuscript, Martin Chuzzelwit.

On a different level, it's science fiction. This takes place in an alternate universe where re-egineered dodos are common enough that they're no longer on the endangered species list, there's an entire SpecOps group to police the timeline (SO-12 the ChronoGuard), Crimean War has been going on for over one hundred years and the main villain, Acheron Hades, "can lie in thought, deed, action and appearance" (27). Yet everyone is so blase about these things that it seems more realistic. Because the characters don't get caught up in how crazy things are, the reader doesn't. Even Hades is treated in this type of manner. He can make you turn your gun against yourself using what seems to be mind control, bullets flatten against him, he can project different appearances to disguise himself and while everyone knows he's unusual and dangerous, there is no questioning what he is or how he can do these things. There are those who are skeptical of his abilities but those who know them to be true don't question how he does it.

Then of course, the Prose Portal, which lets you enter any work of literature, and all of Mycroft's inventions are certainly at home in science fiction. But perhaps because of the focus of the book is a world where art is so important that it's hard to categorize the book as science fiction. It falls more comfortably, in my mind anyway, in Fantasy. I think it's the traveling into books that puts it there for me. There's no science that can be used to explain that (although I love the BookWorms). If not fantasy than definitely surrealism.

The book is also a satire, especially with the conglomerate Goliath. As described in the intro to chapter 7:

"...No one could argue that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Goliath Corporation. They helped us to rebuild after the Second War and it should not be forgotten. Of late, however, it seems as though the Goliath Corporation is falling far short of its promises of fairness and altruism. We are finding ourselves now in the unfortunate position of continuing to pay back a debt that has long since been paid -- with interest..." (71)

Goliath is a mega-corporation that has its hand in every piece of the government, including major interests in defense, which just like in our world, is big business. Goliath mimics 1984's Big Brother but because people aren't cowering in fear of Goliath it almost seems more real and more likely a scenario than other more forceful distopias like The Wanting Seed or Brave New World.

I guess what I like best about the book is the humor. There are references to all types of literature, lots of Shakespeare (which I obviously love), ridiculous character names like Jack Schitt and just the general tone of the book makes me laugh. A production of Richard III is treated like a showing of Rocky Horror with people yelling out lines and responses, and even getting in on the act. It's hard to capture the tone of the book in a few lines, since most of the jokes are spread out and the humor doesn't translate unless you've been reading. Here's an example of one of Mycroft's inventions: "In the early seventies he had developed an extraordinarily beautiful machine that did nothing more exciting than predict with staggering accuracy the number of pips in an unopened orange." (102) And of course I like the quote I used in the title.

Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin Group, New York. 2001

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another post so soon? Aren't you lucky

I'm not quite sure yet what form these posts will take. Brave New World lends itself to a more academic style of writing. I don't want to insinuate that any of the writing I just did on Brave New World is actually academic. It's really much more like the pointless sound and fury. See how I just alluded to Shakespeare and Brave New World AND my previous blog post? I'm good like that.
Anyway, I was saying I don't know what style the posts about The Eyre Affair will take, but so far rambling seems like the theme. This is how I generally talk about things so I'm OK with this form. For now anyway. I change my mind a lot.

Onto the book! I've read the whole Thursday Next series a bunch of times (I repeat myself a lot too) but I'm going to try to keep my posts just about the part of the book I'm up to. As I said I change my mind a lot (and that repetition thing) so this might change. I'll at least try not to reference further in the book or the other books of the series. But this is a long way of saying I love the character Thursday Next but I can only say this having read the series so far, not that the The Eyre Affair so far has lead me to this statement. She is a strong, witty and independent female character without being masculinized or weird touchy feel-y I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar type character. These characters are few and far between, especially in contemporary humorous books and even when such a character does exist she isn't the main character. She's a supporting character and one that doesn't have to be fleshed out like a main character.

OK, maybe this paragraph will actually mention something about the story. We'll see. Brave New World talked about how art is abandoned for stability. The world created in The Eyre Affair goes in an entirely different way. Thursday Next is an operative with the Literary Detectives, a whole department charged with dealing with crimes and law over literature. Stability can suck it; I would way rather live in this world. Thursday is listening to a news report and there is a story about a young surrealist that was stabbed to death by a "gang adhering to a radical school of French impressionists" (Fforde 10). Obviously I don't actually want people to be stabbed for their artistic beliefs but I like the idea of someone getting so worked up over art. It's like the news reports of people rioting when they heard The Rite of Spring for the first time. Rioting! Over classical music! I've been trying to think of something that could cause me to riot but I'm coming up blank. Probably because whenever I try to come up with a specific example of anything I blank.

