BOOK REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

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BOOK REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray BradburyTitle: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: October 1st 1953
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 190
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

The terrifyingly prophetic novel of a post-literate future.
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.
The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

 I reread Fahrenheit 451 this year for a discussion with students at my school, and what struck me most this time was the reliance of so many of us on technology and the media that some of us forget (or don’t think) to think about the world around us. Ray Bradbury’s novel deals with the dissolution of literacy and the saturation of media in the future. In the 1950s when it was first published, the novel deals with a future imagined by Bradbury, and through the years, the warnings the novel shows its readers still remain relevant.

I gave a little talk to incoming freshmen about the novel as it was a campus-wide reading requirement for all incoming freshmen, and I spoke a little bit about the Cold War, a little bit about Bradbury writing it, and then I contrasted it with media and literacy today. I talked about how things are different now than they were in the 1950s, especially with the rise of technology, and I compared the walls of TV in the novel to the constant companion of our phone familiars. In Bradbury’s novel, the characters sit in literal rooms of screens and are fed an endless stream of entertainment and information. Today, we sit with phones in our hands and are fed an endless stream of entertainment and information. I asked them to consider where the information is coming from, I asked them to consider a bias, and I asked them to continually seek out answers to any questions they have and to use whatever is available to them to get those answers.

After the election results, I’m astounded at how culturally relevant this book still is. Our society is so dependent upon the media for information and does not seem to value using one’s own mind and abilities to read, to research, to question what’s put before us. Our society has devalued education, and I feel as if so many students are no longer taught how to think but what to think, and this is reflected in the constant, consistent bombardment of information through our televisions, through our computers, and through our phones.

How and why are we moving away from a culture that values literacy and knowledge to a culture that places more importance on inciting fear and hatred based on superficial, bigoted information? I’ve been thinking about this for a long while now, and I’m going to continue thinking about it and writing about it and talking about it.

Let this time in America’s history be a reminder to never stop thinking, never stop questioning, because if we stop, we’re going to live in a world in which thinking about ideas rather than merely absorbing them will become a way of the past.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: 10 Books I’d Buy if Given a Fully-Loaded Gift Card

Top Ten Tuesday

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is all about those books you’d buy immediately if someone gave you a massive gift card to your favorite book store. This is barely touching the tip of the iceberg, but the following are the ones I’d buy today!

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The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen: This has been featured on tables at work even before it won the Pulitzer, and I keep seeing it around Twitter and Goodreads, and because I try to read award-winners, this one’s on the list.

The Romantic Egoists – Matthew J. Bruccoli: I’m entirely fascinated by the Fitzgeralds’s lives and photographs of eras gone by are one of my favorite things, so why wouldn’t I want a photo scrapbook of their lives!? I also want it for research purposes.

My Best Friend’s Excorcism – Grady Hendrix: It’s set in the 80s, all of the chapter titles are 80s songs, and it was recently featured on a “What to Read After Stranger Things” list so yes, please, I need this in my life.

Penguin’s Little Black Classics: I have the box set of the first 80, but I’m a collector and a completionist, so I’d get the rest and this totally counts as one.

The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows: Family secrets that a writer uncovers while on a project for the New Deal’s job in the Federal Writer’s Project? That sounds like something right up my alley. Plus I rarely see anything in historical fiction set in West Virginia.

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Amy Snow – Tracy Rees: Someone on Goodreads called this a mix between Dickens and suffragette, and it’s historical about the relationship between two women with letters and secrets. And it’s a debut novel that apparently won some search for the next big novel in the UK? I forget what it’s called, but all of it sounds interesting and I need it now.

The Dark Forest – Liu Cixin: I read the first of this trilogy for my science fiction book group (which got rescheduled and I couldn’t attend the rescheduled meeting), and I really enjoyed it. It’s Chinese sci/fi, and I really enjoyed reading about traditionally sci/fi topics and tropes from an entirely different perspective and history. I think the third is being released in hardcover later this year!

The Beast Within – Emile Zola: Honestly, this is just the first in the Pocket Penguins series Penguin’s released this year (and will be releasing in the weeks and months to come). I’ve already ordered one (oops), but this will probably be the next on my list of things to-buy (and the rest, like the Little Black Classics. Why must Penguin release all of the things I want??).

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Illustrated Edition) – J.K. Rowling: I don’t know why I don’t have this yet…

Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo: So, I’ll admit, I’ve had the ARC of this for a long time. But I want the hardcover because the black edged pages are  so pretty. I also didn’t want to read this until I read the Grisha trilogy, and now that I’ve read the trilogy, I can give myself the go ahead on this, right?

