Tag Archives: George Orwell

New Books: May

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Here are my book purchases for May:

  • Penguin Classics Catalogue     £2 (that’s full price)
  • Wilkie Collins –  The Moonstone     25p
  • William Gibson & Bruce Sterling –  The Difference Engine     25p
  • Rebecca Hunt –  Mr Chartwell     25p
  • Jane Austen –  Persuasion     99p
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle –  The Sign of Four     99p
  • Joseph Conrad –  The Secret Agent     99p
  • Ted Hughes –  The Iron Woman     50p
  • George Orwell –  The Road to Wigan Pier     99p
  • Joseph Heller –  Catch-22     50p
  • John Christopher –  The Death of Grass      99p
  • George Orwell –  Animal Farm     99p
  • Barry Hines –  A Kestrel for a Knave     99p

I know I already have a copy of ‘Animal Farm’, but this is one of the wonderful Penguin Modern Classics editions with the big text on the front and the white spine which I truly adore (I prefer these to the black Penguin Classics, personally), which both matches my edition of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and includes introductions, which my previous copy doesn’t.

However, the Ted Hughes book was a bit of a let down, as I didn’t notice until I got it home, but the first page is missing. Ho-hum.

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2013- Electric Puppet’s first 5 months in review

2014

Well- it’s New Year’s Eve, and time to reflect on what has gone on over the past year. For my family, this has been a big year, as we left the comfort and splendour of Oxford to return to our home city of Stoke-on-Trent; I graduated from university; I got my first job; we decided where we want to go with our life in the near and more distant future, thanks to an American man and his family on YouTube; I completed my first book of poetry, which had been languishing prior to this summer; I took the plunge and begun this blog, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while; and have got back in contact with several family members that I haven’t seen for the best part of a decade thanks to Facebook. It has been eventful, and had also been emotional and tiring for all of us. Also, with any luck, next year should be just as eventful- beginning work; trying to get my book published; endeavouring to write the novel and short story collection that I’ve been planning for a month or so; and getting married. Yes: my partner and I are getting married next year!

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In terms of this blog, I will be getting up several ‘Thoughts on…’ posts for the books I have read recently- the first two Adrian Mole books, Penelope Lively’s ‘Heat Wave’, Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’, and Tove Jansson’s ‘Finn Family Moomintroll’- in the new year, and hopefully will get the first few up on New Year’s Day. For now, though, I thought that I would highlight a selection of posts from this blog that have proved popular, may have been overlooked, or are of relative interest for me.

I think that’s enough links to my other posts to be getting on with for now. Anyway- check some of these out if you haven’t already, or have a browse of the blog and see what you come across. Also, you can follow Electric Puppet on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

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Lastly, here are a few fellow bloggers that I’ve come across in the past few months that you may find of interest:

Don’t Bend, Ascend

These Bones of Mine

Bones Don’t Lie

A Corner Of Tenth-Century Europe (written by one of my Anglo-Saxon lecturers from Oxford; he has since moved on to work at Birmingham University)

Museum Postcard

Prehistories

Interesting Literature

I hope you have a very happy New Year, and that 2014 will be good for you.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

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Thoughts on George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

