Monday, November 30, 2015

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

This book was part of a very long list of suggested reading that my English teacher handed out when I was in Year 10. Obviously, given that "dystopian" wasn't really a genre in 1998, my teacher told us that it was a classic sci-fi story, and I immediately dismissed it as too boring to read because sci-fi novels meant spaceships, and that meant snoozeville. 

Oh, fifteen year old Kirsti. How foolish you were. 

In a lot of ways, it's not surprising that this book ends up on banned books lists as often as it does. The dystopian society that Huxley created is a fairly disturbing one. Humans are grown in laboratories, and their social status determined before they're even created. Those doomed to be menial Epsilons are cloned dozens of times and bred to be stupid and unquestioning, living only for the drugs provided to them by the government. Meanwhile, the Alphas and Betas receive hours of subliminal messages as children about how much better it is being their caste. 

All children are encouraged to participate in "erotic play", which creeped me out more than a little bit, and the whole society has a very casual attitude to sex. Relationships are discouraged in favour of a string of hook ups with people at your own level in society, and the whole world is basically a capitalist's dream.

The "real" world - where people form relationships, have children, and grow old - is confined to reservations for Indigenous populations, and these reservations are treated almost like a zoo by the Alphas and Betas. And yet it's the "noble savage" character who shows the most signs of what readers at the time of publication would consider a civilised attitude. He quotes Shakespeare, is disgusted by the decadence and throw-away attitude of the "civilised" world, and wants nothing more than a monogamous relationship and to know his father.

It's a disturbing book a lot of the time, and the ending was particularly chilling. Basically, I was expecting to be bored by this, but I found it the complete opposite.

Have you read it? What did you think??

K xx

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

This book has been on my radar for years. I think the first time I heard about it was that Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts movie, Conspiracy Theory, in which Gibson's character can't calm down unless he has a copy of it, and in which the government apparently uses library patron histories to identify serial killers based on who borrows The Catcher in the Rye. Or something?? I haven't seen that movie in years, so I may be wrong.

Anyway, I put off reading this book for YEARS because a tiny part of my brain was convinced that if I borrowed it from my local library, I'd be flagged as a serial killer. But basically, all I knew about the book was that the main character is called Holden Caulfield, and it's J.D. Salinger's only novel.

And I kind of wish I'd left it that way. I was on the struggle bus with this book essentially from the get go. The opening few chapters - the stuff before Holden leaves school - reminded me a lot of Dead Poets Society, and more specifically Charlie. Seeing as Dead Poets Society is one of my favourite movies, I was moderately interested in the story.

But then Holden left school, and things went rapidly downhill. We're trapped in Holden's head for endless pages with few other characters to break things up. And this was hard for me, because I didn't like Holden AT ALL. He's full of rich white boy problems, where everything is someone else's fault. Holden always thinks he's in the right, despite however much evidence is stacked up against him. Essentially, I couldn't stand him or the narrative style.

I REALLY didn't like the writing. Admittedly, it's a product of the time. It's set in the late 1940s and is told by a teenage boy, so the amount of misogyny that comes through in the story is almost to be expected. But the amount of repetition in the writing drove me up the wall. Holden will make an observation about another character, then insert an anecdote about that character doing the thing he observed them doing, then repeat his observation. Like, "The girl could dance. [Insert long winded anecdote about said girl dancing here] I tell you, the girl could dance."


By the end of the book, I just flat out didn't care, and when it featured a total non-ending on top of all the repetition and angst and misogyny that I'd already had to wade through, I was tempted to throw the book across the room.

I feel like this is a book that's more enjoyable if a) you study it in school and can unpackage all the things that Salinger is trying to say, or b) you're an angsty teenager when you read it. So maybe if I'd read this as a teenager, I'd see the appeal. But as an adult? NOPE.

On the plus side, this book marks the half way point for my Classics Club project!

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Chrysalids - John Wyndham

Remember when I used to review my Classics Club books in a timely fashion? Yeah. Me too...

I'd reread The Day of the Triffids just prior to creating my Classics Club list last year, and I absolutely adored it. So it made perfect sense to put another John Wyndham book on my list. Last month, I finally got around to reading it. (But not reviewing it. Because I'm the worst.)

