Books

ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell | Review

Animal Farm by George OrwellGeorge Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm has been on my reading radar for quite some time. After reading the unsettling 1984 a few years ago and his collection of essays titled Why I Write more recently, I’ve been meaning to tick Animal Farm off of my list as well. As is often the case, this impressive novel has left me with one question: Why on Earth didn’t I read it sooner?

Since I’m studying Spanish in college (alongside English) I decided to read a Spanish translation of Animal Farm. The translation was excellent– beautiful yet still with Orwell’s characteristic style– and I was pleasantly surprised by how easily I was able to read it. I struggled with some difficult words and phrases here and there, but for the most part I felt as though I was understanding the majority of what I read. Even though my experience with the Spanish translation was overwhelmingly positive, I will probably reread this novel in English at some point in the near future. Because English is my native language I feel like I’ll be able to take away ever more from the story. Additionally, studying English literature in college has made me more interested in how authors play with language to produce meaning. Reading Animal Farm in English will surely provide me with plenty of food for thought, both in regard to how language functions as a means of expression and as a tool.

Animals play a fascinating role in this novel, as the title certainly suggests. The attention to detail given to the different kinds of animals is remarkable, from the apparently air headed sheep to the perceptive pigs. All species are assigned a specific level of intelligence and ability, mimicking the way humans tend to generalize people’s abilities based on rather arbitrary factors. There is also symbolism in the way the animals fall (or are nudged) into a social hierarchy based on their specific, with the all-knowing pigs always at the top. This can easily be extrapolated to fit a modern context, especially regarding different races and ethnicities. The astounding relevancy of Animal Farm is one of the many reasons why it holds the distinction of being a timeless classic. (Also, can I just mention how horrible the pigs are? They’re despicable. End of story.)

IMG_4328Another interesting aspect of the story is the gradual degradation of society on the farm. I was immediately reminded of Plato’s different stages of this process, from aristocracy down to tyranny. It’s unsettling to helplessly watch their society crumble and break down as the story goes on, particularly when only a few animals realize what is actually going on. As the pigs take control and essentially brainwash the other animals, the rules of the farm change unjustly and equality deteriorates. This work of satire is an important warning to people everywhere: not every revolution is revolutionary. 

Such a message is further emphasized by the cyclical nature of Animal Farm. One of the most disturbing images for me in this novel is of the pigs walking upright on two legs, wearing human clothing and even doing business with people. In the end, the reader can hardly tell the difference between the pigs and him or herself. The confusion of this novel forced me to view our own society from a different perspective. What forms of oppression are present in our current culture? Are we being subtly brainwashed? How would we even know? The beauty of Orwell’s writing lies not only in the story itself, but also in the thoughts it inevitably produces.

Overall, Animal Farm is a brilliant novel that is simultaneously captivating, stunning, and disturbing. Although I cannot speak for its historical significance (I don’t know enough about the context in which it was written) I think it is a masterpiece of satire nonetheless. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves George Orwell’s writing, satire, social commentary, or thought-provoking works in general. This is truly a remarkable work of fiction!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

Have you ever read Animal Farm? What are your thoughts? Have any George Orwell recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Books

SPHERE by Michael Crichton | Review

455373Creepy underwater adventures? A dysfunctional team of professionals? Possible alien activity? If this isn’t a recipe for a chilling sci-fi story then I don’t know what is!

Last summer Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park immediately became one of my favorite science fiction novels. Eager for more, I decided to read another one of his highly praised works: Sphere. While it didn’t surpass Jurassic Park in my mind, it certainly came close.

The story and plot themselves are everything that I’ve come to love about Crichton’s writing: unique, unexpected, suspenseful, fast-paced, gripping, and a bit terrifying. My initial predictions regarding where the story would go were completely off the mark, and I was delighted by how many times I was genuinely surprised by unexpected plot twists. What begins as a mere possibility of alien contact quickly transforms into something more dark, sinister, and foreign. There is constant action and change, and I even when I wasn’t reading I could not stop thinking about what might happen next. When it comes to page-turners and plot twists, Michael Crichton is king!

As much as this story is driven by plot, it is also largely motivated by the behaviors of the characters. Each character undergoes an immense amount of development and growth, although not always for the better. These changes are as unexpected as the many plot twists that occur, and are all the more jarring because they betray the trust the reader has in the personalities and motivations of the characters. If you’ve never experienced the horrid feeling of your first impressions being yanked away as they are disproven time and time again, then get ready for a flood of frustrated sighs and surprised gasps. Each character has many more layers than you would ever expect or are aware of until it’s too late; at that point, all you can do is quickly accept their true personalities and keep going. By the end of Sphere, you won’t know who to trust and who to disregard anymore; in this way, the novel is a sort of psychological thriller as well.

