Brave New World

img_9303Date Read: March 3 to 18, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Third time is the charm, so to speak. After starting this book on two other occasions, I finally made it all the way through!

I had a bit of difficulty with March’s prompt fromĀ The Unread Shelf Project: the book that has been on your shelf the longest. Here’s the thing– I have about 60 books that have been on my shelf the longest (the books that I added within the first two days of starting my Goodreads account 8 years ago). Part of the reason that I chose this one over the others is that I had started it before, but never made it very far in. A friend of mine also lists this as one of her favorites, so I thought it would be worth powering through! (It was.)

I am not sure that you can get more “classic dystopia” than Brave New World. While I think we can all agree why the society is problematic from any viewpoint, there is an interesting balance struck. Society is functional, as it balances productivity with consumption, and meets human needs on a very basic level (really, what more do we need than food, sex, and entertainment?). To top it off, everyone is trained from birth to know what they want and to be happy with their place.

While I was not really crazy about the writing style (a bit dry, matter of fact, like I would expect in a textbook), I did like the way that the society was initially set up for us. We get a basis of how the society is built by its introduction to the students touring the hatchery, and then the details are filled in from three perspectives: Lenina, who is wholly satisfied in this world; Bernard, who knows enough to be critical, but is content enough to do little more than push boundaries; and finally the Savage, a complete outsider who is horrified by what he sees happening around him.

One other piece to this that I found interesting, is that this is a problematic society that recognizes that it is problematic. Those at the top realize the monotony of life for the individual, but choose to maintain it as is. Being “in the know” gives them to freedom to think and even criticize society, but this must be kept secret from the masses. This puts quite a spin on the punishment of being transferred to an island– the islands are the only place where people can live and think freely! Even the Director admits at the end, it would be a sort of unknown luxury to live on an island. Perhaps I should see about being transferred to Iceland.

Boris’s thoughts: “Any society that does not include CATS is not worth considering. 1 paw.”

Station Eleven

img_9223Date Read: February 15 to 23, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

From the beginning, I was completely enthralled by this book. I have read a fair share of dystopian fiction, but this had a different feel to it that I immediately loved. Rather than a long view into the future, we enter the new world just 20 years from the world as we know it. I love that we get to see the before, after, and during the fall of civilization. The mix of characters in the Traveling Symphony adds another interesting aspect– we have a group varied enough in age that there are those who were adults and children at the time of the fall, and then also a few characters who have known no other world than their present.

While the plot is not exactly full of action, it was gripping enough that I constantly wanted to find out what was going to happen next. There is a bit of perspective jumping, which I sometimes find annoying as a reader, but was done very well in this case. As I mentioned, there are three different timelines running through the book– before, after, and during the outbreak of an epidemic illness. In addition, there are several characters that carry over from each of these time periods, each with somewhat overlapping narratives. Each time the perspective or time changed, I found myself feeling two things: disappointed to be leaving the current perspective, but excited to find out what the next character had been up to while I had been otherwise occupied.

One thing that I personally found interesting here was the setting– in particular the geography. A fair amount of time is spent describing the route taken by the Traveling Symphony, including the names of cities that we recognize, as well as a few “new” cities that were recreated after the collapse. I loved that there were some concrete locations that I know for certain, and just enough clues to piece together a real picture of the area that they are traveling. I admit I may be a bit biased– I am fairly convinced that much of the action in the “after” portion of the novel occurs right in my own backyard (so to speak). Based on the information included, I am quite certain that the “Severn City” mentioned as a destination must be Grand Rapids, MI. It’s not an exact fit, but too close to be anything else either.

Moving a bit away from the actual story, while I was reading this book I also heard a new song on the radio, and the two will now forever be linked in my mind: Come Along by Cosmo Sheldrake (you can hear it here). Something about the style and story of the song fits so well with Station Eleven. Even though they are certainly a more classical group, I can imagine the Traveling Symphony playing and sing as they move from town to town. Of course, it is not an exact fit (much less of a fit than my conclusions on geography), but something about this link just seems right to me. Each time I heard it on the radio, it made me want to rush home to read a bit more!

Boris’s thoughts: “This all sounds rather complicated. I’m glad you enjoyed it though. 3 paws.”