Tuesday, August 23, 2011

1984 by George Orwell (2 down, 98 to go)

This is the second time I’ve read 1984, and the second work I’ve read by George Orwell. 1984 is a dystopian novel set in London in – you guessed it, 1984. Published in 1948, it was wildly futuristic at the time. It tells the tale of Winston Smith and his struggle against the oppressive and autocratic government.

My Rating: 3 1/2 of 5 stars


I liked this much more on the second read, though I still didn’t love it. It was riveting, and almost prophetic, though Orwell missed the date by a few decades.

The protagonist, Winston Smith is a petty bureaucrat at the Ministry of Truth, where he revises newspaper and magazine stories, to conform to the government’s ever changing version of the truth. Smith secretly hates the government and its leader Big Brother. Such hatred is a thought crime punishable by death, so Smith drudges on impotent to change anything. He becomes obsessed with Julia, a woman he initially loathes, as she appears to be an obedient party tool – until she slips him a note professing her love. The two begin a dangerous liaison and Smith learns he is not alone, as Julia is connected with an underground resistance.

The reader is thrilled for Smith – no longer an impotent drone, but also fears that each rendezvous only increases the risk of discovery.

It isn't meant to be cheery of course, it's meant to warn us of a future that could be. In that regard, it's quite brilliant. Orwell wrote it in the 40s, and though he was well off on dates and specific technologies, the bigger principles of revisionist history, government invasion of privacy, and thought crimes are not at all extraordinary. In that regard, the warning is still as poignant as ever.

I was very intrigued by Newspeak, the official language in Orwell's vision of the future. Newspeak eliminated countless redundancies of English. We have words such as: small, tiny, little, that mean essentially the same thing, and then multiple other words that mean the opposite such as: big, large, huge, etc. Newspeak eliminates all but one of these, and then with a prefix and two suffixes covers the entire range: small, smaller, smallest, unsmall, unsmaller, and unsmallest. The pragmatic in me thinks this is brilliant. But the romantic finds it to be the unbeautifulest language imaginable.

Film Rendition: Released in, you guessed it 1984, is true to the book, and possibly more depressing with the bleak imagery. I would never have considered John Hurt as Winston Smith, but he pulled it off quite convincingly.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1 down, 99 to go)

...If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life. ~ Nick's surmise of Gatsby


This is the second time I've read The Great Gatsby. It is a modernist novel, set in New York during the roaring twenties. It is Nick Carraway's first-person narrative of his brief acquaintance with the mysterious and flamboyant Jay Gatsby. 


My Rating: 3 1/2 OF 5 STARS


I didn't care much for The Great Gatsby on my first read. I enjoyed it a bit more the second; I certainly admire Fitzgerald’s craft as a writer, but overall, I still found it depressing and without a hero. With this second reading, I found Tom a bit more absurd, Daisy a bit more dislikeable, Jordan a bit less dislikeable, and Nick, the closest thing to a hero, just as impotent as before. He has one glorious moment when he recalls a bit of advice from his father:


Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.


Good advice in and of itself, but since dear old dad is not principal to the story it seems a bit specious to ascribe to him the grand moment. Besides, I like Nick’s commentary even better.


Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. 


And lest I appear too sappy, I like almost equally as much, his tongue in cheek observation on the risk of applying such a grand and glorious ideal, that it made him,


...the victim of not a few veteran bores.


I confess, I don’t really get the end, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly against the past.” Oh, I get how it may apply to Gatsby. Indeed, without searching for the exact quotation, Nick once said you can’t go back to the past, Gatsby rebuffed him and said of course you can or something very close to that. Gatsby was obsessed with a past that had vanished and determined to get back to it. In the end, he failed of course. And as I said…No Hero, No hope.


I doubt this shall be MY number 1, when the list is done.


Film Renditions: 2000 A&E movie version of The Great Gatsby with Toby Stephens as Gatsby and Mira Sorvino as Daisy has impressive casting and is very true to the book. 2013 version with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Toby Maguire as Nick is also well cast, with great wardrobe, and a decent screen adaption, fairly true to the novel, but the soundtrack was ASTONISHINGLY HORRIBLE. I'm not quite hip enough to tell you what it was. It was rap, and/or hip hop, techno, stuff. Not period appropriate at all. It was truly baffling.



The Official List of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time, henceforth to be known as My List.

The 100 Greatest Novels - The official Quest.

