Thursday, June 12, 2014

1984 by George Orwell

In George Orwell’s classic dystopian and political-commentary novel, 1984, thought is controlled and “Big Brother is watching you,” resulting in the dichotomous mottos “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ ignorance is strength.”  The Party continually puts out propaganda to support their efforts, claiming a state of perpetual war is peace, and that being controlled is better than freedom, and accepting a false reality while ignoring the actual truth in “Doublethink” is fortitude.  In this drowning society of overzealous nationalism, we find ourselves with an unlikely hero, Winston Smith, a frail, nonthreatening member of the Outer Party attempting to break through the ideological strife and blockage of free thought.  What will become of this “thoughtcrime” perpetrator in this dramatic, but at times heart pounding and heartbreaking novel?  Will Winston succeed in this oppressive climate, or will he merely succumb to the overwhelming power of “Big Brother”?  This is a must-read.

George Orwell was one of the premier novelists, political satirists, and commentators of the 20th century, and his work continues to influence popular and political culture nearly 60 years after his death.  Even the term “Orwellian,” to describe Orwell’s work opposing totalitarian and unjust social practices, remains ubiquitous in the literary, and perhaps real, world.  I was quite familiar with Orwell before reading 1984, as I read another Orwellian classic, Animal Farm, in 10th grade, which is allegorical for the Russian Revolution and mocks Stalin, who Orwell believed turned Russia (then the Soviet Union) into a dictatorship.  Orwell’s writing mastery of political satire and commentary, and dystopian societies, is no exception in 1984, where he brilliantly constructs a future society that is beginning to resemble our own.  I found Animal Farm great, but I think 1984 elevates the meaning of “Orwellian” to a whole new level.  Orwell’s fantastic works have paved the way for other great dystopian novels, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and as stated before, 1984 is a must-read.

Also discover: Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, and Lord of the Flies

Thursday, April 3, 2014

 The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum

In The Poisoner's Handbook,  Deborah Blum guides her readers through the seething underworld, as well as the blooming forensic science team, of 1920s New York City. Each chapter contains a set of murder cases related to deadly poisons such as the famous poison cyanide and obscure (but mortally effective) chemicals like ethyl and methyl alcohol. Without turning to dry description or overly academic language, Blum digs into the science behind each poison elaborates on how Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler, heads of the New York forensic science team (then called the toxicology unit), solved each case by creating tests for each poison completely from scratch. Deborah weaves in important bits of 1920s history, further bringing the book to life as she highlights connections between the toxicology department and big historical events like Prohibition.

Deborah Blum joins the ranks of captivating forensic science writers such as Mary Roach (Packing for Mars, Stiff, and other titles) in The Poisoner's Handbook. Her vivid language brings each poison to life as the chemical's role in 1920's life unfolds. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about Radium, a (you guessed it) radioactive element that constantly decays, emitting a dim but visible light. She delved into the lives of the Radium Girls, factory workers who painted clock dials with glowing radium and frequently pointed the tips of their brushes with their mouths. They ingested tiny amounts of radium every day they worked in the clock factory and often, they would be covered in radium dust that hung in the air of the workspace. Radium decays quickly and destabilizes materials surrounding it, and it wasn't long before the radium had worked itself into the employee's bones. Their teeth glowed and by the end, they were exhaling radon gas. Blum brings these girls to life, writing of their battle against the company they worked for who refused to admit that radium was, in fact, a poison. This is just one of the fascinating chapters in  Blum's book.

For a relatively science-minded person like me, this book was a breath of fresh air compared with some of the drier types of academic nonfiction. However, anyone who can deal with morbidity and has an interest in poisons or the '20s would love this book! I also highly recommend it to kids who are looking for an interesting research topic for their chemistry classes. Blum truly brings justice to the fascinating era of the 1920s and the poisons that lay just underneath the surface.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Paper Towns by John Green

Quentin Jacobsen has spent most of his life being in love with the adventurous, and mysterious, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Even as kids, he followed her around and played along with her adventures. Now, however, he spends his time loving her from afar. When his window opens one night, and Margo climbs into his room and back into his life, beckoning him to join her on her latest adventure of revenge, he follows.  After spending all night racing around Orlando, getting people back, and breaking into Sea World, Q comes to school the next morning to see that Margo is absent. She is known for disappearing days at a time, but when they keep adding up, Q begins to worry. He soon discovers that she has left behind clues, and that they're for him. He urgently tries to piece together the unrelated clues, and the more he discovers the more he realizes he doesn't know adventurous, mysterious Margo Roth Spiegelman at all. 