I'm going to end this now with this quote, when Thursday is visited by a Baconian: "If you expect me to believe that a lawyer wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream, I must be dafter than I look." (38)

Fforde, Jasper. The Eyre Affair. Penguin Group, New York. 2001

Next Up: The Eyre Affair

I decided it was a genius idea the other day to read The Eyre Affair as my next book, mostly cos that I meant I wouldn't have to buy a book and I didn't sit around staring at my bookshelves for 20 minutes this morning before work trying to decide what to read. Not that I dislike buying books. I very much like buying books. I just dislike parting with money.

I've read The Eyre Affair at least 4 times before, as well as the rest of the Thursday Next series. And yet I've never read Jane Eyre. I probably should. Maybe I will at some point, but I always find something else I'd rather read. It's the same with Austen. I read Sense and Sensibility because my Brit Lit class made me but that's it. I've read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies twice, so I have the gist of P&P. But with zombies so obviously superior. I did buy a real copy of P&P but I've yet to start it. And I have a feeling if I do start it I'll think "I could be reading this same story, but with zombies and ninjas" at which point I'll switch to P&P&Z. I'll probably post about that book at some point. I think it's made it into the circle of books I read multiple times. Actually, I guess even if I never read it again it's already in that circle. So there you go.

I'm not really good at coming up with a nice, smooth ending to these posts, but seeing how no one is actually reading them I guess I'm just annoying myself with the abruptness. And I annoy myself often enough that I'm mostly used to it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Brave New World, last thoughts

I was apparently further into Brave New World than I had assumed and I finished it on my commute home. Thank you Boston for having such a slow subway system, I have almost 2 hours to just read while I try to pretend I'm not on the T.

Back to the book. As I briefly mentioned before, I have a very elaborate system involving me putting tiny pieces of ripped Post-Its on pages I wanted to talk about. This worked well in school when I was marking the pages and writing in one sitting. Now I've been marking it as I read, like all my teachers have always said to do, and now when I go back through my marked pages and I have no idea what I wanted to talk about. So here's some rambling...

I didn't like any of the main characters. Lenina was probably the most sympathetic. She wanted to break free of the life civilization had set before her, but she couldn't. She needed something or someone to push her her out of the fog and it looked like John would be the person to do that for her. But John's so utterly disgusted by civilization that her drives her back into the civilization she almost broke free from. We don't hear from Lenina again until she briefly shows up in the last few pages. But again John chases her away with cries of "Strumpet" and "Fitchew" (257)and Lenina runs back into the arms of Henry and the civilized London.

John is, if I may use a technical literary term, a pain in the ass. His most reasonable point is when he is discussing civilization, happiness, stability and art with Mustapha Mond and Helmholtz. Chapters 16 and 17 are my favorite of the entire book. Mond gives compelling reasons why civilization is how it is and how stability and happiness outweigh drama, art and science. "You can't make tragedies without social instability," Mond explains but "that's the price [you] pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and...high art." (220) While I may not believe the civilization they've created is the way we should be moving, I can at least see why they would make the choices they did. And it's only during this time, while discussing art and civilization with Mond that John the Savage is able to articulate his problems with civilization. John whole belief structure is based on trials and hardships and his biggest complaint with civilization is "[it's] too easy." (238) They have removed all of the pain and suffering and emotional cost in existence that life doesn't mean anything anymore.

In the Forward, Huxley mentions if he wrote this book with only 2 options for John the Savage: "insanity on one hand [in the form of civilized London] and lunacy on the other [in the form of the primitive reservation]." (vii) I think the book is wanting for a middle ground, one that is hinted at in the island that Bernard and Helmholtz are sent to, but John is never given this option. Mond won't let him go to the islands and he has to remain in London to continue the experiment, ultimately to his death.

I began my rambling to talk about how much I disliked the characters and my initial plan was to talk about Bernard and how much he sucks. Yes, I tried to plan my rambling, but as usual my thoughts got away from me. I like the direction I went, and I find I usually like where I end up, but I did use those lil Post-Its to mark a couple parts about how lame Bernard is, so here's one that particularly stuck out to me today:

"Bernard dashed to meet [the police]. He waved his arms; and it was action, he was doing something. He shouted 'Help!' several times, more and more loudly so as to give himself the illusion of helping." (214)

I'm pretty sure I quietly chuckled while reading this, eliciting some odd looks from fellow commuters. I like the image of someone making these grand gestures to make it seem like they are doing something...anything. "[full] of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing" (V.v.30-31) as Shakespeare so poetically put it.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Washington Square Press Published by Pocket Books. The Folger Shakespeare Library, New York. 1992.