1984 eyes

This post has been a long time in mental gestation, as I’ve been mulling over for some time how quite to sum up what has to be one of the best books I have ever read. I can’t even say why I particularly like the novel. However, I did build the book up quite a lot in my expectations prior to reading it, as I put it off and put it off in order to wait until I felt ready to engage fully with the text; I didn’t want to approach it half-heartedly. Despite this build-up, I think that the book managed to work on me on its own merit, rather than on my assumptions of what it would be, in part because the book is actually so much more than I had ever expected.  For one, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a love story, albeit one with no happy, fairytale ending. Also, on a political level, it is not so much of a commentary upon what could happen if a political party gained too much power or a nation became an extreme police state, but it is more an exercise in how far the human mind can be stretched before it can too be controlled. In a recent song, Lady Gaga sings that “You won’t use my mind but / Do what you want with my body”, but here, in Orwell’s future, they will use your mind and make you believe whatever they want you to, whether this be that two allies are suddenly at war and have forever been in such a state, or that 2 + 2 = 5.  I think that it is this message about the mind that we are presented with here that sticks with me, personally, and which makes the book so much more than mere dystopian fiction or political warning. We know that political regimes can control the information that its subjects receive and the way in which it is presented- Hitler and Stalin did it in the past, and in the present we have Russian government suppressing the voice of those who disagree, the Chinese blocking the internet to stop certain materials reaching into the country, North Korea banning almost everything that speaks of the outside world, and countless other nations that control and censor in order to remain in power. However, it is beyond the reach of any leader to actually control the way in which its people think on a truly base level. Sure, propaganda can brainwash to an extent, but not in the way that we see Winston’s mind turned at the end of this novel, and it is this that is truly frightening- the idea that people may be able to be reprogrammed in such a way as they carry out ‘double-think’ on a daily and continuous basis, and indeed believe that 2 + 2 = 5, despite also being able to see that it logically and mathematically can never be the case. (I’m sure that there are many ways in which it could be argued that people can be made to think exactly what someone else wants them to, and examples that can be given such as Nazis carrying out the atrocities of WWII, but no example can be given where the way that someone thinks is overridden to such an extent as it is here. There were several times during Winston’s torture and interrogation by O’Brien that I gasped aloud due to the latter’s ignorance and frightening acceptance of party lies, such as those detailing Big Brother’s role in science and the works of nature. However, such scenes also work well to show the party and the entire concept of double-think and thought control to be preposterous and something of a hyperbolised distortion of what really goes on.)

Another aspect of the novel that I found frightening was the concept behind ‘Newspeak’- if the langauge is reduced to its barest form and the words for ‘thought-crimes’ are removed, then people will not carry out ‘thought-crimes’, as the words to express the thought will no longer exist. The concept and idea makes sense- for example, I am limited in the amount of French that I can speak, and so if I do not know the word or words for something in French, then I cannot discuss it in that language. However, for a lover of literature and language, such a destruction and reduction of an entire lexicon is a terrifying thought, with the translation of existing works such as Shakespeare and Dickens into ‘Newspeak’ tantamount to sacrilege. Here we can see the way in which the Party attempts to control thought, by changing the very vocabulary that people use to think and therefore the way in which thoughts present themselves and can be ordered in the mind.

I was also surprised and impressed by the way in which the Ministry of Love was made out to be a place where political dissidents were killed, when in actuality it was a place where people were re-educated and taught how to think afresh, with those who were believed to have disappeared simply being reintroduced into society as a different person. This for me managed to place the Party on a different level to actual regimes that are fuelled by oppression, and showed a fate that is almost worse than death. However, the torture scenes were surprisingly effective, and shocking in just quite how graphic they were, considering that the novel was published in 1949. It was also in these torture scenes that I was reminded of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (see here for my ‘Thoughts on…’ regarding this novella), and only at this point that I realised quite how much Burgess was influenced in the writing of his book by Orwell and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. Burgess’s debt to Orwell can be seen clearly in the former’s book ‘1985’, which uses his ideas and style to produce a more modern echo of the novel, and which begins with an extended interview with Burgess talking about ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. However, this book and ‘A Clockwork Orange’ don’t just share torture scenes in common, but both stories are ultimately concerned with the nature of human agency and free will, and the ability of the individual to be in control of their own thoughts. It is this shared theme that I think makes these both such fantastic and thought-provoking works, but for me ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ triumphs over ‘A Clockwork Orange’ for several reasons. Whereas the latter concerns itself with the re-education of a teenager who is seen to need altering and correcting before he becomes an adult, Orwell’s story is more frightening, as it does not take an individual susceptible to influence (i.e. the teenager), but a middle-aged adult who is already educated, and so should be already able to think for himself. It also takes the idea of individual control, and extends this to an entire world (or at least an entire country. It is my personal theory that ‘Airstrip One’ is actually the only such controlled nation in the world, and that the rest of the world is actually as we know it to be. All ideas of ‘Eurasia’ and ‘Oceania’ and the endless wars are actually fabrications of the Party, and the world continues as usual beyond the country’s shores). There were many occasions whilst reading the novel that I was genuinely frightened by what I read, and was fearful for the world that was envisaged and the similarities that can be seen between the novel and our world, as well as the potentials that the story offers. To see the book as simply one commentating upon the surveillance and spying of governments is to not get under the skin of the text, and it holds messages and ideas that run deeper than this. I haven’t really touched here upon the love story between Winston and Julia, which forms the axis around which the novel revolves and around which Winston is finally destroyed, but this too should be seen as a further key to understanding the novel. It is love that helps to hold Winston together, as well as the weapon with which he is ultimately defeated.