John Green writes about not only a compelling tale, but a compelling character. Quentin spends all of his life looking at Margo as if she were perfect. However, when he delves deep into her personal life, he sees things that would prove otherwise. John Green uses this novel to take the "manic pixie dream girl" stereotype and destroy her. Incorporating Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass puts a beautiful poetic spin on the stories underlying themes, as well as on Margo's clues. Green also does an excellent job of using metaphors to make the reader view a topic differently and more clearly. When Q goes on his whirlwind adventures, all of which puts him completely out of his comfort zone, the reader is right there with him, feeling the anxiety of breaking into someone's house, or even into Sea World. Margo's character is unique, and beyond complex, which surprises everyone, including the reader, the more you discover about her. 

If anyone knows me and my taste in books, they know that I am a John Green fanatic, have been since day one, and will be forever. I am a strong believer that Paper Towns is John Green's most underrated novel and deserves more attention and praise. When I first read Paper Towns I automatically fell in love with it. I quickly adopted it as my favorite book and have since then, reread it often. It may, at first, seem like another Young Adult novel with a bit of twist, but it comes to be much more than that. Each time I flip through the pages, I pick up something new. There are some areas of this book that have either completely changed my outlook on certain things, or have taught me a lot about people, and how you should view them. Even if you don't want to go into a novel looking for in depth thoughts and secret meanings, you can read it and simply enjoy it. I have recommended this to anyone who will listen, and now I recommend this to you.
If You Enjoyed This Also Try: Looking for Alaska by John Green, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

   The Fellowship of the Ring is Tolkien’s first installment in the epic fantasy trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings,” describing a classic battle between good and evil.  For centuries, the One Ring has fallen entirely from all knowledge, following the defeat of the Dark Lord Sauron.  Now two millennia later, Sauron begins to rise again, while the ring has fallen into the hands of Frodo Baggins, bequeathed to him by his uncle Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit who stole “my precious” from the creature Gollum.  All is cheery in the beloved Shire, but a darkness creeps upon the land from the South, from Mordor.  Frodo must travel to the Cracks of Doom to destroy the One Ring from whence it came to ensure the safety of all and the final destruction of the Dark Lord. A quest of innumerable proportions lies before Frodo, for such a small creature as a hobbit.  Along the way, Frodo and his companions will encounter deadly danger and excitement at every turn.  The ring has lived on, but will the world?

   Having seen Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the Fellowship of the Ring before reading the book, I was quite familiar with the story, but I was able to glean much more from reading.  The book is incredibly descriptive and detailed, fully immersing the reader in Tolkien’s fantastical world, Middle-earth, a world he devoted most of his career to creating.  As such, Tolkien’s work is impressive: he created numerous languages, maps, species, and histories of Middle-earth.  He was a major pioneer in high fantasy writing, his name recognized nearly universally, and led the way for many fantasy writers following him, including: J.K. Rowling and her series “Harry Potter,” Christopher Paolini and his “Inheritance Cycle” series, and even “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” by Rick Riordan.  
    The popularity of this book is outspoken, as is the entire series as evinced by its 150 million copies sales estimate.  Overall, this book is fantastic and I greatly enjoyed it, although it is dense, somewhat difficult to start, and can take a long time to read.  As fantasy, this book is perhaps one of the best I have ever read, as it creates an amazing, quite indescribable world.  The characters and plot are deep, interconnected, with many surprises; all are developed and thought out extraordinary well, yet still leaves much to the imagination, and for readers to discover for themselves.  If you have an affinity for fantasy, this is the book for you.  If you’re interested, you’ll just have to read it.  

