Tag Archives: Literature

Penguin Great Ideas

 

penguin great ideas

These are the 100 books in the Penguin ‘Great Ideas’ series 1-5. I mentioned no. 15, John Ruskin’s ‘On Art and Life’ in my last post as one of my recent purchases, and I also own a copy of the Plutarch book ‘In Consolation to His Wife’ from series 3 (the green). Some of the others sound of interest, and some don’t, but what strike me most are the covers- I think they are fantastic. Most of them consist mainly of text, with the title, the author, the title of the series and a quote from the book, but the way in which this is done I think is truly inspired, as each one relates to and fits the book so well. I particularly like this one:

Walter Benjamin - 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' No. 56 of 60, series 3

Walter Benjamin – ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ No. 56 of 60, series 3

I don’t know the book or indeed the author, but considering the title, I think that the cover is a masterstroke of design, truelly creating a work of art from a mechanically reproduced object and indeed image, that is then mechanically reproduced. A picture of the book itself becomes the image on the book. It’s also quite Warhol, when you think about it, and I think one of my favourites in terms of design from the set. The top image links to the Penguin minisite for the 5 series, so check it out and marvel at the cover art!

 

 

 

 

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Reading update

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, but in this time I have managed to procure some new reading matter, and have made progress with another book. However, I haven’t started the Kafka book I said I would read next. This will be digested in due course. Anyhoo- my new books can be seen below:

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Incase the titles are a tad difficult to read, here they are from left to right, along with the price that I paid for them:

  • Lewis Carroll- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (two volumes)  10p each (yes- really!)
  • Ian Fleming- Diamonds are Forever  50p
  • John Ruskin- On Art and Life (Penguin Great Ideas No. 15)  50p
  • Penelope Lively- Heat Wave  25p
  • Carol Ann Duffy- The World’s Wife  25p
  • Rudyard Kipling-  Just So Stories  £1.49
  • Thomas More- Utopia  £1.49
  • Seamus Heaney- North  £1.49
  • Martin Amis- Money  £1.49

I have currently been distracted away from the Kafka collection by another Penguin Classics book titled The Cloud of Unknowing and other works, which is a decent-sized volume of 14th century Christian teachings about the sheer impossibility of actually perceiving and understanding God, which I have recently learnt is actually a way of thinking that is taken up by the Eastern Churches, but not so much in the West. In the West the view is generally more along the lines of God being a friendly, approachable father-figure, whereas in the East, he is a powerful and unreachable being who cannot be represented in human terms and who can never be fully understood by simple mortals weighed down by sin and their perception of the body. To truly know God, The Cloud teaches that a person must become a contemplative, and be able to stop perceiving and thinking about his own existence to focus solely on God. The …other works of the title are shorter pieces believed to have been written by the same anonymous author upon similar themes, and it is in fact quite a good read. A tad heavy going at times, but it certainly gives food for thought and has provided me with a few new ways to look at both myself, my faith, and my perception of God. Also, the whole idea of a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ is a great metaphor and image to use in my poetry…

tcou

Once I’ve finished this, I plan to read the Heaney and Duffy poetry collections, and then the two Lewis Carroll books, before finally getting to the Kafka. I promise to provide opinions etc. when I finish these.

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Thoughts on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

clockwork orange

I posted a number of days ago my thoughts upon reading the first few chapters of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and have taken longer reading this than I originally intended and imagined. However, I literally have just finished it, and felt that I should get some ideas down while they are still fresh- even if it is 3:35 AM!

Originally, the violence bothered me in both the sheer brutality of it and the way in which it is told with cold excitement and pleasure. However, I can now see that the violence enacted by Alex and his friends is but a narrative device on which to hang the central theme of the book. The idiosyncratic language used allows much of the violence to be covered up (or at least veiled), and after initially finding this daunting and inapproachable (due to having spent too long trying to decipher ‘Ulysses’), I soon read past this. Indeed, the use of the slang draws the reader in and makes them feel as though they are a part of the story, as they can understand what the narrator is saying and the words he uses, when many of the characters cannot break this code.

I was surprised to find myself as shocked by the violence depicted in the “cinny” as by that carried out in the first part of the book, and irritated that I begun to feel for Alex during his corrective treatment due to the way in which the supposedly ‘good’ State was treating him and abusing him phycholigically. I say irritated, as I begun the book wanting to hate Alex, and  convinced myself that I would be detached from his character. Also, after hearing of the rapes and attacks, I was shocked by the slow revelation that the characters carrying out these acts were so young, with gradual references to school, living with parents, and the use of milk-bars to suggest the adult pub, but with a more childish edge.

The central theme of the novel (novella?) is summed up initially by the charlie (prison chaplain) when he says:

“It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. … Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”

It can be seen that the enforced good is so rigorously and violently imposed that it ceases to be good, and becomes a form of evil and ‘bad’ in itself; whereas the bad commited under one’s own free will becomes more ‘good’ in comparison due to the retention of human free will. Interestingly, the US market received the book upon its original publication in 1962 (and subsequent publications until 1986) without the final chapter, leaving Alex to return to his own ways. It is this ominous and defeatest ending that Kubrick used to close his film on, making the story a cyclical one that becomes not so much about a singular character named Alex, but about an everyman character named Alex, whose tale is to be echoed on and on and on. However, the original book in its UK edition contains a further chapter which I feel actually reveals the true message of the book. Burgess gave ‘A Clockwork Orange’ 21 chapters to relate to the age at which people are seen to become full adults, and in this final, 21st chapter, the 18-year-old Alex realises that even though he has regained the free will to commit acts of violence, it is actually the love of a wife and the role of a father that he wishes to choose for himself. Yes, we can see that the narrator is finally choosing to be good rather than having it imposed upon him, but we also become aware that the entire book has been an (albeit very exaggerated) alegory for a person’s teenage years and their path to maturity and adulthood: He rebels against his parents and society; he is punished for this and adults attempt to mould him into a better person (or the person that society wishes them to be); this works for a time, but then the child has to work out for themselves that this adult life is what they want, not what they are told they want; finally, the rebellion is put behind them and they become an adult. Personally, for me this is the bigger message of the book, and one that turns this book from an exploration of a philosphical conundrum to a coming-of-age story with a more powerful and applicable message.

All-in-all- not what I expected, but a lot better and a book I would thoughroughy recommend.

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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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First thoughts on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

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Before starting this blog, I managed to finally finish reading ‘Ulysses’, which I begun in the summer of 2012 before going to uni. Subsequently, I managed to read Truman Capote’s ‘Summer Crossing’, George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ in a week, and I will post my thoughts on some of these in due course. However, I have now begun to read ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in the edition shown above, and thought that I’d put down a few thoughts upon finishing the first few chapters.

I knew from the reputation of the film version by Stanley Kubrick that the book might be shocking and a tad violent, but I was slightly surprised by just how violent and coldly so it seems to be. Despite the acts being disguised through the interesting Joycean use of language, the rape scene in chapter 2 comes across as shocking to say the least, partly in the level of enjoyment seen to have been gained from it by Alex and the electrified retelling of it as though it were a playful and exciting act. I will read the rest of the novel with some trepidation, but also intregue, as I want to see how far Burgess takes the shock factor, and how much further he stretches language- a technique I did not expect him to employ, but much prefer in this case than I did in ‘Ulysses’.

I will post my further thoughts as I progress with the book.

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