These ‘Thoughts on…’ have been difficult for me to write, as I have been unsure quite how to explain this novel, its themes and the reasons why I like it so much, but I hope that I have gone someway to explaining my ideas and thoughts. I would not hesitate to recommend this book, and think- as with ‘Animal Farm’- that it should be required reading for everyone; I will certainly be re-reading it, but don’t think that I could cope with it too soon due to the sense of deflation and mental exhaustion that I felt upon completing it.

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Bowie’s top 100 books

Bowie books

Image: George Underwood

I don’t know if anyone has come across this, but a list has been published of David Bowie’s top 100 favourite books, in no particular order  (although some aren’t technically books i.e. ‘The Beano’ and ‘Private Eye’), and I thought that I’d include it on here incase anyone is interested, and so as I can point out how many of them I’ve read. Spoiler alert: It’s not many. Those that I’ve read are preceded by an *; those that I own a copy of but haven’t read yet, are marked ^, and those which I hope to buy a copy of, are preceded by ^^. I haven’t reformatted this list to match the lists of my new purchases, as- well. There’s too many to individually alter around, frankly. Sorry!

Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
*A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
City Of Night by John Rechy
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
*Iliad by Homer
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
David Bomberg by Richard Cork
Blast by Wyndham Lewis
Passing by Nella Larson
Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
^^The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Puckoon by Spike Milligan
Black Boy by Richard Wright
*The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
*The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
McTeague by Frank Norris
^Money by Martin Amis
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
Strange People by Frank Edwards
English Journey by J.B. Priestley
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
^1984 by George Orwell
The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
*Beano (comic, ’50s)
Raw (comic, ’80s)
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
The Street by Ann Petry
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.
A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
The Bridge by Hart Crane
All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
^^Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
*In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
^^Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Teenage by Jon Savage
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Viz (comic, early ’80s)
*Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Maldodor by Comte de Lautréamont
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders by Lawrence Weschler
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
^^Inferno by Dante Alighieri
A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
The Insult by Rupert Thomson
In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

^^On The Road by Jack Kerouac

As you can see, there aren’t many of The Dame’s top 100 that I’ve read, but I have to say that the vast majority of these I’ve never heard of, to be honest. I will endeavour to look quite a few of them up, though, to see if they are worth pursuing at all. I’ve separated the last book on the list, as I’ve been reading up on this recently and am very intrigued by the ‘scroll’ manuscript of this that was produced- just for the sheer unusual nature of the document and the strange beauty that it possesses. Also, this is on my list of books to try and get a copy of soon; I don’t know why- I just fancy reading it.

Anyhoo- feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of these books, and if you can tell me more about what some of them are about, this would be greatly appreciated!

 

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More newly acquired books (and ‘Reclaimed Books part 1’)

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Please forgive the truly abysmal quality of the above photo (and the below photo, too, to be fair); the iPhone I normally take the pictures on has finally died, having soldiered on for about a year and a half with a slowly disintegrating screen. I’ve had to resort to dangling the laptop upside down and using the camera on this, which made for some interesting contortive poses trying not to get my arm in shot. Anyhoo. These are the four books I’ve acquired recently (I assume that you won’t be able to pick out the titles on the image):

  • Rudyard Kipling-  Kim     50p
  • Jostein Gaarder-  Through a Glass, Darkly     50p
  • George Orwell-  Nineteen Eighty-Four     99p
  • Zelda Fitzgerald-  Save Me the Waltz     99p

Now, I already owned a copy of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that I bought from the Oxfam in Turl Street, Oxford, but I managed to drop it in a puddle a few minutes after purchasing it, and haven’t been happy with its crinkled state since then. I’ve meant to get a new edition, but had reservations due to technically still already having the book, and because I liked the cover of my edition so much:

1984

The cover of my rain-soaked edition of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

The spine had a nice flourescent stripe down it that really helped it to make a statement on the shelf, but I hadn’t got round to reading it due to the awkwardness of trying to turn the crinkled pages. The copy I recently purchased, however, had an introduction and a note on the text that are absent from the edition I did have, so this is actually a far better buy.

