Reading Is Bliss
Everywhere in New Zealand this week, talk has turned to the general election. All this palaver has given me the golden opportunity to talk about something related to both the current political climate and books - the surveillance state.
So in the spirit of the election tomorrow (don't forget to vote!), here are some insightful novels about surveillance/totalitarian regimes. Feel free to make your own recommendations below!
1984, George Orwell
Sales of this novel apparently skyrocketed in the wake of the NSA scandal - you know, when one Edward Snowden heroically gave up his freedom, probably for life, to expose mass surveillance and government deception. This is the grandfather of anti-surveillance books, the one that coined the term Big Brother and other fantastic, self-explanatory terms like: "thinkspeak", "newspeak" and "doublethink". It's a great book to read if you want to avoid being an "unperson".
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
In some ways, the broader brushstrokes of Atwood's story is similar to 1984, if it only applied to women, which seems scarily like a very real prospect for certain parts of the US (or NZ if the Conservative Party has its way). The tale of Offred, "of Fred" - geddit? - is a warning that we cannot get too complacent. How the surveillance state gets you is to erode your freedoms chip by chip; starting with something small, like perhaps a law change, which enables them to one day take over your bank accounts, your job and eventually your entire way of life.
I really struggled with this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist. Both the authors whom I thought should have made the shortlist didn't. Siri Husveldt, whose new book The Blazing World I confess I haven't read yet, and David Mitchell, whose brilliant, brilliant new novel The Bone Clocks I have devoured - and plan to re-read as soon as possible.
I have always thought of the Booker as the literary world's equivalent of the Oscars. So taking that comparison into consideration, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that neither of those authors made it. After all, they only got around to giving Margaret Atwood a Booker for The Blind Assassin after she was shortlisted for it twice beforehand.
The Blind Assassin was, in my humble opinion, probably the Atwood novel that deserved the Booker the least. It was almost as if they felt obligated to give it to her after she missed out on the prize for The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. Still, even the least of Atwood's novels is still an Atwood novel, so...
If I had my way, this year's Booker prize would have gone straight to Mitchell. It is a serious contender to replace Cloud Atlas as my favourite Mitchell novel. Despite criticism from several well-respected reviewers that it's too ambitious, or messy, or overlong, or that the fantasy sequence made no sense - The Bone Clocks is one of those stories that stays with you.
I stayed up burning the midnight (or rather, 3am) oil to finish it. The story left more unanswered questions than not, and all I felt at the end was a kind of sorrow and weariness for humanity but...bloody hell, it was a frickin' good read.
One of the best parts of writing this blog is the opportunity to meet and "interview" some of my favourite authors. I use quotation marks because really, I'm very aware that I'm just a fan girl who lucked out.
I was lucky enough to meet an author who I've been loosely stalking on Twitter for the past year or so since I read her debut novel, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Laini Taylor - she of the rock star pink hair, and much smaller than I imagined, mini but mighty if you will, is here in NZ for mere days.
I managed to nab a quick chat with her. Before I get into that, let me talk about Laini's novel, because I LOVE Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I read it when it first came out, and could immediately imagine the story on a big Hollywood screen, which is exactly what will happen (fingers crossed).
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the perfect fantasy novel to be made into a movie. It has it all - beautiful, historic setting (the story opens in Prague), fantastical beasts, and a feisty female lead. Oh, and there's also a very weirdly cool backstory about harvesting teeth, I'm a sucker for strange elements in stories.
I am writing this blog post while in the middle of whirlwind last-minute packing for a trip. That's right, folks, I'm off on holiday for three weeks - to exotic, hopefully book-filled shores. I've packed my Kindle, my precious preview copy of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks (out September, but already long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize), and a nose for hunting out good bookshops.
So today, with my trip foremost in mind, I thought I'd talk about holiday reading.
Holidays are to readers what catnip are to cats. Most avid readers are inveterately curious, which is why they often escape into the adventures of others through the pages of books. Travel also fits this category.
Getting away from it all also means that we're often left with a long stretch of time not filled by work and if we're lucky, family and other obligations. It's a golden opportunity to catch up on some much-needed reading, recharge and emerge feeling refreshed and ready to face the world again.
I don't know about you, but I tend to get restless and irritable if I don't get much reading done. It's probably the same sensation that runners get when they haven't been for their morning run in a couple of weeks. I feel as if my imagination hasn't been stretched, and my world becomes that tiny bit narrower and less colourful.
Readers are, scientifically speaking, apparently the best people to fall in love with. At least according to this article:
"...those who read fiction are capable of the most empathy and "theory of mind", which is the ability to hold opinions, beliefs and interests apart from their own."
Now I realise that not everyone reads. Nor am I making any judgments about people who don't. But keeping in mind that this is a reading blog, I do, of course, wholeheartedly embrace this idea of readers making the best romantic partners.
Admittedly the article gets a little starry-eyed about the joys of dating readers. I've met plenty of annoying, know-it-all twats with groaning bookshelves, and some very lovely people who have read maybe five books since high school.
But if we take this theory seriously for a minute, and use it to make some generalisations (for the heck of it, humour me) - the best conversations I've had have been with readers.
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