Excuses for not writing more

Don't worry, I haven't given up on this blog. Not yet anyway. I have been reading Brave New World and marking all these pages with torn Post-It pieces so I know what I want to write about but I haven't had the chance to actually sit down and write any of this down. You might be saying (or would if anyone was reading this) "But you're typing now, so clearly you have time." Well smarty-pants, I'm at work right now so while I can be on the computer giving you this brief update, I can't really have the book out in front of me while I reference it for all those nuggest of gold I generally write. And because I am on a computer roughly 8 hours a day, getting on one when I get home isn't number 1 on my want list. But I will post an update soon. Maybe even later today.

I'm also looking for the next book to read/write about since I'm almost done with BNW. The last couple months financially kicked my ass a bit, so I may be re-reading a few more books before I cave and buy something new. And I know the library is an option but I'm a bit OCD when it comes to my books and would rather just own them instead of borrowing them. I'm thinking The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, even though I've read it 100 times. I love it and not enough people read him.

Another note! I'll probably have a single post about Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. I'm in a book club with some friends, though it's much more of a drink wine and talk club. Anyway, I recommended that book so that will be the topic of the next book club. I've already read it but it became one of my fav books instantly. I'll probably have a whole separate set of posts about it sometime down the road when I re-read it, but a quick post will probably come up after book club.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Quick Thoughts - Chapters 6 & 7

This will be a short and sweet entry. Not that I have anything better to get to, but I found as I was reading these next few chapters I found a couple lines I particularly liked and I'd like to just talk about those. Plus I just hand wrote a bunch of tips for an unrelated project and I forgot how much writing things out with a pen sucks. My hand is killing me and I wrote out what wouldn't even amount to a single typed page. Anyway, onto the book

Lenina shook her head. "Was and will make me ill," she quoted, "I take a gramme and only am."
In the end she persuaded him to swallow four tablets of soma. Five minutes later roots and fruits were abolished; the flower of the present rosily blossomed. (Huxley 104)

I like the the repetition of the rhymes in the different mantras and especially the image of roots, fruits and blossoms. I do believe it's good to live in the moment, to be the "flower of the present" and so many self-help books tout the importance of seizing the day, but as BNW points out completely avoiding the past and future, especially by chemical means is not really the way to carpe diem. They repeat the "beautiful and inspired saying of...Ford's: History is bunk," (34) and explain that is why they're "taught no history," (35) but as the saying goes, "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it". How can you really move forward if you completely refuse to learn from past mistakes?

The next part that stuck out to me happened when Lenina and Bernard are first at the reservation and they see an elderly man very slowly climbing down a ladder. Neither have ever seen an old person before and when Lenina argues that they have old people where they come from, Bernard points out that they preserve people so they never look feeble. He mentions; "We give them a transfusion of young blood," (111). I stopped at this point and wondered where are they getting this young blood. There is no mention in the beginning of the book about them harvesting blood. I don't remember if this comes up later in the novel, but this adds another sinister level to what they're doing. They may deny the Epsilons basic human rights and dignity but there is no mention of people being used for their body fluids.

There are a couple other lines on this page I really liked:

"In their deep-sunken orbits his eyes were still extraordinarily bright," (111). While the man's body might be feeble his eyes display a spark of life that seems out of place in the dulled lives of Lenina and Bernard. His life filled with chaos has given him a life spark that life outside the reservation cannot match.

"Youth almost unimpaired till sixty, and then, crack! the end." (111) I can't really say which would be better: a life that ends at 60 years but you are youthful the entire time, or a life that goes on for 80+ years but you can feel your age. Certainly prolonged youth with the conditions that come from the society in BNW would be undesirable, but in our current world I don't think I would be so opposed to it. I'm sure on my 59th birthday I would think otherwise...

That wasn't quite as short as I anticipated. I have a habit of rambling. Oops.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brave New World, first few chapters

I've begun reading Brave New World for the first time since I was in high school. I'm not sure if I really don't remember the books from when I first read them, or if I see them in an entirely new light now. Though to be honest, what I best remember from Brave New World is that it was the version of 1984 that didn't terrify me. Drugs and sex are a less scary way to take over society than the thought police, though it should probably be the scarier option since you're less likely to notice you've lost control until it's gone.

I haven't really decided on a format for this blog and I have a feeling it will vary depending on the day, the book, my mood.

The book opens with a description of the way people are created in the future. I'm not sure if this is a sign of how times have changed since the book was first published in 1932 or if it's just the way I'm reading it, but the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre seems like just that, a hatchery on a modern farm. I'm not sure when commercial factory farms began mass producing products, such as eggs, at a rate that was considering the norm over small subsistence farms.

