Sunday, August 19, 2012

Less Perfect and More Free

Aldous Huxley
Brave New World was written by Aldous Huxley as a vision of a future "utopia". Here, everyone is engineered for compliance. Even before decanting, (no one is born from a mother nowadays), each bottle is given special treatment to best suit it to its future assignment in life. As each little child is raised, hypnopaedic (sleep-learning) methods are used to ingrain the mindset decided upon for it. They are taught to be happy with their station in life, to be happy at their job, to be happy in their social life, where promiscuity is the norm. Everyone has everything they could possibly need or want. And if ever they should be unhappy, there is always soma, a drug with no side effects or downside. The government is not visibly oppressive or constantly rationing and controlling as in George Orwell's 1984. In Brave New World, there are no Thought Police because people have been trained to be happy with the life they have, which is not a drudgery. No one needs to watch your choices when you have no choice. You have been trained to make the 'right' choice from the beginning. The people of Huxley's dystopia have lost their freedom - and their humanity. Huxley's book is frightening because everyone is happy; the totalitarian regime is not starving them or mistreating them. Individuals have lost their freedom for the greater good.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats was written by T.S. Eliot. It was also the basis for the musical CATS, the second longest running Broadway show.
The book is actually a collection of seventeen poems about, obviously enough, cats. I enjoyed the subject matter; I am definitely a cat person. I also liked the rhythm and the nonsensical qualities of the poetry. Some of the poems are quite accurate; cats can indeed be little beasties at times. My personal favorite poem is 'The Naming of Cats'. Other favorites are 'The Addressing of Cats' and 'Macavity: The Mystery Cat'.

"The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter,
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES."
-T.S. Eliot, 'The Naming of Cats'

"You now have learned enough to see
That Cats are much like you and me
And other people whom we find
Possessed of various types of mind.
For some are sane and some are mad
And some are good and some are bad
And some are better, some are worse-
But all may be described in verse."
-T.S. Eliot, 'The Addressing of Cats'

Note: The link to the poems only give selected portions of the poems.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Thomas C. Foster
Written by Thomas C. Foster, How to Read Literature Like a Professor was assigned as summer reading at my school. I thought it would be boring, but it wasn't. In fact, it was humorous at times and always interesting.
This book is about how to analyze the patterns and symbols in other books. Most of the book is spent on common symbols and what they may or may not mean. For example, there is a chapter about weather. Rain can be used to force characters together or to isolate them.  Some rain can be cleansing; it all depends on the story. Snow can be insulating and create a close, cozy environment; however, snow can also be a severe, inhuman element of a story. There is also a small section on irony, which turns everything upside down, and a part about reading with the mindset of the author's intended audience. Common patterns that may relate to myths, Biblical stories, or fairy tales are also discussed. In one case, Foster explains how Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." is also another version of the story of The Prodigal Son from the Bible.
Multiple examples are used throughout the book to illustrate points, but even if you haven't read the book he is referring to, the examples have enough information in them that you will understand what they mean.
While you can't expect one book to make you as good at analyzing literature as an English professor, I think this book can help you to look out for symbolism and deeper meaning in literature.