Jenn Reads: Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was our April pick for the Cheshire Cats Classics Book Club.

Before there was The Hunger Games series, Maze Runner series, Legend series there was Brave New World. Huxley was one of the first authors to write a dystopian novel and all others that follow are using him as an example. He did it first and did it best. I marketed this book as the original dystopian novel, because of how popular that genre is right now. And if you want to know where these authors have likely gotten their inspiration, you need to read this book.

A few fast facts about Huxley: he taught French at Eton and George Orwell was one of his students. When Orwell published 1984, he sent a copy to his former teacher, who

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

basically called the book garbage. Huxley died on the same day as C. S. Lewis and JFK, and both of their deaths were overshadowed by the death of the president. And he was a friend to Igor Stravinsky.

Brave New World is a book that is so similar to our own, it is scary how real this book is.

Published in 1932, Brave New World takes place almost 600 years in the future. This is a world where your future is determined at the moment of your conception. Every single child born in this world is born of the test tube and is “raised” to be one of five classes- Alpha, being the best and highest class, or Epsilon, the lowest class. You have no mother, father, and are engineered for specific tasks. You will never grow old, you will never rise above your class, and you will have no apparent free will. Life will be full of pleasurable things however- sex, drugs, mass consumption, and more.

So what makes a dystopian novel different from an utopian novel? Dystopian novels are characterized by a horrible society headed towards oblivion, while utopian novels have an ideal society. Brave New World is a utopian novel on the surface, and to those living in that society, but it’s really dystopian. There is a huge reliance on technology, instant gratification, and lots of propaganda.

Huxley was disturbed at the path the world was taking: the world had been plunged into a great economic depression, fascism and communism were taking hold across Europe, and the Industrial Revolution was continuing to change the landscape of the world. What would happen to us as a people if all of this continued? Huxley feared that we would become a people slaved to technology, conditioned for pleasure and nothing else, and drugged to reality. If you’re thinking this sounds a lot like today’s society, you would not be that far off. However, lurking on the fringes were Savage Worlds with people who had lived a much different life.

If you read Brave New World today, there are many scenes that will likely make you think twice. One for me was the scene at what I’ll call the children’s center, where children are being conditioned for certain things. This particular set of children is taught to be afraid of loud noises. What is eerie is the level of manipulation that is going on- these children have no free will. Just like our own, the world of Brave New World is a throw-away society. Something breaks, is old, is damaged, is no longer wanted- throw it away!

Huxley had supposed it would take hundreds of years for the things he wrote about to come true, but if you look hard at the world we live in today, it is a lot like the one he envisioned. Hospice, cloning/DNA/biological engineering, helicopters, and e-books were just a few of the things he prophecized for the future.

Brave New World is easy reading, but do not be fooled by the simplicity of the language or writing. Huxley has a lot to say about how we live our lives with each other, with technology, and for the future.

Rating: 3 bookmarks out of 5

See you in the stacks,

Jenn

 

Jenn Reads: A Tale of Two Cities

In general, I have a rule when it comes to selecting items for our Cheshire Cats Classics Club to read: it has to be something I have never read before.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I like to read something fresh and new along with my clubbers. If I selected something that I’ve read in the past, I likely would not take the time to reread it. Second, the classics I have read are likely those my clubbers have already read, and one of my goals is to introduce

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

them to titles and authors they may have never read before. It’s a formula that has worked for 3 1/2 years.

For our March pick, I broke that rule.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens is a book I was *supposed* to have read as a senior in high school. Let’s rewind 10 years: It’s April, senior year. I’m in my AP English class and we’ve already read at least 10 books this year. The end of this high school experience is near, and simply say to Charles Dickens: “Nah.” Totally not in my nature as a student to do this, but alas, I had had enough (sorry Mr. M.). So I Sparknoted it.

When I put together the set for the first quarter in 2014 for the Classics Club, I looked back at Tale and thought I should give it another shot. At least this time, I could truly say that I read it and if I didn’t like it, well, then I didn’t like it.

A Tale of Two Cities, written in 1859, was serialized from April to November of that year. Dickens was a master at serialization and was one of the few authors of his time to make money off his books in his lifetime. In general, the story deals with the French Revolution through the eyes of both British and French citizens. Just about everyone, even though who have never read the book before, can quote you the opening line, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times…” Dickens’ friend and biographer, John Forster, wrote that Tale had the least humor and least remarkable characters of all his novels. Well, at least he was honest.

Writing about the French Revolution during Victorian England was a topic writers used often, and readers were likely sick of it by the time Dickens wrote Tale. Dickens specifically chose the French Revolution for the background of his story because¬† it fit with the overall message he was trying to convey about social justice in England. His initial inspiration came from (or was stolen from, however you see it) his acting experience in friend and fellow author Wilkie Collin’s play The Frozen Deep, which is about two men, one of whom sacrifices his life so the other can be with the woman they both love. Sound familiar?

There are many parallels to Dickens’ own personal life throughout Tale, including the inspiration for Lucie Manet/Darnay. At the time of writing Tale Dickens had begun an affair with actress Nelly Tiernan, who has a strong resemblance to Lucie. As well, it has been hinted that Charles Darnay and Sidney Carton, who are almost the physically the same person, are Dickens himself.

