Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two makes four. Yet in the city of London located in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain) — a provinc...moreFreedom is the freedom to say two plus two makes four. Yet in the city of London located in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain) — a province of the superstate Oceania (formerly known as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom) — men and women are denied that freedom by a political system called English Socialism, also known as Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak. At the head of this political system is Big Brother, and Big Brother says two plus two makes five or three or, really, whatever Big Brother wants because Big Brother decides what is truth.
History is controlled by the Ministry of Truth, which is where the protagonist of the novel Winston Smith works rewriting newspaper articles so the historical record always supports the current party line. Those who question Big Brother or presume to insist two plus two makes four are often turned in by their neighbors and children, persecuted for “thoughtcrimes”, and tortured by the Ministry of Love. While Oceania is in a state of perpetual war, the Ministry of Abundance continues to tell the starving masses that agricultural yields and production levels continue to climb higher and higher.
Now that I have finished this novel, I’m wondering how and why I left it languishing on my to-read list for so many years. It truly is the masterpiece people claim it to be and I should not have resisted reading this novel for as long as I did.
The intricacies of the political system Orwell creates is particularly thought-provoking, and I found myself pausing the audiobook so I could ponder over a small detail Winston introduces into his narration. Although the year 1984 has long since passed, the message of this novel continues to resonate today, particularly as media outlets position themselves as supportive or critical of one political party and present the historical record in a certain light to reflect poorly on the opposing political party.
It is often stated that history is written by the victor, but is the record being continuously rewritten by each new regime? Is war a tool to motivate the economy? Is fear utilized by the political elite to control the masses and continue to perpetrate the need for war? Certainly, I can come up with examples to confirm the truth of all three questions in today’s society showing just how applicable the message of Orwell’s novel continues to be.
This is the second audiobook I have listed to narrated by Frank Muller, but this is the first where his narration really stood out in my mind. His ability to convey Winston’s anxiety and fear with the inflection of his voice caused me to tense, to feel those same emotions that the rather stark narrative might have caused me to miss.(less)
Circa the 1790s in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, an extremely superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut named Ichabod Crane competes with Abra...moreCirca the 1790s in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, an extremely superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut named Ichabod Crane competes with Abraham Van Brunt for the hand of eighteen-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child of a wealthy farmer names Baltus Van Tassel.
As Crane leaves a party at the Van Tassel home one autumn night, he travels through a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow and is pursued by the Headless Horseman, who is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during an unnamed battle of the American Revolutionary War.
This free audiobook was released by Audible in promotion of the second season of the television show “Sleepy Hollow” on Monday, September 22. Mison plays Ichabod Crane on the show so it was a little odd hearing him referring to Ichabod in the third person, but he has the perfect voice for audiobooks and adds intonations to the eighteenth century language used in the text that make it easier to follow the story. His pace was also perfect; I never had to speed up the audio as I have done in the past with other audiobooks.
Having watched the show based on this story, I was expecting a story that would inspire fear or, at least, have a creepy undercurrent to the story and in that regard the book was a disappointment. The descriptions of the characters and the setting are very vivid, but Irving’s capture on my imagination began to wane when the story failed to move forward as quickly as I expected.(less)
An aging spy at the height of the Cold War, Leamas is preparing to retire and return home to Britain but his spy master, known by the code name Contro...moreAn aging spy at the height of the Cold War, Leamas is preparing to retire and return home to Britain but his spy master, known by the code name Control, has one last assignment for him: present himself as a disgraced spy, be recruited by the Soviets, and root out the double agent helping the Communists to identify and kill Soviet spies working as double agents for Britain. Sent back out into the cold – the no-man’s land near the Berlin Wall – Leamas becomes entangled with Liz, a librarian’s assistant and member of the Communist Party on the democratic side of the Wall.
This was my third attempt reading the spy novel that made le Carré famous and while I finished reading the book this time, I will confess that I had no idea what was happening for the majority of the novel. It has a certain noir, black and white film quality to it that might translate well to the screen but is difficult to follow in a written format.
The characters speak in code to another, which may be due to this being the third book in the series and the author assuming a certain level of knowledge and familiarity with prior incidents and characters, but le Carré refuses to help readers decipher the code until the bitter end. The descriptions are sparse and little context is given to the characters’ dialogue; I often found myself wondering where in space – Great Britain, West Germany, or East Germany – the characters were in that moment.