To be honest, I could go on and on about each character in depth because they are all so fascinating; however, I’ll limit myself to discussing only Norm and Beth, my two favorites. Norm, the protagonist of the story, is a middle-aged psychologist who has the easy relatability of the “average” person that you so frequently find in books. Despite his apparent “normalcy” (a play on words with his name, wouldn’t you say?) he offers some keen insight into the minds and behaviors of his fellow team members down on the ocean floor. Though these observations are not always correct, Norm nevertheless provides the reader with some interesting explanations and ways of viewing the other characters. Beth, on the other hand, is a strong, independent female that I really admired throughout this story. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself, and she makes many remarks to her teammates about treating women with the same respect and attitude that they give fellow men. It was refreshing to read from such a feminist perspective, especially within the science fiction genre in which females are often underrepresented and underappreciated.

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Reading SPHERE by the campfire

As always, my favorite aspect of Crichton’s work is the way he makes the science fiction elements sound almost believable. The science behind the mysteries of the sphere are incredibly detailed and meticulously explained, making it seem as though they are based on actual evidence. Perhaps there is a kernel of fact deep down in the details that rings true, which is why his theories are more convincing than I would expect science fiction to be. Whatever the case is, I love how easy Crichton makes it for the reader to lose him or herself in his theoretical musings, to pretend that the world is an even more scientifically advanced place for a few hundred pages. In Sphere, the scientific components primarily deal with ocean life at great depths, human psychology, and even some physics. It’s a strange combination, but it makes for a fascinating and utterly unique novel.

Overall, Michael Crichton thoroughly impressed me with yet another incredible science fiction story. Though a very different novel from Jurassic Park, Sphere still had that characteristic dramatic tension that makes for a suspenseful, gripping, and chilling reading experience. This book has further confirmed why Michael Crichton is a masterful science fiction writer!

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!! Especially if they are fans of Jurassic Park or science fiction in general.

What are your thoughts on Sphere? Do you like science fiction? Are there any other books by Michael Crichton that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

HOLES by Louis Sachar

38709Apparently I missed the stop for the Holes train when I was younger, because it feels as though everyone else has read this book except for me. After countless people recommended it to me (both through blogging and in my everyday life), I finally decided to listen to the audio book version this summer. While the many positive reviews I’d heard prior to reading this book certainly pushed me to actually start it, I think they may have ultimately done me a disservice. I enjoyed Louis Sachar’s Holes, but finished it feeling a bit disappointed that it hadn’t met my high expectations.

One aspect of this novel I did love was how Sachar included clever, funny details in the story. Making the main character’s name a palindrome (Stanley Yelnats) is not only brilliant– it’s hilarious! His unusual name came up several times throughout the story and even played an important part in the climax of the novel. Each detail is significant in its own way, which I greatly appreciated. Similarly, Sachar’s use of repetition led to many little coincidences that were always a satisfying, pleasant surprise to come across. For example, I loved the cyclical nature of the song passed down through Stanley’s family, as well as the ongoing joke about Stanley’s “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.” These quirky details added an extra layer of fun, surprise, and wit to an already unique story.

Moreover, another strength of Holes is its many complex, multidimensional, one-of-a-kind characters. It’s difficult to pick a favorite, so instead I’ll pick three: Stanley Yelnats, Mr. Pendanski, and the Warden. I couldn’t help but root for Stanley throughout this novel because he is easy to relate with. He’s an average kid who is thrust into an undesirable situation, which is a feeling I think we have all experienced to a certain extent. Life isn’t always easy for Stanley, but he remains optimistic all the same and refuses to give up. What more can you want from a protagonist?

%22When you spend your whole life living in a hole, the only way you can go is up.%22The other two characters may not have the most sound morals, but they do have their charms. Mr. Pendanski has an odd sense of humor that I think is hilarious, and I love the way he tries to teach the boys that they are in control of their own lives. He is that ambiguous blend of good and evil which is sure to result in a fascinating character. The Warden, on the other hand, is just plain evil– but that’s what I love about her! Her unpredictability, mischievous personality, and enigmatic persona add an exciting element of suspense to the story. Furthermore, nearly all of the characters undergo some sort of character development. From the courageous campers to the wicked workers of Camp Green Lake, everyone learns a lesson or two throughout this wacky adventure.

