Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Blackbury
Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks
My copy: Unabridged Audiobook

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a grim alternate-future setting ruled by a tyrannical government in which firemen as we understand them no longer exist: Here, firemen don’t douse fires, they ignite them. And they do this specifically in homes that house the most evil of evils: books.

Books are illegal in Bradbury’s world, but books are not what his fictional — yet extremely plausible — government fears: They fear the knowledge one pulls from books. Through the government’s incessant preaching, the inhabitants of this place have come to loathe books and fear those who keep and attempt to read them. They see such people as eccentric, dangerous, and threatening to the tranquility of their state.

But one day a fireman named Montag meets a young girl who demonstrates to him the beauty of books, of knowledge, of conceiving and sharing ideas; she wakes him up, changing his life forever. When Montag’s previously held ideology comes crashing down around him, he is forced to reconsider the meaning of his existence and the part he plays. After Montag discovers that “all isn’t well with the world,” he sets out to make things right.

* * *

There were several times when my bookish friends and I would joke around about burning some books that we don’t like, especially that vampire series that just doesn’t seem to want to die (or well, I think other books are replacing it now?). It’s really all just a joke, because for the life of me, I can’t imagine myself burning a book, no matter how much I disliked/hated it. I remember this one time where I heard of a book being torn in front of some people in school — some hater getting at it at the face of the authors — and even if I didn’t witness it first hand, my heart hurt just a little bit at the thought of a book being damaged like that.

in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, doing such things to books are a commonplace. Books are illegal, and firemen go around hunting for books (and houses of books) to burn. Everyone’s focused on television and other seemingly mindless things, and anyone who thinks otherwise are considered dangerous. Guy Montag is a fireman, and he has lived with burning books, until he meets his neighbor, Clarisse. Clarisse makes him ask questions about his life — his wife, his job and all the question about books. He slowly realizes that maybe his life wasn’t really what he wanted it to be and sets out to do something about it.

It’s been a while since I read a dystopian book, so it took me a while to adjust to Fahrenheit 451‘s world. Since I was listening to this on audio, it took me an even longer time to really get into it. I liked the premise of the book, and as a book lover, Montag’s world felt depressing. I didn’t want that, and when I got to the chapter where Montag and his firemen buddies burned a house of books, I was wincing all the time. Ack. Perhaps there’s also something about the way Bradbury writes (and how the book was narrated) — the rhythm of his words felt almost hypnotic. I suppose it helped that I listened to the audiobook, because I thought the narrator had a very fitting voice for the story.

I liked Fahrenheit 451, and I think that it’s still quite relevant now. Bradbury wrote this book as a statement about how “…television destroys interest in reading literature,” and while that is still true, I think that there’s another competition that’s really taking everyone’s interest: internet. I mentioned during our book discussion how everyone’s so attached to being online now — myself included. I remember reading this story about the mom who gave his teenage son an iPhone for Christmas but with a contract, and this particular line in the contract got to me: Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being.  You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that. (Source) I’m very guilty of this, and I’m trying to get rid of this habit, and I realized that our attachment to our smart phones and internet is another way for us to lose interest in reading. I mean, I haven’t lost interest yet, but how many times have I ended up playing with my phone, going online in all my social media accounts on the times I said I would be reading? How many times have I chosen tweeting over making an effort to make actual conversation? Those kinds of things. It’s a bit disconcerting to think about it, but I guess that’s the point of this book, anyway. It’s definitely something to think about.

I just wished there was more to Fahrenheit 451‘s ending. I wished there was more to know about the people who memorized books so no one would ever forget them, and that it didn’t simply feel like an afterthought to the story. The ending kind of reminded me of The Giver — a bit open-ended, but good enough to leave the reader asking some questions. Especially questions like, If I can only memorize one book and one book alone, which would I pick? I do not have an answer to that question. Do you?

