Monthly Archives: May 2012

Much meaning lost between the pages in passing time

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I feel the desire to explain my last post a bit more and where I was coming from by addressing the title of this post, “much meaning lost between the pages in passing time.”

Books are a product of their time, similar to other media and art, and in a way they become relics of things forgotten, created in a time different than the present. Different in values, fears, hopes, dreams, desires, worries, economics, culture, and so on. The world changes constantly. All the time, always will. Music is a more obvious and immediate form of some of the changes that pervades the general consciousness more readily than other media.

All this is by way to say that 1984 meant something different in 1949 when it was first published, before the advent of personal computer and any glimmer of the Internet. But today, Big Brother’s systematic rewriting of history any time the Party chose to couldn’t happen. With Twitter and Facebook and the Internet in general, not to mention smartphones and texting, information cannot be controlled. Anyone can share anything anywhere, basically. Get on wifi and say or upload whatever you want, to anyone anywhere listening.

Yet privacy is an issue. And we freely self-report and broadcast what we do and where we are, to name a few of the plethora of possibilities now available. Whether you tweet on purpose and include your location or just the fact that your smartphone is turned on and broadcasting your triangulated location to satellites circling the Earth, you are sharing a lot of information about yourself. Even search engine are smart enough to learn about you based on your searches and links that you visit. Despite this, we live in a free society with freedoms that we take for granted such as free speech and free press in America. It not even conceivable to me that anything in 1984 could ever take place especially do to all the technology these days. And Big Brother has become a joke, a literal reality show, a British oddity with their surveillance cameras everywhere. Cop and murder TV shows and movies use those cameras to solve crime and portray them as useful and necessary to do good and catch the bad guys. While we invite TVs and computer screens and now tablets and mobile devices to make media pervasive and everywhere that we are, users have never had as much control over media as we do now. I am not bound by Castle‘s programming schedule because I can get in on Hulu.com whenever I want to watch it.

This isn’t the first time this issue of misunderstanding works from a different time crossed my mind. In high school, I watched Hitchcock’s The birds with my little sister and we couldn’t believe that it was originally billed as a scary horror movie. Really? It’s some bizarre birds randomly attacking people for no reason. Odd but certainly not terrifying–unless you fear birds, like my one friend. And it was campy to us. Sure, even in 2004, computer graphics and trying to out due gore and gross scenes pushed movies and shows to new visual feats. To us, scary and horror mention something totally different. And LOLCats doesn’t help:

So why read books from the past? There is a lot to still gain from anything ever written, be it beauty, content, history, a glimpse into a previous era. Same goes for all other art and media. Unlike in 1984, we keep things around to remember and ensure that the past persists, which exactly was what Ingsoc fought against–“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

While I still stand by more post from yesterday, I will say that everything should be appreciated with the proper respect for the time in which it was created and what it meant to those then. Taking any work out of context does a great disservice to the current generations as well as the past and can certainly bode poorly for the future. Like the saying goes, don’t forget where you came from. Plus, those who can’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it.

Writing and storytelling mean I lot to me now. I’ve learned to appreciate a well crafted novel that makes you pause to savor a phrase or reread a passage that is witty and charming, or insightful and bold. Orwell doesn’t do that for me but is enjoyable none-the-less for his groundbreaking nature of topics and ideas. There’s always a writer behind the piece to consider. Why did they write what and how they did? What purpose did it serve then, and what can it now? Why create it at all, and what would it mean if it hadn’t been created ever?

Food for thought as Camp NaNoWriMo creeps up on us! I’ve got a new idea in mind, so we will see how June progresses!

Plus, for everyone wonder, what’s next on my agenda?  Friday by my favorite sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein! It’s famous and been on my bookshelf at least a decade now, the pages are yellowing and even smell old already. Space action-adventure, yes please! Woot! In the first two pages alone, the main character kills a man, stuffs him in a locker, blasts a spying robot and shoves that in the locker too, stows away in a bathroom, and changes her identity–off to a quick start and it looks to be a great adventure. Such an anticipated read of mine that I’ve always held off to read it. No more. Reading it now! Headed to the porch to indulge.