Also discover: The Hobbit, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, and The Silmarillion
In A Wind in the Door,  Madeline L’Engle opens her story with Charles Wallace Murry, youngest of the four Murry Children, stating matter-of-factly to his older sister Meg Murry that “‘There are dragons in the twins’ vegetable garden.’” The tale grows stranger from there, as they encounter Mr. Jenkins, the bitter principal at Charles’ elementary school, and less familiar foes, the Ecthroi who seek to “x out” people by draining out who they truly are through their farandolae, miniscule creatures that live inside every cell in the human body unbeknownst to us. Dr. Murry, Meg and Charles’ mother, soon reveals that  she has been studying farandolae and Charles’ subtly growing illness may be related to her research. With the help of an angel named Proginoskes, Meg, Mr. Jenkins, Meg’s sweetheart Calvin, and a farandola named Sporos must journey together through vast galaxies and tiny cells to save Charles Wallace as his illness grows deadly.
    Madeline L’Engle crafts a beautiful coming-of-age story from the perspective of Meg Murry, a teenage girl who (like many of us) is unsure of who she is. Within L’Engle’s quirky world full of fantastical biology and characters almost out of mythology, Meg not only finds herself, but finds out how each of her companions are unique and sacred. The whole host of characters act believably and their bonds with each other strike at the root of friendship and solidarity. Journeying with Meg & Co. to fantastical worlds filled me with wonder, but more importantly, L’Engles interpretation of ordinary life gave me a new way of appreciating everyday whimsy. L’Engle begins and ends the book with fantastical nonsense, but by the end of it, she’s made you fluent in her quirky language. 

     Lovers of this book will enjoy other books by Madeline L'Engle and would be interested in Neil Gaiman's writing as well, since both authors have unique and entrancing styles of narrating modern fantasy.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Native Son by Richard Wright

Personally, I found Native Son to be a little bit scary. Not in the ghost and goblins type of way, but how people will stop at nothing until they’re satisfied. This book really got you thinking about how psychotic people can get and how far people will go because of the situation they're in. At first I found it to be really boring, but later on I found myself reading page after page and losing track of time.

Richard Wright has a specific writing style which captures the essence of pure evil.
Native Son is about a black man in a white person world. It’s about discrimination and equality. It’s also based off an actual crime committed back in 1938, a man named Robert Nixon was arrested and then later (in 1939) executed for “brick bat murders”.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton

After it is discovered that man can recreate dinosaur, a new park is being put into order. John Hammond, millionaire, mad scientist is behind the mastermind idea to make a profit off of this fantastical zoo. However, when a group of special experts come to review the island before opening, chaos breaks loose. At first, they are astonished as they watch Hammond explain how the process works and learn about the workings of the park. But, while on a tour of the park, the electricity seems to have gone out, shutting down the track as well as the electric fence in between the them and the dinosaurs. It becomes hard to trust anyone as the power outage may have not been an accident.  Stuck in the park, the group must somehow escape the island.   It comes to light that man cannot recreate something so vast and expect life to not find a way.

I know what you're thinking, you've seen this movie millions of times flipping through the channels on the TV. But, in the movie, a lot of the action is condensed. When I opened up the book, I figured that it couldn't be that much different from the book. I was wrong. It was so much better! As you read, you learn a lot more about science, chaos theory, and paleontology. In any other setting, I don't think that these topics would be particularly interesting, but when mixed with dinosaurs and the chase of a lifetime, you beg for the information. There are many twists and turns and unexpected outcomes in the novel and it's a huge page turner. Hidden behind all the rediscovered creatures and action, is an amazing insight on man and his desire for power, making it much more than just a book about dinosaurs. However, because of the all the unadulterated action and science, there doesn't seem to be enough room for powerful character development in the majority of the characters. Michael Crichton writes this novel in a way that leaves the reader almost wishing that they could experience this world, no matter how terrifying or deadly it is. If you're looking for an action-based, book to read, Jurassic Park will go above and beyond your expectations.

If You Liked This One Check Out: The Shining by Stephen King, Congo by Michael Crichton, Jaws by Peter Benchley, Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy