Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell (finished)

I just finished Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell.

Winston Smith works and lives on Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain. Airstrip One is a province of Oceania. There are three nations left on earth after a global atomic war: Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia. All of the nations are ruled by totalitarian regimes, including Oceania. Winston hates Oceania and Big Brother, the face of the Party. The book is about how Winston rebels against the government. Winston meets a girl; relationships not sanctioned by the government are forbidden. Winston is introduced to a rebel group called the Brotherhood, which trying to overthrow the government. And Winston eventually finds himself face to face with the Party itself.

What can I say about this book?

I was supposed to read it when I was in high school. I did not. (I guess, in my own way, I wanted to rebel against Big Brother by not reading I was told to read.)

The book was provocative.

It introduces the concept of the telescreen. Winston watches the telescreen but the telescreen also watches him! Imagine watching TV but the people at the other end of the television are able to see what you do and where you go and what you are interested in and they are able to record all of your actions and keep it archived indefinitely. YIKES, right? I hope that that never happens, right? Too late. We live in a world where this a already a reality. Ladies and Gentlemen, this describes the Internet. The internet is able to keep track of where you go and what you are interested in and has all sorts of our private information. The scary part is that almost anyone can look at this information if they have the initiative. Scarier still, this information may be stolen or altered without our knowledge. Real life may be more frightening than fiction.

The most interesting part of the book for me was probably the part of the book that most people found boring. I liked Orwell's description of socialism as it appeared in Oceania. This was the part when Winston was reading the book to his lady friend in a room found in the Prole section. It was fascinating. This is why I like to read fiction. Sometimes, it provides a context for philosophical ideas to be introduced and explained. This book introduced socialism to me and gave me a context to think about its strengths and weakness. (Similarly, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky introduced me to Nietzsche and his ideas about the superman).

As I was reading the book, I was glad that I did not live in Oceania. But I also began to think about how some things that are presented as shocking and scary are commonplace to us in reality (the telescreens for example). The idea of the government changing the past also struck me. In reality, the things that I was taught about the american revolution just aren't true (similar to how the Oceania changed historical facts to serve their own purpose). The more I read (later in life) about american history, the more I realize that my high school history education was akin to propaganda. If I was alive and a white colonial during the american revolution, I may have been a Tory. Just kidding. Or am I?

The book was academically very interesting.

The pacing was a little slow at times but really picked up at the end.

The story was a masterpiece.

It was a dark story, even the romance in the book was abrasive and stark.

Overall, I recommend this book. It's a book that I think that everyone should read. In a lot of ways, it is Orwell warning to us and I think that the warning is sound. Even though our world, especially the United States, is turning out more like the novel, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Nineteen Eighty Four is still relevant to us today, especially in the light of more and more government control and less and less civil liberties.

Good times.

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (finished)

I just finished Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. I liked it very much.

Alice sees a rabbit who exclaims that he is late. Alice follows the rabbit into a rabbit hole where she falls for what seems like a very long time. Alice wonders if she will fall clear through the center of the earth. Inside the rabbit hole is a fantasy world where some of the most memorable characters in literature are introduced: such as the white rabbit, the Cheshire cat, the mad hatter (who is never called the mad hatter) and the queen of hearts.

Most people are familiar with the story due to the popularity of the Disney Movie. But most people, I would guess, haven't read the book for themselves. I have not until this month. It was difficult for me to read the book without picturing the Disney movie in my head, which in this case wasn't necessarily a bad thing. I think Disney did a great job with their movie.

The book was very well written. The book's pacing was fast; considering the time that it was written, it must have seemed like the pacing of the book was ridiculously fast.

Something that surprised me was that the long scenes in the movie or cartoon were only a page long in the book. Something else that surprised me was that Tweetledum and Tweetledee, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwock were not in this book (they are in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, which I am reading right now).