I did, however, like the ending (and not just because the book was finally over), which seems to be rare given the reviews on GoodReads. It was the most suspenseful albeit bizarre moment in the entire novel finally pulling together the importance of Liz, who was the only interesting character to me, with Leamas’ mission. I can also understand why this book is such a classic with its heavy use of dialogue, sparse descriptions, and cool detachment from the story I’ve come to – justly or unjustly – associate with spy novels over the years.(less)
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature (the first ever awarded to a woman), Wharton’s novel follows a young lawyer, Newland Archer, as he moves a...moreWinner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature (the first ever awarded to a woman), Wharton’s novel follows a young lawyer, Newland Archer, as he moves about the elitist social circle of New York City and prepares to marry May Welland. Before Newland and May’s engagement is announced as the triumph it is, Countess Ellen Olenska, May’s cousin, returns to Manhattan introducing scandal to their circle for Ellen has separated from her abusive husband. Ellen’s disillusionment with the society in which she, Newland, and May were raised begins to trouble Newland, and he finds attraction to Ellen growing even as society champions Newland and May’s marriage as the pinnacle of good breeding and fortune.
Society – its conformity, ritual, and rules – is the main character of this novel and Wharton’s presentation of society rather than the characters of Newland, May, or Ellen is the thought-provoking aspect of this novel. Without society’s rigid structure, Newland would not worry about upsetting the status quo by following his heart, May would not entrap (for lack of a better word) her husband consigning both her and their children to life filled with resentment, and Ellen would not consider trading away separation from her abusive husband as the lesser of two evils. Without society’s rigid structure, the action of the novel might be less subtle and the details not so rich.
The manipulation of society’s rigid structure by Ellen, May, and Newland to meet their individual goals twists the novel into an entirely different interpretation. At a cursory read, the novel seems to be arguing against the constraints put upon people by society. Yet, as I pondered the characters and their scant actions, the novel also demonstrates the resourcefulness and meanness (for lack of a better work) people develop and internalize when consigned to such situations. May is presented as the villain or, at the very least, culpable in Ellen and Newland’s unhappiness due to her gentle (read: stupid) nature. Yet May sees her marriage to Newland for what it is – a means for entrance into the highest echelon of society – and carves out a modicum of control in order to keep that together. She plays the few cards she has and wins, at least in society’s view.
Unfortunately, the intense focus to details rather than action works against the novel from an audiobook standpoint. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration to catch all the details, to understand exactly why Newland is so resign in the face of so much desperation, and I was forever missing what originally appeared to be minute details forcing me the rewind again and again. The narrator, Lorna Raver, was also very easy to tune out – whether this is due to the intonation of her voice or the structure of the novel, I cannot ascertain. Oh, how I wish I had read rather than listened to this novel so as not to taint my appreciation.(less)
Emily Fox-Seton is, unfortunately, an impoverished young women with limited opportunities and largely depends upon the kindness of friends to carve ou...moreEmily Fox-Seton is, unfortunately, an impoverished young women with limited opportunities and largely depends upon the kindness of friends to carve out an existence in the world. But she is well liked by friends and acquaintances, who appreciate her good nature by largely taking advantage of her, and manages to land an invitation to Lady Maria Bayne’s house party at Mallowe Court where she meets a the Marquis, Lord Walderhurst. The first part of the novel covers Emily’s time at the party and her marriage to the Marquis.
The second part, entitled “The Methods of Lady Walderhurst”, explores the realities of marriage where a heir is desperately needed in order to prevent the black sheep of the family from inheriting. Lord Walderhurt’s heir, Osborne, and Osborne’s wife arrive in England from India determined to prevent the title from passing to Emily and Walderhurt’s prospective offspring by taking Emily’s life. Emily, of course, is largely left undefended from Osborne’s attacks and must figure out how to cleverly avoid them with the help of her friend and maid.
The first section is quaint exploring the seemingly impossible romance between a Marquis and a poor woman over the more expected pairing of the Marquis and an American heiress or Lord Walderhurst and Lady Agatha Slade. Predictable, of course, and marked with characters who plaintively live out the ideals for the time but a diverting read filled with lovely descriptions.
The second part is presented as a gothic thriller but reads like today’s regency romance novels with the heir presumptive on a murderous rampage and the woman married for her genteel character keeping a large secret from her often distant husband. Given the time at which the novel was written, I was surprised Burnett would explore life after marriage let alone allow her characters to kiss or address alcoholism and domestic abuse. The overall chasteness and comforting quality of the book reminded me of those by Georgette Heyer.