Rating:

Required Reading: January

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
marginalia

Minis: Charlie and Willy Wonka

So last December, our book club’s book for the month was a very sweet book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but this is one of the books that escaped my childhood. But nevertheless, I was excited for it not only because the discussion date is also our Christmas party, but also because hey, it’s chocolate. Who wouldn’t want that?

I ended up buying the complete Charlie and Willy Wonka adventures book because the series completist in me surfaced and I figured it was cheaper to get the two-in-one book when I went to the bookstore, plus I may want to read the other one after I read the first. So here are my review of the two books as my first Minis post for 2013. :)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald DahlCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie Bucket # 1
Publisher: Puffin
Number of pages:  155
My copy: paperback, The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka, bought from Fully Booked

Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory is opening at last!

But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!

* * *

Charlie Bucket comes from a poor family who lives near Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory. Always hungry, Charlie looks forward to his birthday every year because he gets to have one chocolate bar. Just in time for his birthday, Willy Wonka announced that he is opening his factory again, and five lucky kids who can find a golden ticket will be given entrance to the factory. Our little hero finds one in the most unusual way. Together with four kids — one who likes to eat, one who likes to chew gum, one who never stops watching TV and a spoiled brat — Charlie comes in and finds that he may be in for the biggest adventure of his life.

I remember my first impression of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I was reading the first few pages: it cheered me up. Maybe it’s a psychological thing with all the chocolates and all, but I felt a bit lighter when I was reading the first few pages. Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryis children’s fiction anyway, so there’s nothing heavy to expect in the book, which my very busy and frazzled mind appreciated very much — a very well-deserved break from looking at zooprinting.com for cheap brochures.

However, I realize now that while I’m reading this as an (almost) adult, I wasn’t as enchanted with the book as it went on. I liked the Oompa-Loompa’s song and all, and the lessons that Mr. Wonka gave about each kid are pretty valuable, but in the end I just find him a bit...creepy. I wouldn’t want to be left alone with him, really. Perhaps if I read this as a kid, I would enjoy it for all its chocolate-y goodness, but the grown-up part of my mind is resisting some of its charm.

I think my younger self would have loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryif I had a chance to read it back then. My sweet tooth would have been beside herself with glee. But now that I’m a little bit older (I was about to say jaded, but that’s too negative, heh), I just like it. I would’ve loved it, but now I just like it.

Now I want a chocolate bar.

Rating:
Other review: marginalia

Charlie and the Great Glass ElevatorCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
Charlie Bucket # 2
Publisher: Puffin
Number of pages:  159
My copy: paperback, The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr. Willy Wonka, bought from Fully Booked

Now that he’s won the chocolate factory, what’s next for Charlie?

Last seen flying through the sky in a giant elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Bucket’s back for another adventure. When the giant elevator picks up speed, Charlie, Willy Wonka, and the gang are sent hurtling through space and time. Visiting the world’’ first space hotel, battling the dreaded Vermicious Knids, and saving the world are only a few stops along this remarkable, intergalactic joyride.

* * *

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevatorpicks up right where the first book left off, and Charlie finds himself with Mr. Wonka and the rest of his family inside the glass elevator and by some crazy mishap involving one of Charlie’s grandmothers, they all end up in outer space. But no fear, since Mr. Wonka is there! They find themselves looking at the world’s first space hotel, some bewildered astronauts and finally some Vermicious Knids who are set on having them for lunch.

If Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was fun and comforting, I was just kind of …weirded out with the next book. There’s lots of space stuff here, which was fun in itself, but the fun feel of the first book was missing in this book. It felt like all the other adults in this book save for Willy Wonka and Charlie’s Grandpa Joe were all…well, stupid. The Vermicious Knids delivered the right kind of terror, I think, and even I wouldn’t want to be trapped with them. Sure, there’s a smidgen of adventure in the first part, but it didn’t really fly with me. The second part, when they’re back in the factory, worked a bit better for me although I felt like it was just an afterthought in the book. There is a bit of a lesson there somewhere, but it didn’t have the same charm as the first book.

