First Classics Club post! I’ve been a bit behind on actually getting the reading done for this challenge, and my two books a month idea has fallen pretty heavily already. I’ve only finished one since starting, but here it is. Who’d’ve thought that starting a new challenge like this before the final deadline of the academic year was possibly a slightly muppet move? Anyway, my first completed book of this challenge was Farenheit 451 (I started another before, but wasn’t really awake, and thought I could do better for it!) Here goes blog post number 1…
Started and finished: 29th June 2017
Why did I choose it?
I’ve got a long-standing penchant for dystopian literature. I went through a massive phase of young adult stuff a few years back, including The Maze Runner and The Mortality Doctrine (James Dashner), Divergent (Veronica Roth), the Matched trilogy (Ally Condie), the Legend trilogy (Marie Lu), The Killables and Declaration Trilogies (Gemma Malley), and the Delirium Series (Lauren Oliver). More recently, I’ve loved the Handmaid’s Tale (TV and book, both incredible, both worth the discomfort) and am itching to get back to those books that I last read what seems like a lifetime ago, and explore what the genre looked like before that. Some of the modern dystopian stuff (particularly the YA stuff) is a bit too slushy-romantic for me, and I’m far less interested in that than the other dynamics at play in other books.
I love the hypotheticals allowed by moving yourself into a world where you’re still governed by a lot of the same, recognisable instincts that drive people in our real society, but that take you just over the edge into a world that is superficially unrecognisable. It’s a similar kind of escape to fantasy, but with the added thrill of knowing that your world actually could turn into that one.
What I liked
Like many of the books on my list, this one was one I have as an audiobook, and I loved that – the frenetic, slightly whining voices of Montag’s wife and her friends was disturbing. I wanted to laugh, and then I realised why it sounded familiar – this narrator’s voice and his choices on how to present the words sounded just like Trump.
Anyway, audiobook stuff aside, this book was awesome. It resonates so much with some of the things I’m concerned by as an academic today – the fear of expertise, the suspicion of knowledge, the “we’re sick of experts” rhetoric. The other side of that is that it resonates with the thoughts my depression gives me a lot of the time: the news is depressing and best avoided; a better use of the internet is actually cute pictures of mini pigs eating ice cream (actually, there’s not much to disagree with there – see for yourself!); academic discourse is uncomfortable when it calls out your privilege and your cultural position (ethnomusicology is really good at that), so maybe it would just be nicer if I went off, played music, and stopped asking questions.
Of course, this is the whole point of the book, and it’s fantastically done. I love it when a book makes me think that deeply, and I realise only later that that’s what it was trying to do. I dislike books where I know what the message should be before I’ve seen it, because it never permeates my brain as effectively. These issues were also what I wanted to challenge with the Classics Club idea as a whole – I don’t want to get stuck in my young adult, sci-fi/fantasy, historical novel rut just because it’s more comfortable that way. I want to read books about difficult subjects, the ones I avoided while I was ill to get back to them when I could devote the proper time and energy, but was really avoiding because they were intimidating.
What I didn’t like
Like so many books like this, the ending feels somehow unfinished. I don’t want to imagine what happened later, I want to know it. It’s possibly a weakness of mine, but I felt like the end sort of rushed into a fizzled-out ending of “yeah, he sort of got away but there’s a whole new story to tell now”. That said, I don’t mind there not being a sequel (that I know of) – too many good books, films, and TV shows are ruined by carrying on after their source material runs out, so maybe it’s not the end of the world?
Will I read this again?
Yes. Absolutely. Probably a few times. It’s short, to the point, and has so much in it that I want to understand, contemplate, and think about.
Folk tales! These make up a huge part of my list: I have them from Hawaii, Russia, Norway, the Middle East, England, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, Ancient Greece, France/Brittany, and Japan. However, it’s South and West Africa that I’ll be tackling next.
I have two collections, South African Folk Tales collected by James Honey, and West African Folk Tales collected by William Barker. I know astonishingly and embarrassingly little about African folklore and mythology, but I’m excited to get stuck into these. I have a certain amount of trepidation about these collections being by Western authors (a point I’m constantly grappling with with a lot of my non-European folklore collections, and having failed to find native versions, I’m somewhat stuck for the moment), but I’m hoping that it should be interesting anyway.
I’ve made a few changes to the master list, too. I ummed and erred about re-reads, but in the end decided to take them out, along with one or two more that were too “safe” and felt a little silly to include (somewhat arbitrary, but whatever). I replaced them with Hawaiian Folk Tales (having found a few collections since writing them off for this challenge), Russian Fairy Tales, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, and Shusaku Endo’s Silence. I’ve tried to avoid more English/American stuff, and will aim to do so with any other swaps in future. I’m aiming for this list to be relatively static from now, though…