The Making of a Marchioness was sweet and a pleasant read, but I have read Burnett’s more well-known childrens’ books and missed the magical qualities of those books in this one.(less)
Subtitled “Life Among the Lowly”, Stowe’s anti-slavery novel begins with Eliza learning her son, George, and the middle-aged Tom, who has a wife and c...moreSubtitled “Life Among the Lowly”, Stowe’s anti-slavery novel begins with Eliza learning her son, George, and the middle-aged Tom, who has a wife and children, have been sold by the Shelbys to pay off their debts. Eliza and Tom have been with the Shelbys since Arthur and Emily were children and the Shelbys consider themselves good, caring masters.
But Arthur ignores his earlier promise of giving Tom his freedom and Emily is unable to hold her promise to Eliza that her only child will be not be taken from her. While Eliza makes a run for freedom with her little boy across a treacherous river crossing, Tom is sold and travels on a riverboat down the Mississippi River.
Once on board, Tom is purchased by Augustine St. Clare and taken to New Orleans where he continues his friendship with Eva St. Clare over their shared Christian faith. Eva eventually becomes very ill and her deep faith in the face of death at a young age convinces her father to free Tom and her cousin Ophelia, who is against slavery, to reject all her prejudices against blacks and finally accept Topsy, who St. Clare purchased to show Ophelia that he is not biased against blacks despite owning slaves. After Eva’s death and the sudden death of her father, Tom is sold to Simon Legree and taken to a plantation somewhere in Louisiana. Tom refuses to whip the other slaves on the plantation and is punished for both his refusal and his deep faith in God by Legree.
Meanwhile, Eliza locates her husband George Harris, who ran away after his owner pressed him to set aside his marriage vows to Eliza and marry a slave on his new owner’s plantation. Their escape to Canada is thwarted by the slave hunter Tom Loker, and George pushes the man over a cliff after her and Eliza have been captured. Despite the risk to them, Eliza insists George take Tom to a nearby Quaker community for medical treatment.
According to the case of this audiobook, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln told Stowe her work had been a catalyst for the Civil War and “Stowe’s Tom is actually American literature’s first black hero, a man who suffers for refusing to obey his white oppressors”. Both statements make me glad I finally read the novel, and her didactic arguments are particularly important in framework of understanding American history.
Listening to the audiobook read by Richard Allen allowed me to appreciate the dialects employed by Stowe in her characterizations and helped distinguish between each of the characters. Given the title, it is certainly understandable why people remember Tom most vividly, but I thought the “secondary” character of George was largely exempt from many of the problems — one-dimensionality, caricature, stereotypes — that plagued the majority of the characters in this book, which clearly arise due to the edifying purpose of the novel.
As I was listening to the novel, though, I could not help but wonder if the reason the book has not stood the test of time — that is, there has not been a film adaptation since 1965 and the novel is not taught in public schools — is due to its heavy reliance upon both stereotypes about black people and Christianity. Both Uncle Tom and Eliza are presented as people pleased with slavery while under the ownership of the Shirleys. It is only after they are sold (and the Shirleys succumbed to the sin of greed) that slavery is shown to be the true evil that it is.
In addition to advocating for the end of slavery in America, Stowe’s novel puts for the idea that a strong Christian faith can help slaves overcome the violence inflicted on them and help slave owners see the errors of their way and, therefore, appears to suggest that being morally opposed to slavery comes about solely as a result of being a Christian. Given the time period in which the novel was written, it is understandable for a large number of the characters to proclaim to be Christians and, personally, I’m glad she addressed the claims on the part of slave owners that owning slaves is Christian.
But I would also argue against her equation of Christianity with moral authority, and I can see how such assertions would make it difficult for the novel to be covered in a public school such as the ones I attended. (Her advocating for freed slaves being sent to Africa rather than integration in American society in the epilogue could also be difficult to “teach” to students.) So, yes, the novel is historically important and filled with very memorable characters with, sadly, not entirely unique experiences, but the problematic stereotypes and didactic nature of the novel makes it understandable as way the novel has faded from prominence.(less)
The tenth book in Christie’s series starring the private detective Hercule Poirot crisscrossing the “Orient” from Baghdad to Beirut to Istanbul before...moreThe tenth book in Christie’s series starring the private detective Hercule Poirot crisscrossing the “Orient” from Baghdad to Beirut to Istanbul before a snowdrift stops the train in its tracks in the now former Yugoslavia just after midnight. The passengers, including Poirot, are anxious to reach their destinations and disembark the crowded train yet the train is stopped once more with the discovery of an American passenger laying inside his compartment stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.