I guess if I were younger I would’ve enjoyed this one too, but honestly, I was just reading it to finish it when I got to the end. Although it had some fun merits, a part of me wished that I just stopped with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now I can’t get the image of those Vermicious Knids out of my head.

Rating:

The Historian

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaThe Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Publisher: Little Brown
Number of pages: 909 pages
My copy: mass market paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Breathtakingly suspenseful and beautifully written, The Historian is the story of a young woman plunged into a labyrinth where the secrets of her family’s past connect to an inconceivable evil: the dark fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler and a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive through the ages. The search for the truth becomes an adventure of monumental proportions, taking us from monasteries and dusty libraries to the capitals of Eastern Europe – in a feat of storytelling so rich, so hypnotic, so exciting that it has enthralled readers around the world.

* * *

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is our book for our November discussion for the book club. It was my only choice among the three books that we voted for last July because our theme for November was horror and I’m not a horror fan, so I go for the least horrific. :P I’ve heard good things about this book from some blogger friends, plus our moderator, Monique, liked this one too, so I figured I will probably like it too.

The Historian is the story of an unnamed narrator and her family’s past. What starts as a simple book and some letters found in her father’s study turned out to contain a story bigger than she expected, even bigger than her father and her dead mother that spans across the centuries. The book is more of a collection of her recollection of her own research and her father’s research and travels about Vlad the Impaler and the danger that they encountered as they pried deeper into the life of the fifteenth century Wallachian ruler.

I started this book a little apprehensive, because like I said, I’m not a horror person. I don’t like scaring myself, so I was kind of careful when I started reading it. My friends assured me that it wasn’t that scary, but there were several times when I felt jumpy while I was reading this, especially when it was raining and when I was alone at home. I found the first part of the book quite engaging, where I was passed from the main narrator’s point of view to her father’s and back. I liked how the mystery presented itself, and how I got invested in the main characters in this first part. I liked the dangerous — and a little scary — tone around the first part, where they just don’t know what’s going on and how they do not know just how big the thing they’re poking is.

That was the first part. The second part was still quite interesting, but then somewhere in the middle, it started to lag. I don’t read much historical fiction, or anything that had too many historical documents for that matter. Somewhere in the second part, I was amazed at the setting but everything else was bogged down by the fact that the characters kept stumbling upon different documents, countless books and letters about Vlad the Impaler. I get it, okay. They are historians, yes, so these documents were a necessary part of the story, but man, they were tedious. I didn’t want to skim through it because I might miss something else, but I admit that I slowed down my reading at this part.

Come part three. Part 3 was a little bit more exciting, especially since it felt like they were getting closer and closer to uncovering the mystery. I got a little bit annoyed when they opened yet another book and read yet another letter, but when you’re that close to the end of a book, giving up is not an option. At least, not for me. And when the final reveal comes…I was all…huh.

I won’t spoil it for you, but at the end of the book, I had to clarify with some friends if I understood what I read, and they said I got it right. And after 900 pages, all I could think of was: That’s it?

Overall, I have a bit of mixed feelings with The Historian. Perhaps I was expecting more, and I was shelving it together with some of the adventure/mystery/horror books that I have read before and forgot that the book is really more of a travelogue and historical account more than it was supposed to be horror. I liked the writing and the level of detail that this book possessed, and it made me want to go backpacking around Eastern Europe (and generally all over Europe again — I totally drooled at the part where they were in France with the descriptions of food) to see the places the characters went to in the book. As far as the story goes, however, I thought the big reveal fell a little flat, and I was really expecting a big one after all the things the characters went / read through.

I didn’t really dislike The Historian, but I didn’t like it too much, either. It was a little bit more than just okay, though, because like I said, I enjoyed the travel part and the writing and maybe just a little bit of the research, until I felt like starting a drinking game for every document / letter / book that they read. I don’t regret that I read it, but I don’t think I’ll find it particularly memorable later on, either. Maybe I’m just not much of a history buff to be really in love with this, and I think my aversion to vampire stories made me a bit more disinterested after some point. The only real memorable part of The Historian as far as I’m concerned was the book club discussion, which was a fun time to discuss with good friends what we think of this chunkster. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: November

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookmarked!