So what did I think about A Tale of Two Cities? I’m glad I finally slogged through it. In typically Victorian fashion, there is too much time spent on the minutiae, with loooonnnnggg descriptions. In the first half there is little movement or action, and dare I say, no character development. When Lucie and Charles get married, the storyline starts to pick up. However, at that point, we’re almost halfway through the novel.

There was a lot I liked about the book: the end (no spoilers here), the villains (loved to hate them), and the setting. This is a book that takes lots of time to get where it’s going, so it’s something that a reader needs to stay with. Dickens writes with purpose, meaning he is one of those authors who inserts definite themes- he wants you to pick them out.

If you get a chance, check out the new movie which highlights this time in Dickens’ life and his affair with Tiernan called The Invisible Woman.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 (it’s a hearty 3)

See you in the stacks,
Jenn

Top Ten Classics For Book Clubs

Classics are classic for a reason. Whether it be because they have timeless stories, epic characters, or are just classically awful (and that does happen!), we continue to read the “classics”. They have something to tell us about ourselves, because really, we’re still the same people at heart that our ancestors were one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago.

I run the classics book club here at the Cheshire Public Library, and from the moment it started, it was an instant hit. To this day, almost three years later, it’s still my most popular book group. If you run a book club, consider adding in a classic once a year. Just about anyone can read Gone Girl (and let me tell you – they have, ad nauseum), but it’s more of a challenge to read classics. And you sound smarter, too.

So here’s a list of my top ten classics for book club:

  1. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. See my post about why this is my favorite book – it explains everything!
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen. Some people will argue with me about this, but Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen book. Austen is at her best in her final completed

    Persuasion by Jane Austen

    novel with a story of love lost and love regained. Second chances are possible in this memorable book. And while you’re at it, watch the recent Masterpiece Classics movie they did several years back. All I can say is: yummy!

  3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I read this book first in high school and thought it was *ok*. Both of my parents loved this book, and at the time, as a junior in high school, I couldn’t appreciate it. Having a little more life experience as a sophomore in college, re-reading it, I could finally see why they loved this book so much.
  4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. During this 50th anniversary of Plath’s death, this book is especially appropriate for book clubs to entertain. I heard grumblings from some members about how “depressing” they thought this book was, but as a group we had excellent conversations on mental illness, gender roles, and the 1950’s Read my review of the book.
  5. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I read this for the mystery book club I used to run here at the library and it

    The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

    would definitely count as a classic. If you’re looking for something that’s full of ambiance, setting, and great characters, Maltese Falcon is perfect. Short, easy to read, and a good mystery to boot. Hammett set the standard for noir fiction and mysteries. And how can you think of Sam Spade without thinking of Humphrey Bogart???

  6. My Antonia by Willa Cather. For everyone who has ever read or watched Little House on the Prairie before, you’ll love this book. My Antonia is beautiful in its descriptions of the people, the time, and especially the land. A majority of Americans can say that somewhere in their history is an immigrant story, and My Antonia speaks to our shared history on being newcomers in the “New World.”
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. Now, this is an ambitious book for a book club, not meant to be read over a period of just one month. You’d have to

    The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

    give this at least three months or meetings for everyone to get through this lengthy, but well worth-it epic. This is the ultimate read on revenge. Dumas weaves an intricate story that by the end, will leave you going, “Holy smokes!”. For being a book written in the 1800’s, The Count of Monte Cristo is readable, especially compared to some of his other works. Like the show Revenge? It’s the Count of Monte Cristo updated.

  8. 1984 by George Orwell. It’s been years (10!) since I read this for senior year summer reading in high school, and I can still remember the impact this book had on me. Who hasn’t heard of the term “Big Brother”? Yup, it came from 1984. Orwell was a man ahead of his time, correctly guessing how we as a society would develop, as well as the implications of Communism. This book has garnered a lot of press time recently with the whole Snowden/NSA episode, so if just for curiosity, this book is well worth your time.

    Agnes Grey by Anne Bront√ę

  9. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. Ok, so you’re probably wondering, “What about Wuthering Heights? Or Jane Eyre?”. Wuthering Heights, frankly, is terrible. And Jane Eyre is scores better, and would definitely make another “Top 10 Classics List” were I to write another. Agnes Grey is a gem, a diamond in the rough. So much time is spent reading her sister’s books, that Anne is often overlooked. And I would argue that she is the true heroine of the Bronte sisters. What takes Emily and Charlotte more than 400 pages to describe, Anne takes less than 300 hundred to tell a fabulous story of perseverance and responsibility.
  10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Ok, so admittedly I’m not a Hemingway fan. He, along with so many other male writers of his time, writes women one dimensionally and usually with obvious disdain and dislike. However… of the three Hemingway books I’ve read is the most tolerable, and therefore, the only one I’d recommend. Some of the comments in classics club were that it was just a bunch of people sitting around, doing nothing with their lives. And in truth, yes, that’s what they were doing. However, I thought The Sun Also Rises had a lot more to say about the period and the consequences of World War I than anything else. With the 100th anniversary of WWI next year, The Sun Also Rises is a treatise on how war changes everything.