What’s on your list?

Little List of Reviews #2

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Little List of Reviews #2Title: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Penguin
Published: September 6th 2001
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 249
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

It’s interesting to note that history and its aftermath all rest on a series of single actions. If something hadn’t gone the way it had, it could have catastrophic influence on everything else (which is why, sadly, time travel cannot really work). What would our lives be like if a certain president weren’t elected or if certain events hadn’t happened? How much different would our lives really be? Philip K. Dick’s take on what could have happened had the United States lost WWII is eerie and true enough to life that it’s like looking into another dimension (and at some point in the novel, one of the characters does cross between that world and “our” world). I wouldn’t necessarily call this “science fiction,” as the most science-y fiction-y aspect of it is that the Germans are going to the moon and there’s that slight shift between universes, but I find this sits more under the sub-genre of speculative fiction. Science fiction focuses heavily on the “what if,” and this book certainly asks that question. What if the Germans and the Japanese took over the United States? I found it engaging, nuanced, and surprisingly modern.

Little List of Reviews #2Title: Graft by Matt Hill
Published: February 2nd 2016
Pages: 448
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Matt Hill’s Graft is certainly interesting. It’s set in a futuristic, dystopian Manchester, England, in which a car thief gets mixed up with a cyborg woman who’s had an extra arm and various other enhancements grafted onto her body. It’s touted as something that draws influence from The Fifth Element andThe Handmaid’s Tale, and I think that sort of fits. It certainly would appeal to fans of either or both. It’s visceral, it’s dirty, it’s dark both in content and in atmosphere. Having lived sort of near Manchester for a bit while doing my master’s degree, I can vouch for it being cloudy, a bit dingy in places, and certainly edgier than the pristine countrysides of England we’re used to seeing in various books and films. I enjoyed it, although I wish there was more development both in character and in setting. Compared to Atwood’s writing, this just seemed like a three-fourths formed thing. Still enjoyable, and it definitely comes recommended to those who like the darker, grittier side of science fiction!

BOOK REVIEW: The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

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BOOK REVIEW: The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine MansfieldTitle: The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
Published by Penguin, Penguin Classics
Published: 1922
Genres: Fiction, Classics
Pages: 159
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Innovative, startlingly perceptive and aglow with colour, these fifteen stories were written towards the end of Katherine Mansfield's tragically short life. Many are set in the author's native New Zealand, others in England and the French Riviera. All are revelations of the unspoken, half-understood emotions that make up everyday experience - from the blackly comic 'The Daughters of the Late Colonel', and the short, sharp sketch 'Miss Brill', in which a lonely woman's precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed, to the vivid impressionistic evocation of family life in 'At the Bay'. 'All that I write,' Mansfield said, 'all that I am - is on the borders of the sea. It is a kind of playing.'

I am trying to be better at reading short stories, and I saw a blurb about Katherine Mansfield’s short stories on Alice’s blog, so I checked it out and thought I’d be interested too! I enjoyed all of the stories. Some stories fell flat for me, but I thought this was a very well-rounded collection. My favorites were “The Garden Party,” “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” and “The Singing Lesson.”

Mansfield’s short stories read like impressionist paintings. I think they need to be looked at, examined, and mulled over for a bit before the meaning settles in. I finished the book about a couple weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about the stories.

In “The Garden Party,” the Sheridan family is in the midst of preparing for the titular garden party. During the set up of the party, the family finds out that their working class neighbor, Mr. Scott, has died. Laura, the daughter in charge of setting up the party, wonders if the party should be canceled out of respect for the death of their neighbor, but none of her family agrees and the party goes on. The story explores the differences between class and the awareness of class differences, the illusion created by the upper class to avoid dealing with certain realities, and the roles of life and death in day-to-day activities.

In “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” two sisters are figuring out what to do with their lives after their father’s death. He was their only real relation as their mother died many years ago, and he was possibly one of the only stable men in their lives. The sisters have very little grasp on reality and how to exist in day-to-day life. This is shown through their inability to tell the cook how they want their fish cooked because they’re so used to decisions being made for them and their lives dictated by others. They are both so far removed from reality that when they try to think about what to do with their future, they forget what they are even speaking about in the middle of the conversation. It’s a terrible, haunting look at what happens when women aren’t allowed any agency over their own lives.