1. ★★★½  The Great Gatsby     by F. Scott Fitzgerald  (1925)
2. ★★★½  Nineteen Eighty-Four     by George Orwell (1948)
3. ★★★½  The Catcher in the Rye     by J. D. Salinger (1951)
4.   On the Road     by Jack Kerouac (1957)
5. ★★½  Ulysses     by James Joyce (1922)
6. ★★★½  Catch-22     by Joseph Heller (1961)
7. ★★★½  Animal Farm     by George Orwell (1946)
8. ★★★★★  The Grapes of Wrath     by John Steinbeck (1939)
9. ★★★  The Sound and the Fury     by William Faulkner (1929)
10. DNF  Lolita     by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
10. ★★★★★  Lord of the Flies     by William Golding (1955)
11. ★★★★  Invisible Man     by Ralph Ellison (1952)
12. ★★½  The Sun Also Rises     by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
13. ★★½  To the Lighthouse     by Virginia Woolf (1927)
14. ★★★  As I Lay Dying     by William Faulkner (1930)
15. ★★★½  Brave New World     by Aldous Huxley (1932)
16. ★★★★★  The Lord of the Rings +The Hobbit     by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)
17. ★★★½  Slaughterhouse-Five     by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
18. ★★★★★  To Kill a Mockingbird     by Harper Lee (1960)
19. ★★★  A Clockwork Orange     by Anthony Burgess (1963)
20. ★★★  Heart of Darkness     by Joseph Conrad (1899)
21. ★★★½  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest     by Ken Kessey (1962)
22. ★★★★  Brideshead Revisited     by Evelyn Waugh (1946)
23. ★★★★  Atonement     by Ian McEwan (2002)
24. ★★★★  Blood Meridian     by Cormac McCarthy (1986)
25. ★★★  Don Quixote     by Miguel de Cervantes (1620)
26. ★★★★  The Brothers Karamazov     by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
27. ★★★★  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn     by Mark Twain (1884)
28. ★★★★½  Anna Karenina     by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
29. ★★★★★  Gone With the Wind     by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
30. ★★★  Moby Dick     by Herman Melville (1851)
31. ★★★★½  Jane Eyre     by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
32. ★★★  Under the Volcano     by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
33. ★★★  Wuthering Heights     by Emily Brontë (1847)
34. ★★★★  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter     by Carson McCullers (1940)
35. ★★★½  Madame Bovary     by Gustave Flaubert (1856)
36. ★★★½  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man     by James Joyce (1916)
37. ★★★½  A Passage to India     by E. M. Forster (1924)
38. ★★★  One Hundred Years of Solitude
                       by Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1970)
39. ★★★½  Absalom, Absalom!     by William Faulkner (1936)
40. ★★★★  The French Lieutenant's Woman     by John Fowles (1969)
41. ★★★½  Frankenstein     by Mary Shelley (1818)
42. ★★★½  I, Claudius     by Robert Graves (1934)
43. ★★★★  Pale Fire     by Vladimir Nabokov (1962)
44. ★★★★  Nostromo     by Joseph Conrad (1904)
45. ★★★★  Emma     by Jane Austen (1816)
46. ★★★½  The Trial     by Franz Kafka (1925)
47. DNF  Gravity's Rainbow     by Thomas Pynchon (1973)
47. ★★★½  The Moviegoer     by Walker Percy (1961)
48. ★★★★½  Dune     by Frank Herbert (1965)
49. ★★★★  The Adventures of Augie March     by Saul Bellow (1953)
50. ★★★★★  David Copperfield     by Charles Dickens (1850)
51. DNF  Tropic of Cancer     by Henry Miller (1934)
51. ★★★  The Big Sleep     by Raymond Chandler (1939)
52. ★★★½  Of Human Bondage      by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)
53. ★★★★  Death Comes for the Archbishop     by Willa Cather (1927)
54. ★★★★  Beloved     by Toni Morrison (1987)
55. ★★★  The Day of the Locust     by Nathanael West (1939)
56. ★★★½  Lucky Jim     by Kingsley Amis (1954)
57. ★★★★  The Call of the Wild     by Jack London (1903)
58. ★★★★  The Scarlet Letter     by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
59. ★★★  Mrs. Dalloway     by Virginia Woolf (1925)
60. ★★★½  Light in August     by William Faulkner (1932)
61. ★★★½  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie     by Muriel Spark (1961)
62. ★★★½  A Farewell to Arms     by Ernest Hemingway (1929)
63. ★★★★  American Pastoral     by Philip Roth (1997)
64. ★★★  A Bend in the River     by V. S. Naipaul (1979)
65. ★★  Money     by Martin Amis (1984)
66. ★★★★  The Sheltering Sky     by Paul Bowles (1949)
67. ★★★★  Tom Jones     by Henry Fielding (1749)
68. ★★★★½  Pride and Prejudice     by Jane Austen (1813)
69. ★★★★  War and Peace     by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
70. ★★★★★  The Count of Monte Cristo     by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
71. ★★  The Ambassadors     by Henry James (1903)
72. ★★★★  An American Tragedy     by Theodore Dreiser (1925)
73. ★★★★½  Atlas Shrugged     by Ayn Rand (1957)
74. ★★★★  Great Expectations     by Charles Dickens (1861)
75. ★★★½  The Fountainhead     by Ayn Rand (1943)
76. ★★½  The Wings of the Dove     by Henry James (1902)
77. ★★★★½  Les Misérables     by Victor Hugo (1862)
78. ★★★★  Crime and Punishment     by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
79★★★½  The Heart of the Matter     by Graham Greene (1948)
80★★★½  Appointment in Samarra     by John O’Hara (1934)
81. ★★★★½  Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)
82. ★★  The Golden Bowl     by Henry James (1904)
83★★★½  The Portrait of a Lady     by Henry James (1881)
84★★★  Tristram Shandy     by Laurence Sterne (1759)
85★★★½  A Handful of Dust     by Evelyn Waugh (1934)
86. ★★★★  All the King's Men     by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
87. ★★★★  The Picture of Dorian Gray     by Oscar Wilde (1890)
88★★  The Good Soldier     by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
89. ★★★★  The Bridge of San Luis Rey     by Thornton Wilder (1927)
90. ★★★★★  The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (1956)
91. ½  Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (1931)
92★★★½  The Charterhouse of Parma     by Stendhal (1839)
93. ★★★★  Go Tell it on the Mountain     by James Baldwin (1953)
94★★★½  U.S.A.   by John Dos Passos (1936)
95. ★★★★  Native Son     by Richard Wright (1940)
96. ★★★★½  Deliverance     by James Dickey (1970)
97. ★★★★½  The Stand     by Stephen King (1978)
98. ★★★★½  Little Women     by Louisa May Alcott (1869)
99★★★½  A Dance to the Music of Time   by Anthony Powell (1951)
100. ★★★★  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams (1980)