The Chrysalids is a dystopian novel, pure and simple. Set a thousand years in the future, it tells the story of a group of young people living in an isolated community on the island of Labrador. The mainland, we're told, is a wasteland and the community prides itself on weeding out any genetic mutations, whether they be in plants, animals or humans.

As a child, the protagonist, David, witnesses a friend and her family being cast out into the wilds because said friend has six toes on one foot. This makes him uncertain about the way he's been raised, and when he and a group of other children develop telepathic abilities, they try to keep things quiet for as long as possible.

At its heart, this is very much a Cold War novel. It plays on the fear of the 'other' that was so prevalent in the 1950s, as well as including a nuclear apocalypse. It focuses on the destructive nature of Western society and its futile attempts at perfection.

One of the things I liked best about this book is when the characters find out about Zealand, a technologically advanced Utopia far across the sea to the south. And the reason I liked this so much is simple: so much of the time, dystopian novels are very US-centric, and I always find myself wondering if the rest of the world is in the same predicament or if they're all fine and just watching the chaos unfold. Here, clearly, it's the latter. So I loved that recognition that the rest of the world still exists.

On the whole, this was a short but important story, and it's definitely one I'll reread in the future.

Have you read it? What did you think?

K xx

Monday, November 2, 2015

October reading wrap up

Seriously, you guys. When the hell did I get so bad at blogging? I've been meaning to write a couple of reviews for Classics Club for like A MONTH and I still haven't done it. At least it's vaguely near the start of the month so this one is timely??


Anyway, let's wrap up my reading month, shall we?

Books read: 35. I honestly don't know how else I have time to do anything else.
New vs rereads: 24 vs 11. Pathetic.
Most read genre: Once again, contemporary. Though crime and historical fiction were both only one book behind!
Favourite book: If rereads count, then it's Fangirl. Always and forever. But of the new books I read this month, Ink and Bone by Rachael Caine was definitely the stand out.
Least favourite book: No contest at all. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I only reread it because we were recapping it for Snark Squad.
Favourite cover: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Glorious.

Diverse Books Project: It's plodding merrily along. I'm up to the last few weeks now, and it's getting a little tricky to find books that are easy to access but that aren't set in the US. But I shall persevere!

In October, I ended up reading 3 graphic novels, 3 non-fiction books and 29 novels. There are links to all of my Goodreads reviews below.

5 stars
FangirlInk and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten HolyThe Adventures of Superhero Girl
Fangirl | Ink and Bone | Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy | The Adventures of Superhero Girl |

4.5 stars
Carry OnThe Masked Truth
Carry On | The Masked Truth |

4.25 stars
Lady Thief (Scarlet, #2)The Rest of Us Just Live HereFingersmith
Lady Thief | The Rest of Us Just Live Here | Fingersmith |

4 stars
The Epic Adventures of Lydia BennetOneFuriously HappyDumplin'The ChrysalidsFlat-Out Love (Flat-Out Love, #1)NationScarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)The Girl on the TrainMagic Shifts (Kate Daniels, #8)The Snake, the Crocodile and the Dog (Amelia Peabody, #7)Something Rotten (Thursday Next, #4)Civil WarLion Heart (Scarlet, #3)The Last Days of the Incas. Kim MacQuarrieWhen We Wake
The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet | One | Furiously Happy | Dumplin' | The Chrysalids | Flat Out Love | Nation | Scarlet | The Girl on the Train | Magic Shifts | The Snake, The Crocodile and the Dog | Something Rotten | Civil War | Lion Heart | The Last Days of the Incas | When We Wake |

3.5 stars
Of Love and ShadowsFlat-Out Matt (Flat-Out Love, #1.5)Jackaby (Jackaby, #1)The God of Small Things
Of Love and Shadows | Flat Out Matt | Jackaby | The God of Small Things |

3 stars
Six Geese A-Slaying (Meg Langslow, #10)Hard Eight (Stephanie Plum, #8)Necropolis: London and Its DeadThe Doomsday Key: A Sigma Force NovelThe Girl from the Well (The Girl from the Well, #1)Full Bloom (Full #5)
Six Geese A-Slaying | Hard Eight | Necropolis: London and its Dead | The Doomsday Key | The Girl from the Well | Full Bloom |

2 stars
The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye |

1 star
Twilight (Twilight, #1)
Twilight |

What did you read in October?

K xx
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