More than the description of the hatchery and how it works, I was interested in the description of the students. "A troop of newly arrived students, very young, pink and callow, followed nervously, rather abjectly, at the Director's heels. Each of them carried a notebook, in which, whenever the great man spoke, he desperately scribbled," (Huxley 4) They seem partly an example of the conditioning that happens in the Centre but it's easy to see the students described there as students in any college classroom. They're mostly silent, ask only a few questions and are promptly ridiculed for them. Narratively speaking they need to be quiet and have the Centre explained to them if we, the reader, are to understand the world but students at this age seem to be less a system of the new world's conditioning and more an example of what behavior is expected of students at any point.

Back to my earlier point, the idea is for the person hatchery and the chicken hatchery to be the same, but the idea that people are still being treated like living things rather than objects like their god Henry Ford created. The adults of the novel repeat the mantra "everyone belongs to every one else," (43) which allows them to objectify one another. Lenina Crowne and Fanny Crowne , HenryFoster and the Assistant Predestinator repeat variations of "having" one another. The objectification is then justified by the repetition of the mantra. When everyone belongs to everyone else, everyone is treated as a belonging, and everyone views themselves as a belonging. There is no family to give people a sense of belonging except for the family created by your caste. An Alpha may not be a belonging for a Gamma, but they certainly are for other Alphas and there is no surface confusion or distress about this.

Of course Lenina and Bernard begin to exhibit signs of internal distress about society. Lenina's unease seems more sincere if less defined. She blushes went Fanny accuses her of only sleeping with one person for the last few months and briefly questions societies arrangements. "No, there hasn't been any one else...And I jolly well don't see why there should have been," (40) though after hearing the mantra again Lenina relents: "You're quite right, Fanny. As usual. I'll make the effort," (43).

Bernard's indignation seems stronger when he's first introduced. He overhears Henry and the AP discussing "having" Lenina and is disgusted. He seems to have broken free of the conditioned beliefs he was taught to see people as people instead of objects. The fact that he is described as "a specialist on hypnopaedia", (47) that he knows the secret of the brainwashing technique gives him the chance to rise above them. Yet later he describes how he feels inferior to other Alphas and how he doesn't feel he's getting the respect from the other castes he thinks he deserves, the castes that are set by the hypnopaedia he is an expert on. "The mockery made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one," (65). Perhaps if Bernard didn't feel himself an outsider he wouldn't question his conditioning. Lenina is far from an outsider, yet feels unease at society. Her unease stems from actual problems she subconsciously perceives with society, but Bernard's has to do with his discomfort with his position. He envies men like Henry Foster, he doesn't find them contemptible. If he was more comfortable he would have no problem agreeing with the conditioning and viewing people as belongings.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


With much prodding, I'm finally starting a blog and hopefully I'll stick with this.

I love reading, have for as long as I can remember and I'll read most anything put in front of me. It was the reason I decided to major in English in college, even though I never really had a clue what I would do with the degree after graduating. That date passed years ago and while my day to day work doesn't require me to read and analyze literature, I still read with the same enthusiasm as before. I've considered, with much loving badgering from my mother, going back to school for a Masters in English but so far I haven't found a career I would want that requires such a degree and paying tens of thousands of dollars for a very advanced book club seems like a waste of time and money. Don't get me wrong, I would love to go back and if money wasn't a problem or I found a career that requires it I would be there. But right now it seems like a lot to pay for a hobby.

So, my plan for this blog is to write about the books as I'm reading them, random thoughts, questions and probably whatever else pops into my head. I was originally going to start this writing about a book I'd never read before Fluke or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christoper Moore. But then I finished it before I got around to starting this. Then I started reading Animal Farm by George Orwell for the first time and thought I'd write about that. But I finished that before I got my stuff together. So the first book will be Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, which I last read in high school. Ideally I wanted to start with a book I hadn't read before or even one that isn't quite as well known, but I've bought a lot of books recently and figured I should read (or re-read as it were) a couple books currently on my shelves. I also have a habit of picking up other books so I may randomly have entries about different books or just certain scenes from a different book.

As I mentioned, I'll read almost anything. No really, I've read the entire Twilight series. But my favorite authors are Jasper Fforde, Christopher Moore and Bill Bryson and I read lots of books about Shakespeare as well as the plays themselves. My friends and I also meet for a book club every couple of months and while that club tends to be more focused on drinking wine than discussing books, it gives me a chance to read some books I wouldn't necessarily pick up on my own.

The next entry will actually be about a book