I thought it was interesting that Alice haphazardly eats and drinks anything that she comes across. I didn't think anything of this when I was a kid, but as an adult, this seems really strange to me. If I was walking through West Philadelphia and I came upon a table with a bottle labeled drink me. I don't think I would be tempted, not even just a little bit. It would probably be malted liquor.

I was affected by two things in this book.

(1) Alice finds a door at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Through the door is a beautiful garden. but she can't get to it because she is too big to fit through the door. Later on, after she shrinks to a size where she can fit through the door, she finds that the door is locked and the key is on the top of the table and she is unable to reach it because she is too short. Isn't this always the way? The idea of this garden that I can't get to; looking towards something longingly but unable to get to it. How many times in my life have I felt this way? How many times have I looked at other couples and thought way can't my relationships look like that? How many times have I looked at friends and thought, why can't I have friends like that?

And then I would spend a lot of time trying to shape myself into something that will fit into that mold only to find that the door is locked and the key to me fitting in is still out of reach. Sadness.

(2) Alice is trying to play croquet with the queen but there seems to be no rules. The mallet is a flamingo and the ball is a hedgehog that always seems to move. It is frustrating to pretend that you are playing a game in elite society to find that it is ridiculous, that no one is following the rules, everyone is only pretending to.

I've felt this way a lot. Sometimes in school, I feel like Alice trying to play croquet. The context, the game, i.e. high school seems ridiculous. I'm trying to do something good (teaching) but it seems like no one else is following the rules, people are just pretending to. At times, I feel frustrated, thinking, "Why bother? No one is following the rules anyway! Why should I be the only one to hold students to a standard? Why should I be the only one to take away cell phones? Why am I the only one to enforce the rules?" I know, I know. First of all, I know that I'm not the only one, but it does certainly feel that way. And I know that I can only do what I can do and I need to stick to my convictions. It is hard nonetheless.

Overall, the book was good. It is a classic for a reason. It was very enjoyable.
The pacing was good.
The writing was good.
The story was outstanding.
I highly recommend this book to anyone of any age.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson (finished)

I just finished Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N. D. Wilson.

The book is basically his thoughts about the world and how the things of this world relate to God. The book is broken up into topical chapters.

I did not like this book.

I thought that it was written irresponsibly.

It is written in a post-modern conversational style, similar to Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, of which I am not a big fan.

There was a mocking tone in his writing throughout the book. He seems to mock philosophy and science the most.

There was misinformation in the book; he didn't get all his facts right.

He falls into logical fallacy, especially the straw-man fallacy. I do not agree with Fredrick Nietzsche. But Neitzsche is not portrayed fairly in this book. Neitzsche was portrayed as a senile old bitter man. And because he was an old bitter man, his arguments should not be taken seriously. This is another logical fallacy, argumentum ad hominem.

Considering the book after I had finished it, I still couldn't figure out, (1) why he wrote the book, (2) who he was writing to and (3) what exactly he was trying to communicate.

I think the entire book can be summarized by the title of the book. The "Notes from the..." part of the title was taken from Fyodor Dostoevsky's masterpiece Notes From The Underground. "...the Tilt-A-Whirl" part of the title is taken from the ridiculous rides from amusement parks. That, in short, is what this book is; it is a ridiculous and trite treatment of some very serious things. (Sorry, this paragraph sounds really harsh.)

Overall, I do not recommend this book.
The writing usage and execution was good in the post-modern style. It is clear that he is a good writer.
But I thought the treatment of the material was irresponsible.
The pacing of the book was random and haphazard.
In short, the book was bad.
I do not recommend.


Carrie By Stephen King (finished)

I just finished Carrie by Stephen King.

Carrie is Stephen King's first novel.

Carrie is about a high school girl who has telekinesis, the ability to move objects with her mind. Carrie is awkward and she is frequently the butt of everyone's jokes. She tries to fit in at school but she is unable to, particularly because of the malice of a certain mean girl. Carrie ends up going to the prom with Tommy, a boy that she has like for a long time. But at the prom, something goes horribly wrong and Carrie decides that she will not be laughed at ever again.

