Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Journey Through Classics

New month (almost!), new stuff in one's head. I have decided to join good people over at the The Classics Club. Although high-school is prone to ruin most people's craving for any older book (and many more things, but I digress), there comes a time in life when your views grow more mature and soul starts asking for something more... well. Sophisticated, in lack of a better word. At least that's what happened to me. I have decided to battle the demons of "high-school-compulsory-reading-list" and have ordered one of them, "Hamlet" - so that my little project can start with a big bang. Sorry Prince of Denmark, I shan't be such an easy prey this time.
Since some of those books I already own, and some part of them are in my home language, there are a few that I will read in Estonian. Or at least, attempt. I have marked those in the list. I have some concerns when it comes to "Beloved", "Swann's Way" and "Howards End", because I am afraid to miss out on richness of original language. So if it feels very awkward, I will switch to English.
Some books in the list are re-reads. When it comes to certain ones, I have actually been waiting for a reason and an opportunity to re-read, with "Unbearable Lightness of Being" in the top of the list. Many of the classics I have read were during high-school and university years, and since a lot of time has passed (not to mention I wasn't that motivated to read with deep interest since it was, youknow, schoolwork and compulsory and stuff), they will kind of be like new reads anyway. I have marked re-reads in the list as well.
When making this list, I didn't follow any particularly systematic principles, I just added books/authors that I have always wanted to read, or which have had great impact in the world of literature. Since I usually and in normal life tend to lean more towards fantastic worlds, I added maybe somewhat more books from that field (Wells, Bradbury, Herbert, Zamyatin). I also tried to grab plenty of literature from non-English parts of the world.
Thinking about the time frame for this to end, I was stuck between two and three years, but I decided to make it a safer trip and pick three years. There will be a lot of other stuff I read as well, because my tastes and moods can go quite ecletic, so mayhaps longer time frame is a sensible idea.
So that makes the end date of this classics journey of a 100 books, let's say, 1st of February, 2016.
I will be fiddling with this list during the days (weeks, months... :p) to come, adding years of being published, correct typos, and maybe even Goodreads links, if I happen to feel very brave. Or any other tidbits I feel are necessary and enlightening.

The books I have read have been link-ed and crossed through; the books I own will be marked in bold.

