Posts Tagged ‘books’

While I really need to be avoiding reading and focusing solely on writing my dissertation, I have a knack for picking up books that I feel I have to read right now. Here’s the ones that I picked up or arrived recently:

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I have various reasons for these selections: need to read before viewing movie/show (Life of Pi, A Game of Thrones), wanted to support a cool kickstarter that just happens to be right up my alley (Apocalypse Now), will pick up anything new by Le Guin (even if there isn’t much in those collections that is actually new), couldn’t resist a cool find at a St Vinnie’s (Judge Dredd: Annual from 1982), et cetera.

Yes, I probably should break down and get a tablet of some sort to cut down on the sheer physical volume of this stuff. There’s absolutely no reason I need a physical copy of A Game of Thrones. I’m just not there quite yet, and, honestly, a used paperback copy from my local bookstore is still cheaper than the Kindle version and it supports people I like at a business I want to stay in business.

I have instituted a new policy to prevent book hoarding, though. If I pick something up and haven’t read it within a year of getting it, I’m donating/selling/giving it away. Way too many unread “must reads” on my shelves.

 

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I compiled this for my own personal record-keeping, but thought I’d share.

I try to read at least one novel or story collection a week, and I aim to write at least a brief review for each (I rarely hit that goal, though, especially with my other reading/writing requirements). I’m probably omitting some books I’ve forgotten from this list because I started compiling it at the end of July,  and I’m not including kids’ books I read with my daughter or scholarly non-fiction/philosophy/etc. only people like me read (each of which would have a separate list if I had time to put it together).  This list is organized in a roughly chronological order of when read.  Books marked with an asterisk were re-reads.

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

To reiterate what I said in the first part of this post . . .

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Part 2: Huxley’s Brave New World and the Not-so-primitive “Savage”

Like Zamyatin (who he claimed to have not read), Huxley builds his dystopian world off of the examples of H.G. Wells’s utopian fiction.  Likewise, he situates in a world of what seem to be mutually exclusive binary categories.  And again, a central question is the distinction between the civilized (manifested in the World State, its logic of stability, and its citizens) and the primitive (ostensibly all that is necessarily eliminated from the World State).

Within this context of exclusion as definition, the spacial location of the primitive is the Reservation at Malpais (the bulk of which is seen in Chapters 7 and 8).  However, the primitive and uncivilized is also usually read as embodied in the character of John “the Savage,” a young man born (in the old-fashioned way) on the Reservation of parents from the World State.  He becomes the primary protagonist of the novel’s second half when he is brought  to civilization (the World State’s London), and the central conflicts in the book are illustrated most extensively through his dialogue with World Controller Mustapha Mond (in Chapters 16 and 17).

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The Frisky came up with this provocative Venn diagram:

Of those on their list . . .

I’d move Blade Runner, Fight Club, and Stand by Me over to “both.”  The source material for all three of those are solid, and the print versions do differ significantly enough from the films that reading them would enhance your thinking about the films.

I’d also shift Blindness to “both.”  The film is a lot better than most give it credit for.

I’d probably move Harry Potter from “both” over to “see the movie(s)” (though I’m sure hardcore Potter fans will have my head).

I am Legend, while I totally agree that the movie with that title was weak, is a film worth watching if you’ve read the book (especially with the original, better ending that they changed for theatrical release).  I think fans of the book should also see the two earlier adaptations

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The simple divisions of civilized versus primitive or civilization versus wilderness are rarely actually simple.

Ishi, the last of the Yahi. His story is not identical to John’s in Brave New World.

Dystopian fiction is often concerned with what can easily be presented as simple dualisms: freedom/restriction, happiness/misery, individual/collective, logic/passion, reason/emotion, civilization/wilderness, and so on.  When I have taught dystopian works, I use these to give students an anchor and rubric for their reading and thinking about the texts.  However, these pairs can also become blinders for analysis of such works, allowing critics, including authors of the works themselves, to over-simplify the complexity of ideas therein into a simple “this or that” option that neglects so many questions of politics, philosophy, and definition.

To my mind, the most glaring examples of this over-simplification are in the spacially-oriented conception of civilization versus wilderness and, by extension, the more complex idea of civilized versus primitive.  In the two posts that will follow, I’m going to take a look at how these concepts are flattened, simplified, and misrepresented in the two defining texts of dystopian literature: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

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I had an awesome streak of reading excellent books and seeing pretty good films for a couple months.  Which is, in part, why the last few weeks have been pretty disappointing in these same departments.  Each of the following are things I had high hopes for but didn’t end up feeling very satisfied with, written up pretty briefly and without major plot spoilers.

Among Others – Jo Walton

This book has won or been nominated for a ton of major fantasy and science fiction awards, and I’ve seen a lot of glowing reviews online.  I went in pretty much blind, assuming by the hype that it would be, at least, something I’d feel I should have read.  After finishing it, however, I have to say I’m pretty unimpressed and found it mostly forgettable and mediocre.

Among Others is told from the first-person, diary-style point-of-view of Morwenna (Mor), a Welsh teenager who sees fairies and is convinced in the reality of magic.   Mor also happens to be disabled, which seems to be a thing in YA lit recently (I don’t have anything insightful to add on this, but I’m sure it is  worth thinking about).  The novel uses the frame of the boarding house story and focuses on typical teenage themes, albeit in the framework of a world with hidden magic going on (from the protagonist’s p.o.v. anyway).

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A friend recently proposed an interesting exercise in hypothetical course design where one must select a single American novel for each decade of the 20th century to create a teachable arc for the century (and justify said choices).  Given my own interest in genre, I figured I’d adopt/adapt it for utopian/dystopian fiction (dropping the “American” requirement) to see what kind of survey of the genre I might teach (and what works I’d be willing to drop per only having one choice per decade).  The difficult part about conceptualizing this as an actual course is there is no way I would be able to teach this without starting with More’s Utopia and some other relevant earlier texts (Campanella? Bellamy and Morris? Wells? etc.) or doing a bunch of work up front introducing literary utopias via describing those works that lead up to what is really the dystopian turn in the genre that takes place at the beginning of the 20th century.  Not that I couldn’t do the latter, but I’d much  rather have students at least read More to begin.

That problem aside, I’ve still tried to follow a structure that makes sense for how an actual course might play out: works build on previously read works to allow for connections to be made, I begin with shorter texts rather than hitting students with something big and hard to start, and finish with less time-intensive texts so that students in the midst of final papers and finals prep would hopefully still make time for them.

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