Tag Archives: george orwell

Assorted book reviews

I’m behind on my book reviews again. Here’s another bunch.

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger (unabridged audiobook read by Bernadette Dunne): Since the movie was so popular, I probably don’t need to mention that this is the story of recent college graduate Andrea Sachs and her year of servitude to Runway Magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly. As her time under the thumb of this self-possessed, uber-demanding witch continues, Andrea finds all the things she used to cherish – her family, boyfriend, and best friend – slipping away from her. It definitely had its funny moments, but all in all I wasn’t too impressed with Andrea. She was snobbish and I was simply not convinced that she or anyone else believed her constant torment as Junior Assistant was really worth a vague possibility that Miranda could get her any job she wished at the end of it (her dream is to work at The New Yorker). I found myself repeatedly wondering why she didn’t just quit already. Still, it was a decently light and fun way to pass an otherwise intolerably long commute. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie now. I hear Meryl Streep is absolutely delightful.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (unabridged audiobook read by Justine Eyre and Paul Michael): An interesting take on the Dracula legend told mostly in the form of letters from various people who hunted him. Though a bit slow and academic in some places, by and large it’s a fascinating psuedo-history lesson.

Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos: Innumeracy is not the inability to count, but rather a lack of a general grasp of numbers and how they work. Its dangers, and they are many, are generally outlined in this book, though it is not nearly as alarmist as it could have been. The target audience is mostly the innumerate and those numerates who are curious or concerned about innumeracy. Though I was familiar with all the mathematical concepts covered, I did learn some new things and discovered some new ways of looking at information. Though far from dense, the writing style is not quite as accessible as I’d hoped, and I suspect most innumerates and math-phobes will pass it by. Which is a shame.

Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison: The first in a series of loony escapades of a country bumpkin turned soldier. In truth it felt more like a prequel, explaining the origins of Bill’s involvement with the Troopers, his two right arms, and his tusks. It was a very quick read and definitely had its funny moments, but it would probably be funnier to someone who doesn’t deal with painfully inane bureaucracy in real life. I have a feeling the next books will be better now that the characters are established.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (unabridged audiobook): This is the story of Jonathan the American and Alex the Ukrainian, who are both writing novels and sharing them with each other chapter by chapter. The stories switch off regularly: first a portion of Alex’s novel about his time working as translator for Jonathan as they journey through Ukraine looking for a woman who saved Jonathan’s grandfather from the Nazis during WWII. Next is a chapter from Jonathan’s novel about his ancestors in Ukraine. Lastly is a letter from Alex to Jonathan to discuss their novels-in-progress. There were two readers: one playing Alex and reading his novel and letters, and the other reading Jonathan’s novel. Alex’s frequent malapropisms are quite funny, in no small part due to the talented reader, but the back-and-forth of translation often leads to an obnoxious amount of repetition. Jonathan’s novel is, sadly, a complete waste of time. I’m not sure how much of this is due to the awkward, boring reader and how much is simply overwrought prose.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger: It is extremely rare for me to get emotionally attached to fictional characters. As much as I enjoy reading, it’s more a pastime than a driving need to dive back into the tale. Not so with this book. I adored the characters. I was entranced by Clare and Henry’s relationship, and fascinated by Henry’s genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time without any control over when or where he ends up. I cried – no, sobbed – at certain moments with a depth of feeling I haven’t had for fiction in a very, very long time. I highly recommend this book.

Animal Farm by George Orwell (unabridged audiobook): I’m pretty sure I saw the animated film at some point in my youth, but the book is far better. Orwell is brilliant as usual. And it certainly didn’t hurt that the reader was very engaging.

Anybody Can Write by Roberta Jean Bryant: Bryant believes that above all, writing should be fun. That if a writer isn’t enjoying his/her own story, neither will the reader. She accepts the reality of many drafts and much rewriting, but sees that part of the process as rewarding as the initial creative spurts. All in all it’s an engaging read that didn’t really inspire me. Included are several “Wordplay” exercises, none of which interested me very much. Of course, every writer is different, so perhaps this book would be just the trick for someone with another style.

1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell: I’ve wanted to read this for a long time, but was never forced to in school and just didn’t get around to it until now. It’s an important book. Not only does it detail the dangers of totalitarianism, but also raises some really good questions about the nature of the past. Basically, if something happened in the past, and then all documentation was changed so that it appears to have not happened, and then everybody says it never happened, how can you be so sure you really remember it at all?

A brilliant book, if a bit slow in places. It’s driven much more by description of the dystopian land of Oceania than by character or plot. If you’re interested in the inner workings of the socio-political landscape, you’ll enjoy it. If you just want a fun little sci-fi romp, this probably isn’t for you.

All the same, I think it’s a book people should read. The world of 1984 may seem overdramatic, but it is one plausible outcome of the gradual sacrifice of privacy and property in favor of governmental protection or the nebulous “common good.” It’s something worth thinking about. Indeed, that is perhaps this book’s strongest point: it left me with an unusually large number of things to think about. That, my friends, is truly high praise for a novel.

[Note: Star Trek: The Next Generation totally ripped off this book in the episode “Chain of Command” with the five/four lights thing. But Picard was a whole lot more badass under pressure than Winston, so they get points for that.]

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