1. Richard Adams “Watership Down
2. Louisa May Alcott “Little Women” - re-read
3. Margaret Atwood ”The Blind Assassin”
4. Jane Austen “Mansfield Park”
5. Jane Austen “Persuasion”
6. Ray Bradbury “The Illustrated Man”
7. Ray Bradbury “Something Wicked This Way Comes”
8. Anne Brontë “Agnes Grey”
9. Emily Brontë ”Wuthering Heights” - re-read
10. Charlotte Brontë ”Jane Eyre” - re-read
11. Charlotte Brontë “Villette”
12. Truman Capote “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
13. Willa Cather “My Ántonia”
14. Kate Chopin “The Awakening”
15. Wilkie Collins “The Moonstone”
16. Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness”
17. Michael Cunningham “The Hours”
18. Daniel Defoe “Moll Flanders”
19. Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”
20. Charles Dickens “Bleak House”
21. Charles Dickens “Oliver Twist”
22. Charles Dickens “Tale of Two Cities”
23. Fyodor Dostoyevski “Crime and Punishment”
24. Fyodor Dostoyevski “Idiot” - re-read
25. Arthur Conan Doyle “The Complete Sherlock Holmes”
26. Daphne du Maurier “Rebecca”
27. Alexandre Dumas “The Count of Monte Cristo”
28. Umberto Eco “The Name of the Rose”
29. George Eliot “Middlemarch”
30. George Eliot “The Mill on the Floss”
31. Ralph Ellison “Invisible Man”
32. Jeffrey Eugenides “Middlesex”
33. William Faulkner “As I Lay Dying”
34. William Faulkner “Light in August”
35. William Faulkner “The Hamlet”
36. F. Scott Fitzgerald “Tender is the Night”
37. E.M. Forster “Howard’s End”
38. Elizabeth Gaskell “Cranford”
39. Elizabeth Gaskell "North and South"
40. Nikolai Gogol “Dead Souls” - in Estonian
41. Günter Grass “The Tin Drum”
42. Thomas Hardy “Jude the Obscure”
43. Thomas Hardy “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”
44. Joseph Heller “Catch-22”
45. Ernest Hemingway “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
46. Frank Herbert “Dune”
47. Victor Hugo “Les Miserables”
48. Henrick Ibsen “Doll’s House”
49. John Irving “The World According to Garp”
50. Kazuo Ishiguro “Remains of the Day”
51. Henry James “The Portrait of a Lady”
52. Henry James “Turn of the Screw”
53. Jerome K. Jerome “Three Men in a Boat”
54. Franz Kafka “Metamorphosis”
55. Barbara Kingsolver “The Poisonwood Bible”
56. Milan Kundera “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” - re-read
57. D. H. Lawrence “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”
58. John le Carre “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
59. Sinclair Lewis “Arrowsmith”
60. Gabriel Garcia Marquez “One Hundred Years of Solitude” - in Estonian; re-read
61. Thomas Mann “Death in Venice” - in Estonian; re-read
62. Ian McEwan “Atonement”
63. Herman Melville “Moby Dick”
64. L.M. Montgomery “Ann of Green Gables”
65. Toni Morrisson “Beloved” - re-read
66. Vladimir Nabokov “Invitation to a Beheading”
67. George Orwell “Animal Farm”
68. Sylvia Plath “The Bell Jar”
69. Marcel Proust “Swann’s Way” - in Estonian
70. Ayn Rand “Atlas Shrugged”
71. Salman Rushdie “The Satanic Verses”
72. J.D. Salinger “Nine Stories”
73. William Shakespeare “Hamlet” - re-read
74. William Shakespeare “Macbeth”
75. Mary Shelley “Frankenstein”
76. Betty Smith “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”
77. Alexander Solzhenitsyn “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”
78. John Steinbeck “East of Eden”
79. John Steinbeck “The Winter of our Discontent”
80. Stendhal “The Red and the Black”
81. Bram Stoker “Dracula”
82. Patrick Süskind “The Perfume” - re-read
83. Jonathan Swift “Gulliver’s Travels”
84. Leo Tolstoy “War and Peace”
85. Anthony Trollope “The Warden”
86. Mark Twain “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
87. Mark Twain “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” - re-read
88. Jules Verne “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”
89. Kurt Vonnegut “Slaughterhouse Five”
90. Evelyn Waugh “Brideshead Revisited”
91. H.G. Wells “The War of the Worlds”
92. Edith Wharton “The Age of Innocence”
93. Elie Wiesel “Night”
94. Oscar Wilde “The Picture of Dorian Gray” - re-read
95. Tennessee Williams “A Streetcar Named Desire”
96. Virginia Woolf “Mrs Dalloway”
97. Yevgeny Zamyatin “We”
98. Emilé Zola “Germinal”
99. Emilé Zola “Therese Raquin” - re-read
100. Emilé Zola “Nana”

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: "A Dance With Dragons" by George R.R. Martin

Since this is the fifth book in this series, some amount of spoilers is to come, regarding the earlier stories. But I'll do my best to keep it as, umm, vague as possible.
Basically, before reading, I was aware that there had been a lot of rant and whining to be heard about "A Dance With Dragons". Leaving aside the fact that people had to wait for some seven years for Martin to complete it (since the last published book), there was complaining over the pacing, contents, characters, and whatnot. Great! I thought. Means it will likely be right up my alley :p
It was important to make some tactical decisions beforehand. For reasons highlighted (in red) on the following photo:

A four-digit number *faint*

Tactical approach was needed to deal with this one without burning out. Earlier experiences with Martin's "bricks" (albeit, none quite as "brick-ish" as this one) have taught me. Since these novels are seen/narrated through eyes of different and reapparing characters in different locations, readers develop their preferences. Like, I want to sprint through the chapters of my favourite characters (Jamie, Tyrion, Brienne come to mind) but when I get to the ones I don't enjoy as much (Daenerys), it can be difficult to pick the book up again.
So, a plan formed. Three chapters a day, no matter what. No more, no less. Discipline - that should work. And I must say, until about page 700+ something, I kept up excellently. After that I couldn't resist and read more, until the end. But it was a good plan and helped to avoid the possible burnout.
Even though Martin loves to chop off the heads of his characters with not as much as flicker of a finger, we are still in a situation where there are, maybe, too many characters and viewpoints by now. This can be very confusing at times, but also enjoyable. The schenanigas and plotting has spread all over the map and we get tossed between the hot-hot Free Cities and the Seven Kingdoms, which prepare (more or less) for the upcoming cold. So it is a lot to take in.
Daenerys is still playing home in the warmer parts of the story. She wants to be "good" but doesn't quite realise the consequences and relativity of that notion. Some of it was painful to observe and I had the urge to punch her in the face and send her overseas more than once.
I hate this, thought Daenerys Targaryen. How did this happen, that I am drinking and smiling with men I'd sooner flay? /p. 769/
Duh? Exactly.
But she did make me laugh, once:
You are the blood of the dragon, you can make a hat. /p. 1087-1088/
What I did appreciate a lot was the tidbits with the dragons. It was refreshing to see that part described, well, "realistically", in lack of the better word. Sure, when they are small and still babies they are cute and cuddly, but when a dragon grows up, it should take a lot to keep it under control. And that is what happens. They are dangerous. Daenerys has some control over them, but not in the manner of "you-do-what-I-want". More in the lines of that she is the only person who they cannot harm. But dragons have minds of their own, and their growing up causes a lot of smoke and ashes.
Tyrion is still funny, but his chapters can become slightly annoying, because nothing really happens. Except up until the end. He gets a new companion (who this time is no-one to likely do the work of blood for him), but I suppose next book(s) will show if it will lead somewhere or not, so far their relationship remained vague and questionable.
Meanwhile, on the Wall... Jon Snow has some tough decisions to make, and there are... consequences. I shall not dwell on that any longer. I got into a rage-mode once during a Jon-chapter.
Cersei has done a good job sawing the branch upon which the whole Lannister lot is sitting and the sentence "A Lannister always pays his debts" gets quite a new meaning in this book :p
I think I was most captivated with the story of Reek this time. You got to give it to Boltons... they did manage to pull out a lot of emotion from me. Havoc among this house is among my most anticipated things to happen in the next books.
Ah, Arya Stark... who is still part of the bizarre cult-religion where she was left off the last time. Since the beginning of the previous book I had the feeling Arya is being built and prepared for something big; that "big" did not arrive now, so I am really wondering what part she will have to play in all.
It made me sad not to be able to read a word about Littlefinger and his new "stepdaughter", but then again, maybe the pile of characters was getting a bit too high...
I enjoyed "A Dance With Dragons" probably more than some previous books. It is slower, and I never been into super-fast-action-twists-turns-and-curveballs-every-five-minutes kind of stories. The chapters where not that much happens actually give me time and space to ponder over the whole story and straighten my thoughts. Like in life, some "characters" are more relevant for you, some not that much. I do get where the complaints are coming from, but I guess I am lucky to see things a bit differently, and therefore get more enjoyment out of the story.
I doubt there is any knowing when Martin might finish the next book. Even likely I may get into the phase of re-reading the whole series before it happens :)
1133 pages

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

"Come on! You're Ender Wiggin! Don't tell me what eleven-year-old kids can do!" /p. 318/
First published in 1985, "Ender's Game" won Nebula Award in the same year and Hugo Award the year later. Quite an achievement.
It is a science-fiction (obviously) novel about future, genius children, aliens, other planets and also about loneliness and the need for love. It starts with the six-year old wunderkind Ender Wiggin being accepted to a Battle School located in the space. He is expected to become the Commander of the Earth to beat the aliens that are supposedly threatening to perform their Third Invasion against the planet soon enough. Ender is the "third" child of his parents, at the time where two-child policy has been established on Earth. He was conceived with the sole purpose and hope of him becoming the saviour of the planet. The novel follows Ender's training first in the Battle School and then in Command School. On the side, his older siblings Peter and Valentine, also genius-children but with certain, khm, "defects", have an agenda of their own.
This was actually a re-read for me - I did read "Ender's Game" back when I was in high-school, or even younger (don't really remember that well). So that is well ten years back. I read it in Estonian and this time, in English. I have always held the book in quite high regards, remembering how captivating it was, and how much I enjoyed it. The re-read was a very interesting experience. Obviously, being younger, I didn't get nearly as much out of the novel as I did now. And this is not necessarily a good thing.
For one, this book is very much plot-driven. There are a few hooks and twists, which, if you know them beforehand, make no impact. Secondly, I actually did have a few problems with the novel this time around.
No doubt it is well-written. I think Card is very attached to his characters and he has good ideas when it comes to interplanetary space affairs. There is a lot of dialogue in the book, mixed with Ender's thoughts and ponderings about his situation.
The main problems I had came down to pacing and some parts of characterisation.
Pacing - the novel begins not slowly, but let's say, average pace. Not too much introduction, but enough to get a picture of Ender's family, his through-goings at school, and soon enough, the "real" story kicks in. After that, we spend a loooooong time in the Battle School (and not that I complain because it's really interesting). The problem is that proportionally, what happens in the end of the book (focus put on the Command School and especially, the very ending), feels very much out of balance. It almost feels as if the last quarter of the book is meant as a prequel to something else.
I found it easier to understand that pacing-issue after I read Card's Introduction to the book (written in 1991). He writes where he got his ideas and how it all actually began with the idea of a Battle School in space, and how he had to create the rest of the story around this idea. So yes, understandably, it will be the centre point.

Characterisation - well, this one is hard to argue, because I have had no pleasure of knowing pre-teen genius children in my life ever, but I sure had a lot of questions. Is it believable that a child goes on and on day after day doing nothing but train and be engaged in tactics? When is the breaking point? What is his motivation? To "win" day after day after day? Maybe it works like that for geniuses but I have a sneaking suspicion that one needs something else after years passing by. I am not saying that Ender didn't struggle; many times his inner battles were shown, but it did not (almost) show in any way in his actions. Those genius children have a vague idea of what it would be to have a childhood, but I'm not sure if they even ever consider this as something remotely accessible for themselves. Also, Ender, being the "third", knew from the beginning why he was born, what were the expectations and what he was supposed to do. That is one heavy burden to bear and you can't but to sympatise with this particular lot of kids.
Just thinking to myself - if I was an outcome of some kind of a goal for my parents, instead of just to be who I am and make a life, it'd be painful.
On another note - I have never been the type to be overly exited when hearing the news about books being turned into movie adaptions, but learning that "Ender's Game" will actually be on the big screens in the end of this year made me go a bit "ohboy-ohboy-ohboy". I wanna see the battleroom! 
I know that Card has always been very protective towards the novel and he has had offers from Hollywood to shoot the film, but according to Wikipedia, he has always refused when creative differences have become an issue. If I had a hat, I would for sure tip it to Mr Card for it shows how much he cares for his creation and characters, and that can be a rare thing nowadays.
Here is a very interesting interview with Card himself on tidbits regarding the synergy between the movie and the book. Some alarming sections there, for me personally ("There are no scenes from the book in the  movie and there are no scenes from the movie in the book." - Really? Confusing much *snicker*), but I am never overly worried over the differences and whatnot, mainly I just approach the pieces of art with open mind and no prejudices, and form an opinion later.

Harrison Ford and a genius-child having a staring competition.


324 pages

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Beginnings: 1Q84

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. To participate, share the opening sentence of your current read. Include the title and the author. Share thoughts, impressions, or anything else inspiration-worthy.
One of my (several) current reads is "1Q84" by Haruki Murakami.
The taxi's radio was tuned to a classical FM broadcast.
It starts like your typical Murakami-book. Description of something very simple and everyday, which, over the course of pages, turns into something subtly magikal and quite irresistible. Can't wait to go on with this one.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. /p. 3/

I guess a beginning such as this is bound to suck you in. Who are these people and why are they doing drugs in the middle of some desert?

These people are Raoul Duke, journalist and alter ego of the author, and his Samoan attorney, Dr Gonzo. They are in search for American Dream. The journey to get there is rough and full of (hilarious/sad/philosophical) obstacles.

So, if one has decided to set out for American Dream, preparations are, of course, necessary.

The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. /p. 4/

Yep, looks like they worked quite a bit on preparations. By the time the gentlemen Duke and Gonzo arrive to their hotel in Las Vegas, the "preparations" seem to be in quite a decent effect.

Terrible things were happening all around us. Right next to me a huge reptile was gnawing on a woman's neck, the carpet was a blood-soaked sponge - impossible to walk on it, no footing at all. "Order some golf shoes," I whispered. "Otherwise, we'll never get out of this place alive. You notice those lizards don't have any trouble moving around in this muck - that's because they have claws on their feet." /p. 24; a fragment from a conversation in hotel bar/

From there on, I guess it goes as you'd expect, given the involvement of the pile of "uppers-downers-screamers-laughers" mentioned a few paragraphs above. As soon as the dialogue opens between Gonzo and Duke, this book gets really.really.funny. Let's just say that my favourite, most hilarous scene included Gonzo in a bath tub in the hotel, an electric radio, somewhat more sober Duke on the door, and a song about White Rabbit. I was standing in kitchen, reading it out loud to my boyfriend, not far collapsing out of laughter.

