Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Reviews

It's probably not entirely obvious what this blog is about, but it's probably going to be a bunch of opinions. You know what they say about opinions: they are like something that everyone has, because--well--everyone has one.

I guess I'll just start off with some books I recently read, because books are awesome. If you have a suggestion with a book for me to read, you should post it. Then I will read it and post about it. We can do this, man. We can make this happen.

The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. It's a book that focuses on the First and Second ages of Middle Earth, the setting of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Notable for being a very nuanced fantasy creation myth. Sure, people write fantasy books set in their own worlds, but there is no other world, to my knowledge, that can rival Middle Earth. You should read this book if you like fantasy and larger-than-life events. You should be wary of every single name in this book; all the fantasy names actually mean something in their language, but you probably won't know it, and you'll also be confused once different names start being used interchangeably. If you want Tolkien to make the most sense, you should probably start here because The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy build on this world (they take place in the end of the Third Age). In The Silmarillion you find out why Sauron and his boss are dicks, why the Elves are leaving/fading away, who the Numenoreans are, and the nature of Gandalf. Example: When Bilbo comes to Rivendell in The Hobbit and Elrond mentions that the sword he obtained (later "Sting") was made in Gondolin in the First Age, not only would you know from The Silmarillion that Gondolin was a pretty big deal, but that the sword is six thousand years old. This is the kind of thing Tolkien made, and there really hasn't been anything like it in fantasy literature since. Needless to say, it's some heavy stuff. Read The Silmarillion if you want to read about the history of a fantasy land, and the movers and shakers that changed said history. If you just want to read a fantasy adventure story, I recommend The Hobbit instead.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. If you haven't read this book as required reading and you live in a Western society, you should read it. It was written before World War II, but the themes of a totalitarian consumerist utopia where people are controlled through pleasure and distractions rather than pain and punishment is a great counterpoint to 1984 (which you should also read).

In 1958, Huxley published Brave New World Revisited as an (book-sized) essay about how technologies and techniques in Brave New World can be used in real life with the then-current technologies. If I were to write a longer review about this, I would focus on each chapter individually from a 2010 perspective. This book is heavily colored by World War II, and is very much a product of its time, aging worse than Brave New World. It's probably possible to summarize it now in at most a fifth of the length, which is actually very very ironic because the first sentence of the foreword -- the first thing after the title -- is "The soul of wit [brevity] may become the very body of untruth."

I ended up re-reading Catcher in the Rye, and liked it a lot better this time around because now, being older and hopefully less herp-derp, I find the characters interesting. Maybe all that time spent introspectively brooding has paid off. Analyzing the plot is kind of meh, it's pretty straightforward. Instead, high school classes should spend more time analyzing the characters: it might stem the tide of Mary Sues that populate fanfiction (and, more recently, popular fiction as well). Can any of the characters in Twilight even hold a match to minor characters in Catcher in the Rye? The cross-dressing guy in the hotel who is described in a paragraph is probably way more interesting than any of the Twilight characters. Despite all that, I can't help but think how Holden might have been different if he was in a well-to-do suburban neighborhood instead of in a circa-1950s New York private school. Ugh, see Brave New World.

This next one is a book I found out about from Shii's personal wiki. Originally written in German by Michael Ende (of Neverending Story), this book is Momo. It starts out in a pretty normal 1970s Italy (the location is never stated but it is rather obvious), and then continues to add fairy-tale elements until holy shit it's like I'm really battling Agent Smiths with a Wizard. Looking back on it, I find a lot of faults with this book: the main one being that the theme of listening takes a back seat to the fantasy elements. Regardless, if you live in any place that is remotely influenced by Western culture, you should drop everything you are doing and read this book. If you are too busy saving time for later use to read this book, I hope you at least read the short excerpt in the first link in this paragraph so that the irony is not lost on you. If you can't bother to do that (and yet you read this far into what I write?) then you need to understand that besides listening, the major theme in Momo is time.

Ende posits that "time is life itself," which is an idea that carries so many implications that it's worth thinking about, because our civilization treats time as a resource. Does it make sense to conquer time, like we conquer space? If time is life, what is death? Can you really save time? What do you do with your time?

Man, this is some heavy stuff. Fucking time, how does it work?

Next on my list is Catch-22 and Lolita.

7 comments:

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  3. nice review, look forward to catch 22, like lew said, you'll like it :D

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  4. Catch 22 is a great book, read it for my IB English class in 11th grade

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