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Read: 1984 by George Orwell

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It’s a sad day when I have to tell myself “No X-Files on Amazon Prime for you until you finish your book”.

What’s the problem, it’s a classic, right? Yes but there’s a catch (isn’t there always?). Many books are labeled classics for different reasons. Some are classics because of beautiful writing, great ideas, famous authors, the first of its kind, a new way of writing. Just because a book is labeled a classic doesn’t mean that everyone will like it.

And here’s the very secret part…you don’t have to like it.

For movies and tv shows, people support the general belief that everyone will like something different and that while there are some famous and infamous classics, that belief still stands. But for books, “classics” are held in a higher regard, especially literature.

1984 by George Orwell is famous for it’s ideas and uniquely bleak outlook on the future and what it could become. Downright scary and depressing. I will give it props for that but Orwell is too utilitarian and clunky in his writing and storytelling. Rather than a beautifully knit sweater in which every stitch is in place and works together to create a seamless whole, 1984 is rough around the edges and shows signs of construction here and there. Perhaps it’s my snooty college English major sensibilities pointing out these bit and pieces that to me stick out, but it just doesn’t flow and build like other novels. Mr. Orwell, I am deeply sorry but I believe that your editor failed you and maybe he did because he saw the point of your novel and left it intact instead of encouraging you to craft and refine it more into a tale with a vision.

Am I too harsh? Say so in the comments, but I don’t think so. Especially after reading Brave new world, in which every sentence is clearly crafted to flow and move the story forward in an engaging, purposeful way. Some parts of 1984 that stick out are the handful of pages of the Brotherhood’s book–a text within a text is hard to pull off, and just bogs the narrative down; didactic, if you want a technical English term. Also, info dump is more jargon than a legit term but it occurs often in the novel, without warning; here, know this now, whether it fits in or not to the plot right now doesn’t matter.

Animal farm is another Orwell novel that I did read in high school and remember that it was difficult to get through as well but that it’s ideas were what compelled me to continue reading it. A communist farmyard run by pigs. It’s still a radical idea which is why it also persists as a classic to many people. And it should.

Novels aren’t meant to be easy. Rather, it’s the difficult and challenging ones that are usually the most rewarding, covering hard or taboo topics. But the writing shouldn’t get in the way of the reading. I know David Foster Wallace meant for Infinite Jest to be a labyrinth of scattered pieces that create a tapestry in the end. And Italio Calvino in If on a winter’s night a traveler wants the effect of jarring the reader to create awareness that the reader is reading; it’s purposefully meta. But I don’t think Orwell meant to jar the reader at all, rather he just didn’t craft his novels. 1984 feels unfinished in a sense, like it needs another revision to smooth everything out.

Rambling is the best word for it. The novel is a blind wandering forward, to an end but meanders in getting there.

Recommended? I’m torn. On one hand it’s a classic for its radical vision of the future and should be read by all to prevent anything remotely like this from happening. Yet… Overall, I’m going to say that people should read 1984 to know it and all the references that were spawned from it; in that sense it’s a very valuable lesson. However, if you pick it up, you must persist to the end. I’m glad that I finished this book. Will I read it again? No. Reading it once was enough. Like watching the movie The black swan.

No wonder some of these works remain on my bookshelf for years–it’s tough getting through depressing and dark novels. I enjoy adventure and fun in addition to the dark corners and topics in life but eyeing up my shelf for what remains, I worry that there is more like this to come. The other book that I bought in Wooster on my guilt-trip of books that I hadn’t read was Anna Karenina, which I know vaguely about and pretty sure had the ending spoiled for me; and despite my interest in it, that will need to remain on my shelf for a while longer, until I’ve gotten through some other types of books before I return to hopeless books.

Still deciding on what comes next…I’ll have to look a couple over before I decide but I hope the post won’t take as long for the next book!

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Infinite update: Made it to page 101 and footnote 42! Blazing my way through it…right. Back with the cross-dressing agent in the desert, but waiting to get back to Hal who I feel is the most interesting and really the center of the book from what I can tell.