Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I don’t know how I feel about this book, in all honestly. Once again, I am torn between feeling lost and feeling irritated. I am supposed to like this book. And I did, actually, on some level. But, I also hated it and don’t understand what I was missing. This is supposed to be an important book. It’s on school reading lists from junior high school to college (I hadn’t previously read it, however), but I am not sure why.
The writing style bothered me a bit. It was easy to read, literally, almost too simple. The sentences seemed matter of fact and passionless. The subject matter, on the other hand, was extremely difficult to read. While I was taken into the tradition and customs and enjoyed learning about and feeling these things, what I continue to think about is the meaning.
On the one hand, I was able to grasp so much about the clan life of an Ibo village in Nigeria at some undisclosed time in history (late 1800’s?). I found it rather disturbing, but it made sense. I didn’t really feel any great camaraderie with any of them, particularly the anti-hero, Okonkwo, who I found rather loathsome.
On the other hand, I felt compassion for these people whose lives were being disrupted by the aggressive European missionaries.
I was struck by a common issue throughout this book and others I have read: what we do to our own people is okay, but what outsiders do to us is not. Even if they are doing the same thing. It makes me sad.
Achebe himself has been quoted as saying, "My sympathies were not entirely with Okonkwo . . . . Life just has to go on and if you refuse to accept changes, then, tragic though it may be, you are swept aside".
I just feel weary......

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Stranger by Albert Camus

I wish I spoke French. This book is described as an important classic, but I just didn't get it. The good news is that it was incredibly easy to read. And by easy, I mean quick. I didn't see the point and I suppose that is the point, but it seemed a bizarre way to get to pointlessness. A sad, sad tale. Perhaps it was Matthew Ward's translation that left me feeling let down and empty. Unfortunately, though, I don't have much desire to read an earlier version. Perhaps if I ever learn French......

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

1984 by George Orwell

Since the unexpected death of Michael Jackson, especially, but on a regular basis these days, I keep hearing people say, “What is wrong with this country?” “ What is wrong with people?” “What’s wrong with this world?”
These sentences said with a great deal of passion and shock! What is wrong with this world is precisely what’s right with this world: we are all capable, encouraged ... ALLOWED to have our own opinions!
Thank God!
George Orwell’s 1984 left me feeling philosophical, and simultaneously hopeful and distraught. Frightened and optimistic. Filled with my own doublethink, which irritates and intrigues me. (We kill killers because killing is wrong.)
1984 is a classic dystopian novel about a repressive, totalitarian regime; about the destruction of civilization and the breaking down of humanity - by mankind itself and by weapons of mass destruction - written prior to their discovery! What makes this book interesting and frightening is to observe the future we do live in and the one “predicted” by writers of the past such as Orwell.
Have we created a world where we build machines that act like men and develop men who act like machines? It’s up for debate even as we speak. Do we long for a transhistorical concept of life or a political one? Because “we” have decided we don’t want both.
1984 delves deeply into a “future” where one major power “the Party” controls every aspect of human life, mostly through telescreens and propaganda. Big Brother is watching you! In this novel we follow Winston Smith, a middle aged somewhat flawed character, as he attempts - on his own small level - to fight the Party in the name of preserving truth and freedom if only for himself. While reading, I became a little obsessed with the idea of thought control and a mechanical life.
I read mostly on the Metro rail system in Washington DC and I was struck by how I have become an automaton with my fellow passengers. We mechanically move from point A to point B with our blank faces and business-quick movements. We don’t look at each other too closely, we don’t speak too openly, we listen for the programmed voice to tell us to “step back” or “move forward”. I had this same experience in Basic Military Training where “they” (the Party?), literally break you down and then rebuild you into what “they” want. Granted, we do all of this voluntarily, but I was still intrigued by the similarities and how easily I fall into it!
We are all born with basic needs we instinctively strive to achieve: freedom (each day a child yearns to become more and more independent), equality (“No fair!”) and love. We absolutely need these things and our decisions nearly every single day for our entire lives are based on achieving our needs.
There’s the old philosophical question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, but what about what comes AFTER .... and I am not talking about afterlife, I am talking about future life. We question our beginnings and therefore, must question our end.
Hope v. Despair
Erich Fromm (who died in 1980, it is worth noting) wrote in the 1984 Afterword, “There could be nothing more paradoxical in historic terms than this change: man, at the beginning of the industrial age, when in reality he did not possess the means for which the table was set for all who wanted to eat, when he lived in a world in which there were economic reasons for slavery, war, and exploitation, in which man only sensed the possibilities of his new science and of its application to technique and to production - nevertheless man at the beginning of modern development was full of hope. Four hundred years later, when all these hopes are realizable, when man can produce enough for everybody, when war has become unnecessary because technical progress can give any country more wealth than can territorial conquest, when this globe is in the process of becoming as unified as a continent was four hundred years ago, at the very moment when man is on the verge of realizing his hope, he begins to lose it.”
“Anonymous” left a comment on a book I reviewed last year. I didn’t like the book and my review, as all my reviews, was about how I, personally, felt about the book. “Anonymous” wrote, "An interesting comment made in a gifted english class: ‘Whoever doesn't like this book cannot think on on a higher level’.”
What is interesting is that “Anonymous” thought that was an interesting comment (by the way, "Anonymous" is the one who used a lower case E in gifted English class). If you don’t like this book, you’re stupid. That’s rich! A gifted 4th grade English class, undoubtedly!
Well, I did like 1984. But even if I didn’t, it isn’t because I am incapable of thinking on a higher level, it is precisely that I am capable. That I am encouraged and ALLOWED to think on a higher level.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

And you were there, Walter ...

When you're a kid in the late sixties and seventies, other than Adults, you had two sources of news and information. Interestingly they looked a lot a like, and I loved them both! Times have changed and the way we receive our news is dramatically different today than it was when I was growing up. I guess part of me misses that ...
Good-night, Mr. Cronkite.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a name I have always known, although in all honesty, I knew absolutely nothing about her or this novel. Nothing at all. It is amazing to me how little I actually do know about classic literature! Embarrassingly amazing. Why didn’t I read this in high school? I’ve said before that I don’t always understand what makes a classic a classic. I don’t know why this book is considered “better” than Wuthering Heights, for example, or Rebecca. They are all incredible to me! I can quickly become lost in any one of these worlds and live there quite happily for weeks at a time.
I can’t pretend to have much in common with Jane Eyre, certainly. Perhaps my own plainness. I was lucky, though, that my mother, grandmother and a few mean boys in my adolescence were the only ones who felt the need to point it out to me. Not like Poor Jane Eyre who couldn’t meet a person for more than a fleeting moment without them declaring her blatant homeliness. So, the fact that she held her head up at all is most impressive to me, but I am not foolish enough to think that is the reason for Jane Eyre standing the test of time.
I like the classic blueprint of romance and torment, dark castles and intrigue. I like that they obsess about ghosts and God and right and wrong. The tried and true rags to riches formula of independence and the power of love.
I did find the characters of this tale much more palatable than those of Wuthering Heights, and the story was equally riveting. I doubt if I would have chosen any of the paths Miss Eyre chose in her life and I know I would have but a fraction of her gumption and self-confidence. Not to worry, though, because obviously my differences and similarities didn’t keep me from encountering my own wild adventures!
I just continue to be so impressed at the imagination of a young woman more than one hundred and sixty years ago! And I can’t begin to imagine what went on behind closed doors at the Bronte house!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009