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picture204

Now, I come onto the part of this post that is titled at the top ‘Reclaimed Books part 1.’ By this, I mean these are a few books that were at my parents from before I moved out and which I have picked up (or ‘Reclaimed’). As such, these aren’t new, but I’m showing them here as I will eventually get posts up on them (or most of them) when I read them- even if this isn’t for a while yet. Eventually, when we manage to purchase some shelving and I sort all of my books out (archaeology, anthropology, poetry, classics, music, space and other random things), I will put pictures on here and then post on any of these as and when I read them or feel like mentioning them, but for now my recent purchases, these and a few others are all that I can read as they are all I can physically put my hands on without burying myself under boxes and paperwork. Anyhoo- as you can only read three of the titles in the image, these are the books I ‘Reclaimed’ (from L to R):

  • William Golding-  The Scorpion God (I have already read this, but may read it again)
  • William Golding-  The Spire
  • T.S.Eliot-  Murder in the Cathedral (I have this in his ‘Collected Poems and Plays’, but like to have stand-alone copies too)
  • John Wyndham-  The Day of the Triffids
  • John Milton-  Paradise Lost
  • Stephen Hawking-  A Brief History of Time
  • James Joyce-  Dubliners

At the moment, I’m still reading ‘Metamorphosis and other stories’, but expect review and thoughts etc. in due course.

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Thought’s on ‘Animal Farm’

animal farm

I said a few days ago that I’d recently read George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, and that I would give a few of my thoughts upon this. Well- here goes!

‘Animal Farm’ is one of those books that I’ve meant to read for a while now, but haven’t until the past week or so. I feel slightly bad saying this, as to me it is  one of those books that I should have read (along with Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, which is also on my SOON TO READ list, and a host of Dickens, which are not). I knew that the message and theme of the book was meant to be upon the nature of socialism and the irony that this system has as a form of government, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how clever the book is. Despite being intended as a parody of Stalin-era Russia, there are several aspects that also bring to mind the Nazi state, such as the Night of the Long Knives-like killing of those who disagreed with or who spoke out against the state, and the Molotov/Goebbels-esque character of Squealer, flanked by canine Gestapo. In themselves, the use of dogs for the bodyguard, police roles suggests further that such secret police and other officials  are less influenced by political ideology and agendas than loyal service to whoever is in control, as before the rule of Napoleon, the dogs at Manor Farm would have been at the bidding of the previous leader, Mr Jones.  Indeed, the entire way in which Orwell shows propaganda and political manipulation at work comes across brilliantly, with the other animals only being dimly aware that the truth of the past may not be quite as it is being portrayed to them by their leader. Similarly, the subtle rewording of the Commandments painted on the wall are not questioned on the basis that they are on the wall, and so must always have been so. This blind belief that what the state tells is citizens is alway true and that the state knows best is a message that can just as easily be applied to present regimes and indeed our own country as it can Soviet Russia.

However, the best aspect of the book for me is the way that when the control of Napoleon begins to manifest itself, the reader is shocked by each act and led to think that they are terrible, and highly wrong morally. I for one couldn’t imagine such things actually happening, and the fact that these events are occurring to animals makes the links less obvious- but then suddenly it hits that everything that seems so shocking did actually occur in Russia, and the tightening of state control did take the same brutal and immoral routes.

All-in-all, I found ‘Animal Farm’ to be a highly enjoyable, gripping and thought-provoking novella, and for anyone who hasn’t read it, I would highly recommend it. I have only given here a few thoughts of mine upon the book, and urge you to find your own illusions within it, but hope that this may help.

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Writing and the threat of rejection

I’ve said on the ‘About’ and ‘Poetry and Literature’ pages along the menu near the top of the page that I am currently writing poetry with the distant hope of getting published. The only thing that is stopping me is the fear of almost certain rejection when I come to submit my work to various publishers. Annoyingly, many companies that take on poets will only accept a handful of individual poems as a submission, rather than entire manuscripts, and so when I have finished this book I need to somehow single out the best few poems to send off. The only problem is that the book does not really contain many stand-alone poems, with most working with others to form a part of a much larger whole with a central narrative and interconnected themes- a bit like Ted Hughes’ ‘Crow’. Or, perhaps more accurately, Ted Hughes’ ‘Birthday Letters’ (Hell, I love that book).

One thing that has made me feel better about future rejections is that I’ve just read C.S.Lewis got rejected around 800 times (!), as well as Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, William Golding, Jack Kerouac, George Orwell, H.G.Wells, Anne Frank and Louisa May Alcott also facing rejection. Then of course there is J.K.Rowling, whom we all know the story of. Perhaps I shouldn’t despair before I’ve even begun…

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