“The Singing Lesson” is about a teacher, Miss Meadows, who is engaged to a man five years younger than her. Basil, her fiancé, has written to her before the story begins calling off their engagement, and Miss Meadows enters the school that morning incredibly upset. Basil writes that their “marriage would be a mistake” and that he “love[s] her as much as it is possible for [him] to love any woman” because he is “not a marrying man.” The language in this convinces me that Basil is homosexual or confused about his sexuality and that he is doubting his convictions because he later sends Miss Meadows a telegram saying to disregard his letter and that he has “bought [a] hatstand,” again using language that symbolizes phallic imagery. It’s clear that Miss Meadows is unaware of her future husband’s sexuality, and her mood changes significantly when she receives that telegram because her future is secure again. The title itself evokes the symbolism of a bird in a cage, that women are pretty things to be caged and possessed, and that men ultimately control a woman’s fate and can change their minds at will with no repercussions to themselves. Both Basil and Miss Meadows are trapped by society’s expectations and both are forced to “sing out” what they’ve been taught.

I really enjoyed this collection, and I’m looking forward to reading more by her and by Modernist writers. If you enjoy Modernist and feminist writings, I think you’ll enjoy her work!

2016 Challenges and Goals

I know a lot of people set goals and resolutions for the new year, but it’s such a great time to do it! I’m moving at the end of this month (ick, timing), so being in a new place in the new year will be absolutely a great time to start reinforcing good habits and practices. I won’t list my personal goals as they don’t really fit in with the bookish theme I want to keep with this blog, tf

READING GOALS

  • Read a minimum of 100 books (tracked by Goodreads and my spreadsheet). 100 is a good number for me. I don’t feel too bad if I just read a hundred, but when I read more than that, it feels like a real accomplishment.
  • Read all of (or at least a majority of) the ARCs I’ve been approved for (on Netgalley and Edelweiss). There are fewer than 15. Sometimes about a third of them I don’t finish because I don’t like them, but I want to be better about this and get my percentages to 75% or higher. I get approval happy and have had a few books sitting on my iPad from… over a year now. I’m going to start with the oldest first and move forward. It doesn’t necessarily help that I just got a little download/request happy and filled up my queue with a bit more. I’m just really excited about these titles and need to read them now!
  • Use my library more. I want to save a good amount of money in 2016 to travel and to pay off some lingering bills, so instead of buying a lot of books (not working at a bookstore currently helps with that) I want to use my library!
  • Purchase no more than two books a month. The only times I can purchase more are when I’m taking books to my local used bookstore and have the credit for them, when I finish one of the Penguin Drop Caps and want to read the next letter, or during my birthday month (April).
  • Write about the books as I’m reading them. I started doing this last year when I started Madame Bovary (which I currently haven’t finished but I remember everything that happened). I paused every three or four chapters and wrote something about it: a summary of what happened and/or my thoughts about it, even if it’s just a few sentences. This also ties into my own personal goal of writing in a journal more. I’m going to use a journal as a catch-all for everything rather than have individual journals for different things.

BLOG GOALS

  • Post at least three times a week (hopefully Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, but whenever I feel like it because sometimes scheduling these things doesn’t always line up with my work schedule). If it makes it easier for me, I might have “writing days” in which I write a lot of posts and schedule them to be posted at a later date. Scheduled posts would work well with ARC reviews, too, because I wouldn’t want to post reviews too early.
  • Comment on blogs I like and use social media more! I visit a lot of blogs but I never comment, mostly because I feel like I have nothing to say but most of the time I feel too shy to say anything. Oops.
  • Use more images in my posts! I’ve been teaching myself Canva because it makes it really easy and helps make everything uniform!

READING CHALLENGES

I’ll make specific posts for these soon! Some of them are happening around the book blog world and some of them are my own personal challenges.

  • Flights of Fantasy – read at least 12 new to me fantasy titles.
  • #RockMyTBR – read at least 40 books I already own, cannot combine with other challenges.
  • Classics Challenge – personal challenge; read at least 24 classics, 12 must be new to me.
  • Star Wars/Star Trek – personal challenge; read at least 5 Star Wars novels and 5 Star Trek novels and review them.
  • Strips/physical ARCs – personal challenge; working for a bookstore allowed for stripped titles and ARCs to be taken home. I have quite a few of these so I’d like to read at least 10 of these and review them.

If I finish my above challenges, that puts me really, really close to my 100 title goal for 2016. I’m ready for it!