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,



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 Brontë

  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.

Book Review: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Our classics pick for April is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I had picked this book a while ago, not knowing it was the 50th anniversary this year of the publication.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I was warned when I picked this book that it would be “terribly depressing” and “Ooo, that’s so depressing I’m not sure I want to read it.” While this book was depressing, that was not the whole of the story.

The Bell Jar is a coming of age story that takes place in 1953 and centers around main character Esther Greenwood, a 21 year old college student. She is bright, but has a difficult time reconciling with the stifling world of the 1950’s.  Esther works for a fashion magazine in NYC during the summer of 1953 and is fascinated with the news headlines of the day, including the execution of the Rosenbergs and a man’s suicide. It appears that Esther may be on the track to bigger and better things.

But Esther is not as stable as she presents herself. This is a coming of age story, like The Catcher In the Rye, but it is through rebirth and pain. Esther begins a slow decline into mental illness, so slowly it’s almost impossible to remember what the “trigger” was for her. In her rejection of conventional models of woman,, like purity, relationships with men, and the fashion world of NYC, she finds herself on the outside looking in. I found myself, when reading of Esther’s first suicide attempt, wondering “Well, where did that come from?” Esther had no reason to try to kill herself, she even says that she wants to see if she can do it.

Plath’s use of language, imagery, and tone in The Bell Jar allowed the reader into the mind and life of Esther Greenwood. Plath is simply a genius when it comes to weaving a story. A slim 264 pages, it was easy reading.

One of the reasons I liked this book so much was that I found so much of myself in Esther Greenwood. At that age, I too was bright, ambitious, and sometimes on the brink. But unlike Esther, I had the mental fortitude and support system to bring me back from the edge.

I listened to this book on audio and it was read by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I found her reading to be less than stellar, as she read…. like… she.. was… taking… her… time. It was extremely annoying, but I was able to look past her inept reading and hear the heart of the story.

Rating: 4 stars

Why Do The Classics Matter?

You had to read them in high school, or maybe for a coCLASSICllege English class. Some you may have liked, some you may have hated. There may have been titles you really wanted to read, but never quite got to. Some may have even been banned in your area of the country.

What are they? They are “the classics”.

Works of fiction that are considered classics have stood the test of time, have something important to say about their contemporary time period, or were a “first” of some kind. They are not daunting, or scary, or frightening to read.

Why read a classic? For all of the reasons listed above.  Reading a classic tells you something about a particular time period, or the thoughts, feelings, prejudices, motives of contemporary people. They tell us something about us as people. You may find that we are not that different than some of these infamous literary characters.

Many of us have read only a small selection of the world’s greatest books. The Cheshire Cats Classics is a book club for people who want to delve deeper into the world of classics to discover people, places and things which have become a part of our culture.