However, my mixed feelings began to develop when the additional story lines were introduced. There are certainly aspects of the intertwining story lines that I thought worked well, such as the way they helped explain the supposed curse on Stanley’s family and the history of Camp Green Lake. They added remarkable depth to the story and came together nicely in a satisfying, clever conclusion. But along with the strengths of the multiple story lines come several weaknesses, including jarring transitions and a bit of general confusion. Perhaps it’s because I listened to the audio book version of Holes, but I found the transitions between the different plot lines to be quite abrupt. At first they were really unexpected and I had no idea how the second one connected with Stanley’s own story, thought that became apparent later on. I understand that it’s meant to be a mystery or puzzle in the beginning, but I think more could have been done to clarify what was actually going on. Again, this might simply be a result of the audio book, but it’s nevertheless worth thinking about.

Holes was also a bit confusing due to the incredibly random nature of the story itself. Kids forced to dig holes exactly five feet deep all around? Carrying a pig up a mountain so it can drink from a stream and miraculously grow larger? Magical onions? Although I fully support creativity and originality, this book was so outlandish at times that it all felt a bit much. Perhaps I would have enjoyed these seemingly random elements more if I had read this book when I was younger.

Overall, Holes by Louis Sachar is a unique, clever, and hilarious read. While I enjoyed many aspects of the story– the quirky details, the characters, the satisfying ending, etc.– I couldn’t help but ultimately feel disappointed. This book was so hyped up for me that my expectations grew to unreachable heights, as will happen when the hype monster attacks. Nevertheless, Holes is an entertaining, original, and worthwhile read.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Despite my own disappointment, I still enjoyed this story very much.

Have you read Holes? What are your thoughts on it? Have you ever been disappointed by a book because your initial expectations were too high? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Books

THRIVE by Arianna Huffington

Thrive by Arianna Huffington“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.”

Over winter break between semesters I was invited to attend a weeklong leadership program at my college. This program was geared towards helping young women at my college feel more confident with themselves and their ability to step forward and lead. We focused a lot on learning more about ourselves as individuals, because you can’t be a truly effective leader if you don’t have a decent understanding of who you are as a person. We were asked to read Arianna Huffington’s Thrive before the program started so we could discuss it when we were all together. I knew very little about Arianna Huffington prior to reading this book, which made me even more intrigued and excited to read it.

Thrive had such an incredibly strong beginning that I honestly thought it would end up being one of my new favorite books. It promised to deliver eye-opening advice and insight about how to enrich our lives and regain our sense of inner peace. Unfortunately, as I read more and more my enthusiasm began to wane. There’s only so much incessant repetition and overly broad claims one can take before the lack of depth becomes glaringly notable. Where were all of the revolutionary tips and tricks I was promised? What about the key to living a more fulfilling, relaxed, happier life? While this book was undeniably inspirational, organized, and well-written, I do think that its introduction and the way it was marketed were a bit misleading.

A major strength of this book is its simple but effective organization. The bulk of it is split into four sections, which Huffington refers to as the Third Metric by which to measure our success and happiness: well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving. Such a clearly defined structure makes it easier for the reader to understand what they’re currently reading and to be aware of what’s coming up next. Acting as the driving force behind Thrive, these well-balanced sections lend to a reading experience of greater comprehension and clarity.

One aspect of murky gray area for me was the purpose of this book. From the very beginning I expected it to be strictly a self-help book, but the numerous personal anecdotes and references to Huffington’s own life led me to believe it was more of a memoir. Again, I think this is a gray area created by the marketing surrounding this book. In reality it seems to be a mix of both self-help and memoir, but to me it was marketed more towards the former. This discrepancy isn’t necessarily negative; rather, I note it only to say that it did cause me to raise some questions while I was reading.

Moreover, I feel as though the marketing was also misleading in terms of the audience it tried to reach. While reading this book I felt as though it was aimed at a different group of people— those with steady careers and enough money to live comfortable, privileged lives. As a college student worried about paying off student loans and staying afloat financially after graduating, Huffington’s urgent advice to take time off from work to do yoga and meditate sounds unrealistic. In an ideal situation I’m sure practicing such methods of relaxation is noticeably effective, but she can hardly expect the average person to implement her suggestions on a regular basis.

Despite the many critiques I have of Thrive as explained in this review, my reading experience overall was quite positive. Personally, I enjoyed this book due to the thoughts and outlooks it inspired me to have as much as because of the content itself. If you’re looking for a book that will make you shift your outlook on life in a different, more positive direction, then I would definitely recommend giving Huffington’s Thrive a chance.

Have you read this book before? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY