Category Archives: Recently Read

These are the books we have very recently read and our thoughts about them.

A Clockwork Orange

I’ll be the first to admit that A Clockwork Orange is a strange book. The first time I came across this title was when I watched Stanley Kubrick’s film adaption when I was in high school. Then I clearly remember my literature teacher at the time mentioning this book by Anthony Burgess. I’ve read this book now three times and upon completion I am always able to walk away with something new. A new concept or idea that I was not able to develop before. This book is right around 50 years old and is filled with satire and symbolism. A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962 by Burgess during the height of the Cold War. The book was then adapted into a movie in 1971 featuring Malcolm McDowell as the main character, Alex.

The book takes place in the future and is told through the perspective of 15 year old Alex. The first thing the reader will notice is the strange language the characters speak. This language, Nadsat, is something original developed by Burgess and is a mix between Russian, English, American Slang, and rhymes and slant rhymes. The story opens with Alex and his droogs (gang) compromised of three individuals, Dim, Pete, and Georgie drinking at the local bar. When they leave a strange string of events begin to happen that will make the reader despise these characters. Alex leads his gang to commit a series of heinous and violent attacks toward unsuspecting citizens. There is no motive or reason behind the attacks, the gang just does it for fun. After robbing a large house, Alex is knocked out by one of his friends and is left for the police. Alex is then sentenced to 14 years in a state penitentiary. To avoid serving the whole sentence Alex agrees to take part in Ludovico’s Technique. This program is based on psychologist B.F. Skinner’s experiment in the mid twentieth century. The idea of the experiment is to condition human behavior by handing out rewards for good behavior and serving a punishment for bad behavior. For two weeks Alex is injected with a drug that makes him sick to his stomach. After the injection, Alex is forced to watch scenes of violent acts with Beethoven playing in the background. Alex’s mind is making a connection between his sickness and violent acts. Because he gets sick when he sees these heinous acts Alex develops an aversion to both Beethoven and acts of violence. When Alex’s free will is stripped of him as a result of this experiment he is released from prison. Turned away by his friends and family and forced to live on the streets with the very people that Alex harassed, reformed Alex must find a way to survive.

This book is very different from young adult literature. Burgess writes in a very confusing dialect that speaks to the government and society’s ideals. He incorporates satire in the meanings of the words he develops on a level not found in young adult literature. This book is also filled with symbolism. The book is contains three parts that detail Alex’s coming of age and make up a 21 chapter book. The number 21 is interesting because in industrial societies such as America, Great Britain and Russia citizens are considered a mature adult at 21. Burgess states that “duality is the ulitmate reality” in this novel. The novel focuses on youth vs. maturity, good vs. evil, commitment vs. neutrality to name a few. This novel is exposes human free will as an inherent attribute that makes us human and separates us from lower animals or machines. Alex chose wickedness in this novel; the author intended him to be evil. Later in the novel after Alex undergoes the behavioral experiment, he is forced to be a hero which he is not cut out to be. Alex is robbed of his free will by the state.

So why did I read this book? I read this for the same reason I read The Picture of Dorian Gray. Growing up Batman was my literary hero and I spenthours reading about him and when I was little I even dressed up like him for Halloween. I was astounded by Christopher Nolan’s take on the film franchise that seemed to ground Batman in reality and make the audience members believe that these characters can exist in a real world setting. When The Dark Knight was in post production there was a 2007 MTV interview released with Heath Ledger before he passed away. The interviewer asked Heath how he researched his role for the Joker and if Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the 1989 film version of Batman was a blueprint. Heath then went on to explain that his Joker was very different and anarchy motivated his character. Heath explained that his Joker was the one that should of been in the comics all along. Heath used Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious as an influence on the character. He also drew upon Alex from The Clockwork Orange to influence his take on the character to make him darker and more sinister. Heath went on to win a posthumous Oscar Award for his performance in The Dark Knight. Although The Dark Knight had some serious themes and jumped around in plot, it was still a PG13 movie and appealed to both adults and young adults alike. Heath’s Joker was based on a character from classic literature and was brought to life on the silver screen to appeal to a multitude of audience members. It was this notion that attracted me to read A Clockwork Orange.

To read the MTV interview with Heath Ledger on his role as the Joker click here.

To learn more about the 1971 Stanley Kubrick take on A Clockwork Orange you can find it here. To watch the trailer for the movie click here.

Here is a 1973 controversial interview with a young Malcolm McDowell on his role of Alex in A Clockwork Orange by clicking here. Here is another interview with McDowell in 2008, click here to view it.

You can learn more about author Anthony Burgess by clicking here.

– Brian

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Growing up I surrounded myself by comic books. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, X-men you name it I had it. I had material from some of the greatest writers of the genre such as Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison to name a few of my favorites. Learning to draw at a young age, I was first attracted to the art that graced each panel. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore was one series that drew my attention to the classics at a relatively young age.

Alan Moore did something unique in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He took pop culture characters from the turn of the century culture such as the Invisible Man, Allan Quartermain, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and incorporated them into a story arch where these characters provide service for the British Government. When the 2003 movie came out I realized that it was an original story that featured Dorian Gray, who was never present in the comic series. Seeing his complex character on the silver screen gravitated me towards Oscar Wilde’s classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The story is set in Victorian London and centers around Dorian Gray and his influences in his life. The two characters that seem to have immense influence over Dorian is artist Basil Hallward and Lord Henryy Wotton. Basil is Dorian’s cautious friend who is obsessed with Gray’s youthfulness and beauty. He is also in charge of painting Dorian’s portrait. Wotton is a friend of Basil’s and an acquaintance of Dorian’s. Over the course of the story Wotton reveals to Dorian the darker side of society. Wotton’s lifestyle and half baked philosophies rub off on Dorian throughout the course of the novel. Over time Wotton becomes a sort of mentor to Dorian and reveals to him the darker side of human nature. Dorian and Wotton enjoy lavish parties and explore acts of lust and greed. Despite Basil’s warnings to stay away from Wotton, Dorian further blotches his soul by pursuing his own insatiable pleasures manipulating anyone that stands in his way. Dorian is essentially abusing his gift of beauty and by doing so he is cursed to stay youthful forever. But little does Dorian know that pursuing vices instead of virtue takes a toll on his soul. His physical appearance may stay constant but his soul ages and is damaged by these vices. Basil’s portrait is a glimpse into Dorian’s ugly soul and it ages. The portrait becomes dark and twisted in the place of Dorian. What would happen if he should confront this painting? What would happen if he is allowed to reflect on his misdeeds?

The Picture of Dorian Gray was by no means an easy read and is complex when comparing it to young adult novels. Wilde uses different styles of writing that may not be present in the young adult genre. The story was published by Wilde in 1891 and draws influences from multiple myths such as the fall of man in Genesis or the ancient Greek parable of Narcissus. Wilde also seems to draw influence from plays such as the classic telling of Faust. Wilde also seems to draw inspiration from Shakespeare and Socrates. Understanding the philosophy and themes behind these works of art can help the reader understand Dorian as a character. Understanding a basic outline of these works the reader can truly find out what makes Dorian tick. Seeing all of these influences the reader is able to establish what Wilde did differently in this novel and how it relates to his influences. For example, Faust tells the story of an established scholar who trades his soul with the Devil for a life of fortune and fame. Although the devil is not present in Wilde’s novel, Wotton stands in as a negative force of influence that introduces Dorian to the vice filled life of a corrupt socialite. One such style Wilde uses is epigrams, the story is full of them. Epigrams are short thoughtful statements in prose or verse form. A good portion of epigrams found in Wilde’s novel are developed by Lord Wotton. Wotton’s epigrams seem to play on the meaning of words to create a comic relief or a type of sarcasm.

The underlying themes of Dorian Gray are very mature and may not exist in young adult novels. There has been controversy surrounding Basil’s devotion to Dorian. Some believe that Basil’s fixation and need to see Dorian everyday is a symbol for homoerotic love. Other’s believe that Dorian is a source of inspiration for Basil to become a better artist. Descriptions of Dorian seem to be very detailed and extravagant throughout the novel and Basil may believe that by harnessing his beauty in art form may help him achieve an ultimate status as an artist. Another theme could be indulging of the senses. Dorian and Wotton live extravagant lives similar the characters in F. Scotts Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Wotton would have Dorian and the reader believe that seeking worldly pleasures and living life to the fullest is better then worrying about morals and ethics. I think it all boils down to moderation. Moderation should be the ultimate goal for humanity and something everyone should struggle to achieve. Wotton and Dorian did not live life in moderation and it led to the destruction of their souls in this novel. Wilde’s influences are etched in this theme of this novel.

Make no mistake this novel by Oscar Wilde does not belong in a young adult genre. But I think the appeal of Dorian and the struggles he goes through makes him a character readers can relate to and someone the reader loves to hate because he represents the extreme. Someone who completely gives in to a life of vice. I think that today this character is displayed in our pop culture one way or another. Movies were made about this character stretching back to the early 1900’s. Hollywood is trying to integrate Wilde’s character and the lessons this novel teaches the reader in our culture.  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen both in print and film appeal to a younger teenage audience to an adult audience. Both of these forms drew me to this classic. This is the kind of effect pop culture and reiterations of classics can have on someone and provides a strong argument for the support of young adult literature.

To access the complete novel through project Gutenberg for free click here.

For information regarding the latest 2009 film adaption of The Picture of Dorian Gray featuring Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin and Ben Barnes click here. The theatrical trailer for this movie can be found here.

– Brian

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

This is the fascinating tale of two young boys living during what is known as the Holocaust. This journey back in time is depicted through the eyes of a young German boy named Bruno and his new found friend Shmuel. However, though the boys become friends they are separated by not only a fence but the racist ideologies of the adults in their lives.  Taken from the perspective of young Bruno who is only nine, this book allows for one to see into the eyes of a child, children who do not understand exactly what is happening to them and why.

Bruno is clever in many ways, such as his language, yet does not pick up on all that is going on around him. However, Shmuel, who does know what is happening to the people “on his side of the fence” does not mention to Bruno all that goes on but simply holds is tongue, sparing his friend from the tragedies he endures from men like Bruno’s father.

In the end there is no mention of any direct understanding of where the boys actually are and what exactly takes place. Boyne has artistically taken the perspective of a child and leaves all the reasonings and history to the adults who are now aware of the happenings during the Holocaust, making them take a step back and look at it from a naive point-of-view and perhaps a better one.

If you would like to read parts of the book online click here, also we encourage you read the authors note at the end for a full explanation of how and why Boyne came up with the idea of writing about these two “young mens” and their stories.

This is a wonderful book for young adults who are interested in reading historical fiction and especially those into reading and learning about WWII. It is a very simple read and quick. Thumbs up!

Audra

Also, to read and get in-touch with the author on twitter, click here.

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