It comes to light that Ratchett, the victim, was the mastermind behind the kidnapping and murder of Daisy Armstrong, a toddler well-beloved by her mother, a socialite, and her father, who served in the United States military. The similarities to the Lindbergh kidnapping are evident; the Armstrong’s nurse commits suicide following the intense questioning just like the Lindbergh’s nurse. In this case, though, the focus is not on the murder of little Daisy Armstrong by on the murder of her accused murderer.
Christie is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the best-selling novelist of all time, and considered the “Queen of Crime” because she constructed the classic mystery structure: a murder is committed, multiple suspects exist and all conceal secrets, and the detective uncovers these secrets over the course of the story with the most shocking twists towards the end. It is a structure I am quite familiar with albeit without the chase scenes and gun violence of more recent mystery novels I have read. Thus Christie’s novel relies on sheer intrigue rather than violent interactions to carry her story; the murder ends up being much sneaker and the process of solving the crime much more intriguing.
I had an inkling who the murder might be – although, I can’t decide if that is because the ending was spoiled for me many years ago – but I fell for many of the red herrings along the way before reaching the end. Poirot is smug in his explanation at the end, and I’m afraid I might tired of such a character were I to quickly plow through the rest of the books in the series. But flipping back through the novel to reread certain passages where important pieces of evidence are subtly revealed proved just how genius Christie was so I’m considering taking the risk.(less)
Although I have seen the 1939 movie adaptation several times and a few other stage and movie adaptations, I never felt a desire to read the original n...moreAlthough I have seen the 1939 movie adaptation several times and a few other stage and movie adaptations, I never felt a desire to read the original novel until I finished slogging through Gregory Maguire’s prequel to Braum’s tale. The novel tells the story of a little girl from Kansas named Dorothy who is swept off to the land of Oz by a tornado with her house and her little dog, Toto. The house lands on top of the unnamed Wicked Witch of the East, whose silver shoes are given to Dorothy in thanks by the Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins, and Dorothy wears them during her journey to the Emerald City to beseech the Wizard of Oz to help her home. Along the way, Dorothy makes friends with a cast of characters who all claim to be missing a vital characteristic – brains, a heart, and braveness.
The introduction to the edition I borrowed from the library explains how this is the first American fairy tale and how Toto is actually the unsung hero of the book. It is Toto who leads Dorothy to Oz after heading into the house rather than the storm cellar during the approaching storm, who reveals the Wizard’s true identity, and who saves Dorothy on more than one occasion during her cross-country voyage home to Kansas. Having now read the book, I would certainly agree with that assessment – poor Toto deserved more than being held by his ear!
One aspect I loved about this novel is – spoiler alert! – the fact that the characters are searching for what they already have. The Scarecrow laments how he lacks any brains yet, when we first meet him, it is the Scarecrow who instructs Dorothy on how to get him down from his perch. It is the Scarecrow who figures out how to save Dorothy from the toxic poppies with the Tin Man. The Tin Man says he has no heart, but his story before he was turned into tin and his actions afterwards show he is capable of forming relationships with people. The Cowardly Lion does not hesitate to leap across places along the Yellow Brick Road where the bridge has crumbled away. And even Dorothy, despite her fervent desire to go home, is able to craft a home-like environment and new family in the land of Oz. The whole purpose of the novel, therefore, is not to travel to the land of Oz but to show readers that sometimes what you think you lack, what you are searching for is something you already have.
I always thought the transition from black and white to color in the film, which completely surprised me the first time I saw the movie, was a clever film technique meant to show off the availability to create films in color. In actuality, the “technique” is codified in novel with Braum using drab, dreary words to create Kansas and more colorful words to describe Oz. (Although, silver shoes are decidedly less colorful than red.) Auntie Em is a cold woman unaccustomed to a child’s laughter unlike the film where she is actually very loving towards to Dorothy, and it struck me as odd that Dorothy was so eager to leave colorful Oz for drab Kansas. But, I suppose, Dorothy noticed how easily people can become blinded to the important things in life by false coloring and imagery.
I can certainly understand why this tale is considered a classic and why, according to the introduction, this book became so immensely popular when it was first published in 1900. I only wish I had read it when I was younger – either before or after I saw the movie – as I think it would have really captured my imagination just as the film did. (less)