In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages:  343
My copy: ebook

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.

Five years, four months and twenty-nine days later, on April 14, 1965, Richard Eugene Hickock, aged thirty-three, and Perry Edward Smith, aged thirty-six, were hanged from the crime on a gallows in a warehouse in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, Kansa.

In Cold Blood is the story of the lives and deaths of these six people. It has already been hailed as a masterpiece.

* * *

I love watching crime shows, but I only really like watching fictional ones. Any crime show or documentary that is “based on a true story” automatically creeps me out. I can do a marathon of CSI all day, but when someone tells me that someone near us was robbed or a friend of a friend of a friend is killed, I automatically shut my ears because I don’t want to imagine it happening to the people I care for. Case in point: there was a time when I learned that our neighbor was robbed, and for the next week, I slept with a scissor beside my bed (not a wise thing, actually) because I was afraid that someone would get in our house and do the same thing to us. I figure the scissor is a good enough weapon, right?

So I’m not really sure why I voted for In Cold Blood by Truman Capote when we had our poll for our September 2012 book. I guess I was swayed by the good reviews on the book, plus it seemed the most interesting among the choices. I guess I also totally forgot about that certain part of my paranoid childhood until I started reading the book.

In Cold Blood is Truman Capote’s account of the murder of the Clutter family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas by Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. It’s not really a simple account of the murder told in a boring old non-fiction narrative. This is classified ascreative nonfiction so it read like a novel, and instead of just focusing on the murders, we are given a peek into the lives of the accused, their trial, up until their execution five years later.

Here’s the thing with In Cold Blood: it reads like any other crime novel until you do a little research and realize/remember that the characters in this book were actually real people. I was really just enjoying Capote’s writing while I was reading the first part, until someone from the book club posted photos of the Clutter family on our thread and I got major creeps because I remembered that the story was real. I’m not as paranoid worried now as I was when I was a kid, but realizing the truth in this story made my skin crawl. I can’t imagine the horror of that night.

But again, the story didn’t really focus much on the victims but on the killers. It’s an interesting angle that actually made me feel sorry for them despite the grievous sin they committed. I’m not saying that what they did was excusable — it’s just that seeing their side of the story, or at least, their background, made me just a little bit sympathetic to them. They could have been better people, I thought. There could have been something that could have changed their past so they won’t have to do what they did. And end up that way.

In Cold Blood could spark discussions on numerous topics, especially on the death penalty and justice, and that was exactly what happened during our face to face discussion. Interestingly, I got one of the hard ones again, something about justice and it started a pretty long debate/discussion on what justice really meant for everyone of us. I admit that it’s one of the things that I need time to really understand, and that right now I just really, really pray hard that nothing like this ever happens to anyone I care for.

In Cold Blood reminded me of the time when I did a Criminal Minds marathon a few years back. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t really go out of my way to watch it again. Once is enough, I guess (unless it’s for research or something). Likewise, I liked In Cold Blood, but I don’t think I have the heart to read something like this again.

Rating:

Other reviews:
marginalia
Book Rhapsody
The Page Walker
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac

The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiguroThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Vintage Books
Number of pages:
245

My copy: secondhand from our book club’s book swap — apparently, the original owner was Aldrin. Thank you, and thanks to Monique for passing the book to me. :)

The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

* * *

It’s a rare occurrence nowadays when I actually review a book I just finished reading. Usually it takes me a few days weeks to write one, but since this is up for discussion for our book club this weekend, I thought I’d try something new and actually write a review soon after I finished the book.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is the story about a butler. Stevens has been a butler for Darlington Hall for almost all his life, working for the “great” Lord Darlington and later for an American gentleman, Mr. Farraday, who bought the big house soon after Lord Darlington passed away. When his American employer told him to go take a vacation while he is away, Stevens sets off on a motoring trip to meet an old colleague, Miss Kenton, with the pretense of asking her to work for them again to correct some certain staffing errors in Darlington Hall. As with every road motoring trip done in solitude, Stevens thinks of his experiences and subtly questions the things he knew about his old employer and his own affections for a certain co-worker.

