REVIEW: 1984 by George Orwell

1984 animal farmFormat:  Audio CD
Genre:  Classic Literature
ISBN:  143320326X
Published:  1949 / 2007 audio

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

In 1984, London is a grim city where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.

My Thoughts:

I have no idea how to review this book, except to say it is utterly brilliant, utterly startling, and disturbing on a profound level.

I am fairly sure I got a lot more out of it now than I would have had I read it as a teen. I keep thinking abut the “doublethink” concept in the book, and how that reminds me of so much that is happening now politically, though in a more “unofficial” capacity. What struck me the most, however, was the rewriting of history. While not done in the same manner as the book describes, we certainly do have a lot of it going on nonetheless, and it left me feeling pretty disturbed that George Orwell was thinking and writing this in 1949, and we seem to have learned nothing since then.

Ahhh…Summer, the Time of Beach Reads!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Everyone is welcome to join.

Just link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out your list! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday Topic:
Ahhh…Summer, the Time of Beach Reads!

1.  The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand.  Set on Nantucket Island, as many of her books are, this is a sweet story involving (primarily) the restaurant staff of this popular eatery.  Perfect for a quick summer read.

2.  Home to Italy by Peter Pezzelli.  This is the first book I read by Pezzelli, and I was not disappointed.  It starts in Rhode Island with the death of Anna, Peppi’s wife, but it quickly transitions to Italy as he returns to the land of his birth, reconnects with an old friend, and falls in love again.  It’s predictable, but after a but of a herky-jerky start, Pezzelli settles into a quick & easy style that is perfect for a day at the beach.

3.  Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik.  As with most (or all?) of her books, this one is set in Minnesota, and centers around a group of women living on the same street who decide to start a book club.   It evolves to much more than that, of course, and though the arc of the story is fairly predictable, it is well written and has a lot meat on the bones.  Landvik has an writing style that makes for a fast, easy and enjoyable read, perfect for the beach.

5.  Bitsy’s Bait and BBQ by Pamela Morsi.  I was drawn to this book by the eye-catching title, and found it to be exactly the right thing for a summer read.  It is set in the South, a setting I love, and it has the predictable love story.  However, the writing is engaging and the characters are loveable, so it makes for a delightful read.

6.  Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.  This was Jackson’s debut novel, but the unusual title suggested right away that it would be a book worth reading.  I was not disappointed.  This is a Southern author whose works I love, and because characters reappear from time to time in different books, this first novel is the ideal place to start.  It is a quick and easy read, but truly enjoyable on every level.

7.  The Last Beach Bungalow by Jennie Nash.  A beach setting, which (obviously) is a great beach read.  I think I picked this up because of the cover art, and it was a lovely, if predictable, summer read.  Great for relaxing in the sun.

8.  The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright.  I love epistolary novels, and this is no exception.  It is the story of a 39 year marriage, documented in a letter written each Wednesday by Jack to Laurel, and it plays out for their children, who are home to attend their funeral.  Though it sounds like a downer, it is not, and it is rich with all the elements of a classic love story.  Worth the time, and great for the beach despite the subject matter because it is quick and easy to read.

9.  Sweetgrass by Mary Alice Monroe.  I have read several of Monroe’s novels over the years, but I particularly loved this one.  I love the Southern setting of South Carolina, the typical “Southern” way (even in the way Monroe writes), and the cultural issues that she included.  It has an authentically Southern feel.  It also deals with some heavy subjects, but Monroe does not have a heavy hand, which makes it a lovely summer read.

10.  Hearts on a String by Kris Radish.  A story that illustrates a grandmother’s anecdote about the thread that connects all women, it is sweet and fun and easy to read.  Radish always has some fairly implausible element to her story lines, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because she touches you, entertains you, and lets you escape from regular life for a bit.  You will not be disappointed.

