A book review from the desk of The Movie Snob.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (1932). I read this classic dystopian novel a long time ago and was inspired to re-read it by an episode of the National Review podcast called “The Great Books.” It is a weird story, much weirder than I remembered it. Huxley set his tale in the distant future and predicted a caste-bound society in which people are created in laboratories and subjected to extensive physical and psychological conditioning so that they will be perfectly adjusted to their eventual caste and status in life, whether the lowly, semi-intelligent worker class or the higher classes who do the finer work in the bio-factories and conditioning centers. (The caste descriptions are, unfortunately, pretty racist.) Everyone, save only the tiny group of world-governing Controllers, is kept mindlessly content with a feel-good drug called soma, constant entertainments, and endless recreational sex. But off in the wilds of New Mexico is a reservation of people who still live the old way, and the action of the tale is sparked when a reservation dweller called the Savage makes his way into modern society and questions everything he sees. Definitely worth a read. The volume I got also featured a subsequent Huxley essay called “Brave New World Revisited,” but I found it very tiresome and couldn’t finish it.
A new book review from The Movie Snob.
The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones (2018). I saw a glowing review of this new book and promptly ordered it. It didn’t live up to the hype, but it’s fine. It’s a slightly oversized book that is full of reproductions of maps, both real maps from long-ago days and modern maps of fantastic places like Oz and Middle Earth. The illustrations are pretty cool. The book also contains lots of short essays by “a team of distinguished writers and illustrators” about how wonderful and inspirational maps are. I found the essays pretty forgettable, although I did like the one about Dungeons & Dragons by Lev Grossman.
Another book review from The Movie Snob.
Dear Committee Members, by Julie Schumacher (2014). I had a heck of a time getting a copy of this comic novel after reading a good review of it long, long ago. First I prowled the used bookstores for months and never found it. Eventually I gave up and ordered it on Amazon. Doh! The package never arrived. More months passed. I discovered the Amazon locker service and ordered it again. Finally, I had it! Amazingly enough, it was worth the wait. The entire book consists of letters, emails, and the like written by a fellow named Jason Fitger over the course of a year. He’s an English professor at a second-tier liberal-arts college, and after publishing one very successful novel many years ago he pretty much fizzled out as an author. He vents his frustration (both professional and personal) in his letters, many of which are letters of recommendation for students. I laughed out loud more than once at his splenetic utterances. And I gave it to my sister and then my best friend from college, who are both college professors, and they both liked it. Highly recommended.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
The Tiger’s Wife, by Téa Obreht (2011). This novel made a decent splash when it came out. Unfortunately, I read it during a rather turbulent time in my life, so I couldn’t pay it as much attention as I usually do the books I read. Still, I liked it well enough. The first-person narrator is a young female doctor in an unnamed Balkan country in the aftermath of the wars following the break-up of Yugoslavia. Although some of the novel is set in the present day, a lot of it consists of stories about the narrator’s grandfather, also a doctor. Some are stories about his childhood and others are about his adult life, particularly his several encounters with a mysterious figure called The Deathless Man. The superstitions of the Balkan villagers are well and interestingly portrayed. Definitely worth a read.
A new book review by The Movie Snob.
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson (2014). This beautiful novel is the story of a character who appeared around the edges of Robinson’s last two novels, Gilead and Home. Lila was born into impoverished and probably dire circumstances back in the early twentieth century. We don’t know much about those circumstances because when she was very young (but just old enough to remember) she was stolen (rescued?) by a vagabond woman called Doll. She grows up on the road with Doll, wandering around with other migrants and suffering through the lean years of the Depression. We follow Lila’s story until she’s a grown woman, and we leave off shortly before the events of Gilead pick up. Hers is a lonely and precarious existence, and Robinson convincingly portrays how someone raised in such conditions would think about the world. It is a really sad book, but I loved it.
A book review from The Movie Snob.
Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (1987). This one sat on my shelf for a while. Although the blurb on the back cover told me it is “one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth centuries,” somehow I just wasn’t sold. Now that I’ve finished it, I’m like . . . meh. It’s about two married couples who become best friends in their young adulthood and stay friends, more or less, for the rest of their lives. As a study of marriage and friendship, I suppose it is pretty good, although these folks are much better educated than most and consequently chew on their problems with a lot more eloquence than is the norm. Personally, I didn’t find their story all that engrossing, but the writing is good. For the great American novels of the twentieth century, stick with The Great Gatsby and All the King’s Men. And Death Comes for the Archbishop.
Another book review from the so-called Movie Snob.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (2016). I enjoyed Towles’s first novel, The Rules of Civility, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit too. It’s about Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who has returned to Russia from abroad shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1922, he gets hauled before a revolutionary tribunal and narrowly escapes execution. Instead he is sentenced to permanent house arrest—at the fabulous Metropol Hotel where he has been staying. The novel is the story of what happens to the Count after that. The writing is always graceful, and the Count is a well-drawn and endlessly amusing character. I found some parts of the story very moving, but others were maybe a shade too fairy-tale-like. And I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending. But on the whole, I very much enjoyed the story and would recommend it to just about anyone.