Hindsight is 20/20. That’s a popular quote that I never really understood until I started thinking about things more often than usual, and I wish it wasn’t always the case — the thinking and how hindsight can be 20/20, I mean. Sometimes I wish we could make better decisions when we need to, and not regret things in the end when we realize how we could have done better and we should have done this. That’s one of the things I remembered while reading The Remains of the Day. Stevens is an interesting character, not quite like Kathy H from Never Let Me Go, but also the same in how they reminisce the past. Of course, Stevens is older, so he has more experience so to speak, but can I be honest? Sometimes I have to admit that the experience he shares can be quite…boring. Maybe it’s because I can’t exactly relate to him. Or maybe because we have a kind of generation gap. It was interesting to see what he thinks of dignity and what he thinks of his employer, and how he tells of tales from when he served him. He didn’t question it back then, and even as he related his stories he never questioned it either — but there was that subtle doubt that made me wonder if he thought if he could do anything about it, or if he should do anything, given that he was just a butler. Does he have the power to do it? Can he even say anything about it, especially since he believes that his employer is a good man? To put it in a better and more personal context: I’m an employee of a multinational company, one of thousands in this country. Do my decisions count? Can my voice be heard amongst all the executives? Do I have a right to say something if I notice something is amiss? Or will I even notice that? And finally, if I do that, will I even matter?

I don’t want to be a fool wondering what might have been. Trivia: in college, I used to like that song. :P As with Never Let Me Go, there’s a certain romantic aspect in The Remains of the Day, too. Miss Kenton was one of the characters that Stevens kept on talking about, and I found his interactions with her both annoying and hilarious. To say more would be spoilery, but I had to laugh at their interactions because they seem to be beating around the bush and making excuses about their conversations. It goes to show that even someone as “dignified” and knowledgeable (in his own right) as Mr. Stevens can know nothing about how women are — but maybe it’s because it was his choice. I can’t blame him too much, though. He made his choice, even if he didn’t know it, which forced Miss Kenton to make her own, leading them to where they both ended up in the end.

There’s no time for my regrets. One of our pre-work for the book discussion this weekend is to write a piece that talks about love, loss, hope, and/or regret. When I was writing my piece, I realized one thing: it was easy to remember tales of love and hope, but not of loss and regret. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any tales of loss and regret (thank God for that). I figure that is true for loss, but for regret, I’d like to think it’s because I’ve long told myself that I choose not to regret over anything. Maybe that’s me being positive, but I have always believed that mistakes are made for learning and there’s always a higher purpose to why things happened, and regrets will just bog you down. I guess what matters is how we should be aware of our choices so we won’t have to think of regrets in the future.Yes, hindsight is 20/20, and we won’t really know if we chose the right thing later on. But like I said, maybe all we need to do is to trust that things will be okay, eventually, and that despite making wrong choices, we always have a choice on how we shall see our life after that.

The Remains of the Day is my second Ishiguro, and I’m glad that it still has that quiet, calm writing, one that I really needed after reading several high-action zombie books. I really loved my first Ishiguro, so I had high expectations for this one which I am glad was met. It’s not quite as amazing as Never Let Me Go, IMO, but it’s a good book that makes you think about life, just as how I did in this review, I think! :) This will definitely not be my last Ishiguro book.

Also, you know what, maybe I will reread this a few years later, to see if I still think of the book the same way as I do now.

Rating:

Required Reading: July

Other reviews:
Book Rhapsody
Bookish Little Me (reread)
reading is the ultimate aphrodisiac