REVIEW: Summer Crossing by David Baldacci

Format:  Audiobook (CD)
Genre:  General Fiction
ISBN:  1609412958
Published:  2011 (audio)
Setting:  Ohio, Arizona, South Carolina

Rating:  4 of 5 stars

Back of the book Blurb:

It’s almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say goodbye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country. Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie’s death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie’s childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more.

My Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite the fact that it was a fairly predictable, sappy story.  It is a perfect summer read, and that is exactly what I needed at the time.  I had just finished A Death in the Family by James Agee, which also dealt with loss and grief, but it was on a much deeper, much more serious, much more profound level.  I need a lighter, quicker, less emotionally exacting read, and while this is also a story of grief and loss, Baldacci delivers a nearly effortless summer novel.

This is the first Baldacci book I have read, and I do like his way with words.  I like that he can deal with a hard subject without ripping the reader to emotional shreds.  I like that the story was fairly face paced, and that it focused on an entire family’s reaction to and recovery from grief over an unexpected death.  I also liked that Baldacci moved the characters through sadness, anger, depression, etc. without getting so bogged down that the story suffered.  I liked that it ended on a positive note, but that getting to that point involved some drama.

Sure, it is a fairly formulaic novel…predictable, even.  Perhaps not the typical fare for Baldacci, but pretty standard for it’s genre.  Baldacci, however, is a writer worth getting to know better, and this was a good, easy, and (dare I say it) even fun start for me.  I would recommend it…especially if you’re going on vacation and looking for a book that entertains without exhausting the reader.

The Body Odd – You are what you read, study suggests

By Linda Carroll

Novels may have a lot more power than we think.

When you identify with a literary character, like Katniss Everdeen of the “Hunger Games” books, there’s a good chance you’ll become more like her, new study shows.

Researchers have found that when you lose yourself in a work of fiction, your behavior and thoughts can metamorphose to match those of your favorite character, according to the study published early online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers believe that fictional characters can change us for the good.So, if you bonded with Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” you might become more focused on ethical behavior, says the study’s lead author, Geoff Kaufman, a post-doctoral researcher at Tiltfactor Laboratories at Dartmouth College.

But the fiction-effect can have a dark side. “Think of ‘American Psycho,’” Kaufman says. “The character is very likable and charismatic. But he’s a serial killer. To the extent that you connect with him, you may try to understand or justify the actions he’s committing.”

Kaufman and his co-author Lisa Libby of Ohio State University suspected that when people read a fictional story they vicariously experience their favorite character’s emotions, thoughts and beliefs in a process that’s been dubbed “experience-taking.”

Kaufman and Libby found that experience-taking can lead to real changes in the lives of readers. What the researchers can’t say yet is whether those changes are brief or long-lasting.

Kaufman suspects novels can sometimes be life-changing. “If you’ve got a deep connection with the characters, it can have a lasting impact,” he says. “It can inspire you to re-read something. And then the impact can be strengthened over time.”

The researchers ran several experiments to look at how we react to fiction. In one, they found that people who strongly identified with a fictional character who overcame many obstacles in order to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election days later than volunteers who read a different story.

In another experiment, the researchers compared two groups of volunteers who read different versions of a story in which the protagonist was gay. In one version, readers didn’t learn till the end that the character was gay. In the other, they learned that detail right at the beginning.

Study volunteers who learned about the sexual orientation of the hero at the end of the story expressed more positive feelings towards gay people when they were questioned later on.

That’s because they got to know the character and connect with him before they had a chance to cloud their impression with gay stereotypes, Kaufman explains. Those who learned about the character’s sexual orientation early on didn’t relate to him as much because their stereotypes put distance between them and the character.

Kaufman believes that the fiction-effect only comes with written works. “When we watch a movie, by the very essence of it, we’re positioned as spectators,” he explains. “So it’s hard to imagine yourself as the character. I suspect that if you read the screenplay it would be more powerful as far as experience-taking goes.”

So, who is Kaufman’s favorite fictional personality? Anna Karenina, the protagonist in Leo Tolstoy’s novel of the same name.