Thompson's language is rich, juicy and spot on. He does not linger; every sentence is packed with contents and he has obvious talent for dialogues. I do suspect his experience in journalism has a large part to play here.

While reading "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", I couldn't but to compare the novel with "On the Road" and Thompson with Kerouac. Both novels cover drug- and booze-hazed road trips through America, both are largely autobiographical, both authors have highly colourful personas. While Kerouac tried to introduce the style of writing that he called spontaneous prose (which was very pointedly described by Truman Capote as "That's not writing, it's typing" - no, I don't think Kerouac is a particularly elegant writer either), Thompson managed to invent gonzo journalism - a concept where journalist is a strong part of the story, with his emotions, thoughts and experiences laid on the table.

So, what about the American Dream, then? Was it the same American Dream sought by hippies and the whole counterculture in the 1960ties? If so, I guess it is impossible very difficult to find. At least through the measures taken in "Fear and Loathing". Duke and Gonzo did find something, in the end, but I am quite not sure if it was what they had in mind when at first starting off to the desert.

Image from the film of the same name (1998). Benicio del Toro as the attorney, Johnny Depp as chain-smoker (and so much more) Raoul Duke.


204 pages

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Brain Food, II

I have been reading! Of course. After finishing "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" last week (review coming up hopefully), I had to make some decisions. 

I cheat on books, with other books. I usually have a small pile of "currently reading" next to bed. As a rule, it contains books from different genres, to match different moods, situations and brain energy levels. For example, right now the pile consists of 

  • a collection of Chinese short stories (in Estonian);
  • a non-fiction book on psychology;
  • a non-fiction book on medical condition that I have;
  • a sci-fi novel;
  • a fantasy novel;
  • a 19th century classic novel;
  • a contemporary magical realism novel.

The books I am reading actively are George R.R. Martin's latest "A Dance With Dragons", Wilkie Collins's "The Woman in White" and Murakami's "1Q84". In itself, it is a pretty nifty list, leaving aside the fact that all these three are complete chunksters! 1178, 728 and 1156 pages, respectively. That means I should take another book to go aside... a slim one. Something that I would be able to finish in less than 1+ week. *sigh*

Anyhow, on to some books I hoarded since the last brain-food post. 

Left - 
  • Orson Scott Card "Ender's Game", "Speaker for the Dead", "Xenocide", "Children of the Mind" - back when I was small, I read "Ender's Game" in Estonian. Of course, this book was hit by the fate as many others of the genre at the time - they only translated first of the series, and that was it. I still remember how I practically gulped it down, and figured it would be nice to do that again, + some extra.
Right, from top to bottom - 
  • Jodi Picoult "My Sister's Keeper" - totally out of my usual comfort zone this, but I want to read more female authors, and the plot of this one picqued my interest. I will attack Picoult with great apprehension and carefulness, however. It might not be my cup of coffee at all.
  • Erin Morgenstern "The Night Circus" - hmph. Another one of those books I got based on introduction of the story. + allegedly the writing style is to be admired. We shall see.
  • Francis Scott Fitzgerald "Tender is the Night" - I have read "The Great Gatsby" twice and was always drawn to the title of this one (it's even better-sounding in Estonian).
  • Robin Hobb "Ship of Magic" - I like Robb's soapish style of fantasy, and the (perfect) ending of the Farseer's trilogy made me forgive her all the naiveties, plot holes and stupid twists she might have taken along the way. And made me give her another chance.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: "1984" by George Orwell

Warning (in case there is even a person left who has not read this book): (minor) spoilers ahead.
Whoah. This is one of those books that provokes too many thoughts and at times it feels like someone is twisting spaghetti in your brains, with a fork. Legendary novel published in 1949, set in the year 1984, which I read in 2013 - that was a promising springboard.
First of all I think it is appropriate to say that people probably read this book very differently. I think a college student from America or Australia might get a pretty different experience from this one than, for example, people older than teens who are born in the eastern side of Europe. I was born in Estonia, so I qualify as a person having stronger connection to totalitarian regimen to begin with. That means that some things in the book, which to some may seem totally bizarre, crazy, unthinkable, stupid, pointless - are not all those things for some others; these are pretty similar to life that they have lived, or that their parents or grandparents have led.
Okay, to shake this gloom off a bit, I have prepared a neat (muahahahaha) lit'l chart for you:

"1984" food chain (approach with humour)

The novel describes a dystopian society led by mysterious Big Brother and the Party. Party is divided into two: inner and outer. If you are member of the elite, you get real coffee, red wine, crackers, servants and the option to switch off the Eye for some time in your apartment (the telescreen that sees and hears all, plays propagandistic/militaristic music 24/7 and in normal cases, cannot be turned off). If you are member of the outer Party, you get oatmeal, synthetic gin and cigarettes that are basically non-smokable. In the bottom of the chain are proles - they are basically like hippies living in poverty. No-one pays them much attention, they have more liberties to do what they like than, say, outer Party members, but since they are practically starving, all they can do is drink, smoke and try to keep their sorry souls alive.
We follow the story of Winston - 39-year old outer Party member, whose life is a shithole not so good. Winston's problem is that since he has managed to maintain some amount of independent brain work, he fully realises that his life is crap. He is contacted by his fellow party member Julia, with whom he has never exchanged a single word (apparently it's better if Party members do not talk to each other because it can end in trouble) and to whom Julia delivers a note saying "I love you". Wth, right? And she's not 16, she is 25. Well ok, let's see... Despite the dangers and threats, they start secret meetings and develop a physical relationship. Of course, it is not difficult to guess that as in a proper totalitarian world, the Eyes are everywhere, and big problems commence.
The novel is divided into three parts. Part I introduces Winston and his life, and in general the society of super-country called Oceania. Part II focuses on Winston's and Julia's relationship, and part III, in large, shows how the Party tries to convert Winston into the society of duckspeakers.
I think since I was fairly familiar with the contents of this novel even before reading, I was trying to focus on side-things. For example, the relationship between Julia and Winston. Nowadays, or in a "normal" world, they would have been just sex buddies, I think. It seemed that their love for each other was just love for another person who too cannot stand the system. Didn't seem to matter that much who that person was exactly. Since they have quite a bit of age difference, Winston himself ponders at times over Julia's lack of enthusiasm to come up with some plan to, well, destroy the barricades. He says
But she only questioned the teachings of the party when they in some way touched upon her own life. /p. 160/
"You are only a rebel from waist downwards," he told her. /p. 165/
So I didn't really buy the love story, but of course, we all (more or less) have needs, so I kinda got that part.
Orwell spends good deal of time and paper space by describing the plans for new language that the Party and Big Brother are trying to root. It's called Newspeak (as opposed to Oldspeak - the old English language) and for me, some of the spooookiest moments in the novel associated with that.
"Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?" /p. 55/
Erm... and how is that a good thing, exactly?
"By 2050 - earlier, probably - all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron - they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be." /p. 56/
Ugh... given how words were being destroyed and the existing ones, well, merged (there was "good" but no "bad" - that was to be "ungood", you catch the drift), I don't really see what point there was to keep any texts at all.
I can see how people go screaming after they read the ending of "1984", but I'd say that was realistic, as much as one can imagine things being realistic in the conditions like that. So I didn't really mind. But overall, depressing reading, of course. And thought-provoking.
My regret is that I did not read "1984" in "tender" age, like, in high-school. It would have made an enormous impact on my persona, no doubt. After you get older, and maybe take extensive literature courses in uni and so all, you can go kind of numb to certain texts and become too analytical as opposed to experience properly.

"2 + 2 = 5" /p. 303/

326 pages 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Review: "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

What is it with dystopias? They are, in essence, unpleasant, spooky, oftentimes want to make me run to the bathroom and throw up - yet, I cannot turn away and not look.
"The Handmaid's Tale" is a particularly creepy version of that type of a warning-story written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, published back in 1985.
The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one option: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire - neither Offred's nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
That particular future is not too kind to women (nor men, as a matter of fact). They are mixed up in a weird kind of hierarchy, in the world where babies have become a luxury. We never learn the real name of the main character/narrator; instead she calls herself "Offred" - names that were given to women that were used as breeding machines; "Of Fred" - the woman that belonged to a man named Fred. Spooky much?
We are for breeding purposes: we aren't concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. (...) We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices. /p. 146/
Atwood allows her character to ponder about the past and the present; as she says herself, she "needs perspective" and that "all is reconstruction" (I assume for remaining sane in the conditions where one has zero free will). She does not give out the impression that the past was all good; there are plenty of times when Offred rambles on the imperfections of the life before the revolution.
Though at that time, men and women tried each other on, casually, like suits, rejecting whatever did not fit. /p. 60-61/
That was part of it, the sex was too easy. Anyone could just buy it. There was nothing to work for, nothing to fight for. (...) You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel. Men were turning off on sex, even. They were turning off on marriage. /p. 221/
And something especially spookily accurate if we think of the modern day:
We've given them more than we've taken away, said the Commander. Think of the trouble they had before. Don't you remember the singles bars, the indignity of high-school blind dates? The meat market. (...) Some of them were desperate, they starved themselves thin or pumped their breasts full of silicone, had their noses cut off. Think of the human misery. /p. 231/
Spot on, Mrs Atwood.
But what good are all the justifications if people have beed separated from free will and prohibited to feel? I guess this is the criticism thrown on all the dystopias out there. People do right and people do wrong, as right and wrong are something that cannot be measured, but they do it based on their own decisions, and decisions are only possible if you are given the choice. Take away the choice, and there will be no humanity left anymore.
The ending of the book is left open. We never know what happened to Offred; did she escape, did she not. I personally like open endings and filling the holes with my own thoughts and ideas.
For me, Atwood is one of those writers who do not just tell a story but are also crafty with words. Although creepy and uncomfortable, this book is beautifully written.
A man is just a woman's strategy for making other women. /p. 130-131/
Brilliant! :)
And a good-book-meter in the left: the amount of paper-rubbish left between the pages after I finished :)
324 pages

Brain Food Purchase

Stumbled upon a book sale here in Helsinki... Oooooops :)

From top to bottom:
  1. Wilkie Collins "The Woman in White" - considered to be one of the first "mystery novels". Of course I am intrigued. How did they (attempt to) write spooky stuff in the 19th century?
  2. George Orwell "1984" - probably the most famous of all dystopian novels, which I, sadly, missed in the high-school. There must have been a choice between this book and some others, and for some totally unexplainable reason, I must have chosen that something else. Though, plowing my way through it now, I feel like I have already "read" it - afterall, if you have seen "Equilibrium" and read "Fahrenheit 451" (R. Bradbury) and "Brave New World" (A. Huxley), added the occasional flirt with marvellous Anne Applebaum (who writes of this stuff in terms of how it really was - I read her enormous and spooky to the bone "Gulag: A History"), how much new can it be in regards of book-burning and turning the whole society into mindless duckspeakers?
  3. Hunter S. Thompson "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" - because the movie was not too shabby and what better way to spend a snowy evening than getting drifted away by delusional drug-induced journeys of a few Americans?
  4. Jeanette Winterson "Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?" - because how can you possibly not want to read a book with such a title? 
  5. Ernest Hemingway "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - my last contact with Hemingway goes back many years and I think now I am again ready for the overload of testosterone and his, apologises for the expression, but what I remember as quite plain writing style. (O the things we go through for you, authors of classics!) 
  6. William Faulkner "The Hamlet" - because I felt it is about time to rekindle my love for this Mississippian master of written word. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

This and that

New year, new blog.

I love reading, but my reading habits have not been very organised so far. I haven't marked down what I read, when I read, how I read, and at times, it is highly annoying. Maybe this'll help.

When it comes to books, I mainly search for emotion. I often cannot remember names (disturbing!) or even plots, but I can say "This is one of my favourites!" just based on emotion I remember it giving me. I am not genre-picky, but leaning towards fantasy, sci-fi, fiction in general, classics. Not particularly excited over young adult stuff, historical fiction, romance, fluffy pink female-targeted books (not even sure how to call these). I think it is fair to say I am not searching for "easy" reading (never understood why people need that for summer vacations) and I kind of have problem with stuff that has got a lot of hype... But hey, just being honest. I can read the hype-books, even if just to see if I was right to neglect them, but only after considerable amount of time has passed since their release. 

I also have a soft spot for the style of writing. Beauty of the words. Oftentimes the plot is really secondary, only if the story is beautifully written.

There are always thoughts I want to share about things I have read, but as with everything, I tend to approach from humouristic angle and some of my thoughts may seem or come off as funny/weird/blasphemic/rude/offensive. But these are my thoughts, and this here is my blog, so it's all alrighty.

So, long story short - I am going to post about my bookish experiences (what I read, a review or two, maybe photos, or generally, what ever comes to mind and fits the theme).