I think there is a moral to this story. The moral is "Don't mess with people. Don't bully people, even if they are awkward and weak. Because they could have telekinesis and they may decide to kill you." I think it is a good moral. Seriously though, this theme seems to be in many of King's novels. The weak people in the books are not really weak and those that seem strong are not really strong. Interesting.

Because Carrie was King's first novel, there is an almost palpable raw quality to the book. Everything doesn't "work" in the book but it doesn't matter. The parts that do "work", work really well. I would compare this to Metallica's Kill 'Em All (their first album). Kill 'Em All is not Master of Puppets (their third album), which is a masterpiece but it is still good in all it's garage band sensibilities. In comparison, Carrie is not The Stand, King's masterpiece, but it is still good with it's own raw sensibilities.

King seems to intrinsically know what works. He has a sense for it. When he gets the sense that something is good with respect to building tension or for communicating human vulnerability, he just goes for it. And it works well.

There were some holes in the novel. For example, he explains that telekinesis is a recessive gene trait. But if telekinesis is a controversial phenomenon, then how can there be gene data for it. There has to be a significant number of known telekinetics and those people must have telekinetic offspring. Because telekinesis is rare (if any of those cases were acknowledged at all), gene studies could not have been done.

Overall, I like the book.
Pacing was uneven but good overall. (I didn't like reading about the same events through other people's perspectives.)
The writing was uneven but when it was good, it was very good.
The story was uneven but when it was good, it was very good.
I would recommend this book to those that like this genre.

If you read this review, please drop a like or a comment. It makes me happy.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (finished)

I just finished Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets by J. K. Rowling.

Harry meets a house elf named Dobby who tries to prevent Harry from attending Hogwarts because of some unnamed danger at the school. Harry, eventually, is able to get to Hogwarts. During the school year, kids are mysteriously petrified. There are rumors that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened and an unspeakably dangerous monster has been released into the school and this monster is responsible for the petrifications. Also, a mysterious diary that is able to write back to writer has been found. The diary belonged to Tom Riddle, a former student at Hogwarts. Riddle was a student at Hogwarts when the Chamber of Secrets was last opened. This book describes how Harry and his friends try to solve the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, the petrifications and the diary.

There is very little that I can add to the discussions (or hubbub or brouhaha) about this book.

I liked it.

I thought it was well written.

I thought the pacing was good.

But something catch my interest as I read this again. (This reading was my second time through the book.) Harry doesn't follow the rules. He lies to his professors. He (and his friends) steal ingredients from Professor Snape for the polyjuice potion. Harry and Ron masquerade as Malfoy's friends to spy on him. And when Dumbledore addresses Harry's actions at the end of the book, Dumbledore congratulates Harry instead of chides him. The message of the book seems to be "Do what you think is right!" (although, this would be fine when it is coupled with wisdom) and "The ends justify the means."

I don't think that Harry is a good role model for young people. If young people felt that they were a Harry-Potter-like character in the story of their own lives, then chaos would insure in every family and school. I think that Harry may be a modern day version of Frederick Nietzsche's superman. In Dostoevsky's masterpiece, Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov thought that he was the superman but Dostoevsky clearly presents him as a person that is driven to madness by assuming the superman role. In Harry Potter, Harry takes on the role of the superman and he is congratulated and esteemed.

Also, why are the adults all naive? And why are the only savvy people the kids?


I think this series of books is more than just simply children's books. There is a reason why the masses have embraced Harry Potter so wholeheartedly. I think that Harry reflect the spirit of our age (zeitgeist). I think that we can learn a lot about society in general by examining the world views that are presented in this series.

Anyway, OVERALL, I liked the book. I would recommend it. I liked the writing, the pacing and the story. Good times.

If you read this review, please drop a like or a comment. It makes me happy.