“My identification with her might have inspired my research,” Kaufman muses. “It’s the connection with a female character and understanding her struggles and difficulty in adapting to life and society. Looking back, I think a lot of my favorites are strong, complex female characters struggling in society.”

What literary character do you most identify with, and why? Let us know in the comments here, or over on our Facebook page — we may use you in an upcoming msnbc.com post!

via The Body Odd – You are what you read, study suggests.

REVIEW: Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater

Format:  Hardback
Genre:  Children’s Fiction
ISBN:  0316o58424
Published:  1938
Setting:  Stillwater, US

Rating:  4 of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

It was hard enough for Mr. Popper to support himself, Mrs. Popper, Bill and Janie Popper.  The addition of twelve penguins to the family made it impossible to make both ends meet.  Then Mr. Popper had a splendid idea.  The penguins might support the Poppers.  And so they did.

My Thoughts:

**spoiler alert**

This was a very cute book, right up to the end.  I loved that Mr. Popper ultimately tried to do what was best for the penguins, but it annoyed me somewhat that he left his family.  I would have enjoyed the ending more if they had been able to choose whether or not to go, or at the very least, he had been able to discuss it with Mrs. Popper.  I get that it’s a children’s book, but the idea of them discussing everything up to that point regarding the penguins, then having him decide in the split second between learning that Admiral Drake intended for him to go and actually setting sail seemed completely counter to how their relationship worked.  I’m probably putting a lot more thought into the story than kids would, but little details like that make or break good books, and in this case, what otherwise would be a 5-star classic is, instead, somewhat wanting.

REVIEW: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Audio CD, 10 disks (11 hours)
Published October 1st 2000 by HarperAudio (first published 1957)
ISBN:  0694523607
setting:  United States
4 stars overall /4.5 stars audio narration
Goodreads Synopsis:
This unabridged version of Jack Kerouac’s classic novel On the Road is  narrated by actor Matt Dillon.  The CD box set is beautifully packaged with black-and-white photographs of Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the real-life model for the character Dean Moriarty.
My Thoughts:
Having read a number of beat generation authors during my college years, I was firmly convinced that I would never again traverse that literary movement.  The bohemian lifestyle, days infused with alcohol, drugs and indiscriminate sex, and general abdication of any responsibilities are things that I find difficult to relate to and (usually) fairly uninteresting.  And true to form, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road is a book about exactly those things…with no real discernible point…a meandering, loosely autobiographical travelogue of his (Jack’s) adventures and misadventures on the road with his friend Neal Cassady.
And yet, it is very much more than that, as it turns out.
It’s not that the subject matter is important.  It’s not.  Neither is it because Kerouac had some great epiphany during his time on the road.  If he did, it wasn’t immediately obvious.  Rather, it is HOW Kerouac told his story…with language so beautiful and poetic that you can’t help but sink into the story and soak up his magnetic prose.  Truly, I could read (or listen to, in this case) writing of this calibre continually, because like beautiful flawless music, it moves me & touches me in ways that something mediocre simply can’t.  At the end of the day, I don’t think it mattered what Kerouac wrote about (for me), it mattered that he wrote it exquisitely and made even the most mundane intriguing.
Perhaps if I had read this 20 years ago, the subject itself would have resonated more with me.  I mean, it is a classic young person’s adventure:  no responsibilities, no money, no ties to any one place, no set plan, no hurrying, no guiltridden angst at the hedonism of it all.  I’ll confess that at age 20 I longed for the feelings of freedom reckless abandon that suffuse this travel tale, but at the end of the day I was too eaten up with guilt and angst to have been able to truly enjoy the ride.  Kerouac was not. and while he did not have Dean’s completely unbridled exhilaration for every moment on the road, he did take a quieter, more observant joy in his experiences, which is over-archingly present through the book.
I doubt I would call it a must read as books go, but if you have an opportunity to listen to Matt Dillon narrate these poetic words with his perfectly pitched bass voice, don’t skip it.  He enhances Kerouac’s poetic language to a performance art, and it is definitely worth the listen.