Category Archives: Book Reports

Animal Farm

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I never read this in high school; just as well because I hated history as taught in class. I’m a much better learner when I learn from history enthusiasts in my peer group! Luckily for me, many of my history buff friends are gifted at re-telling historical events in an exciting, accessible way for me. I learned some things from books and school, but I’ve learned the most by listening to my friends and paying attention to historical references in pop culture.

Animal Farm is fascinating to me now, and it makes me wonder about the future of the US which is so painfully divided ideologically right now. Could the Democrat/Republican standoff be a Napoleon and Snowball redux??

I’m only on page 40 so far, but already I have fashioned a history-through-literature course for myself out of reading Animal Farm. My interest in the animal allegory—and my confusion about it, since I didn’t remember the history very well—led me to the Animal Farm SparkNotes, which lays out the history and symbolism pretty clearly.

I don’t believe that we have to learn history from dull, dry textbook accounts. I think it would be a much more effective learning experience if we could learn history through the context of literature and popular culture, which tends to reflect (if not defame, misrepresent and ridicule) the truths of history.

A related link, because it is about hacking one’s education, which I feel I am doing now, as an adult with ever more to learn: a 13-year-old upper-middle class boy gives a TED talk about following his own interests in pursuit of a happier education and lifestyle. It’s a nice idea, but I don’t think it’s truly feasible for the lower socioeconomic classes of students whose resources and support systems are highly unlikely to lend themselves to independent learning. That’s capitalism though, isn’t it? The poorer sector will always be at a disadvantage… needless to say, Animal Farm has also inspired me to learn a little more about Marxism.


Book Report: Dear John, I Love Jane

Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for WomenDear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women by Candace Walsh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear John, I Love Jane was eye-opening but left quite a bit of pain to be desired. Forgive the possibly sadomasochistic oxymoron, as pain rarely falls under the category of desirable. Nevertheless, the book lacks the naturally suggested heartache — even destruction — in the stories of women leaving behind devoted partners and choosing lovers of a completely different orientation, often in addition to leaving children and established families.

Despite the assumed tragedy in such stories, most of the anthology seemed to repeat the same one-sided anecdote of the sexually unsatisfied, arguably inexperienced women who married too young before finding new love — not necessarily just novel love — with a cast of interesting female characters. It would have been a more thorough picture of their experiences though, to include the men’s stories, the husbands’ stories. The dissolution of a family, especially one with young children or adult children, is not a thing to ignore. Yet I found it sorely untouched in this selection. Some of the pain of lost love, the inconvenience of dissolving a heavily financial and codependent arrangement like marriage, certainly dusts the pages. But not enough.

Certainly, the coming-of-age inherent in coming out as an older adult, rather than as an adolescent, rings with personal discovery, the beauty of being born again and finding identity. That’s really what this book was about. It does a fantastic job of painting striking, even erotic images of female bi- and homosexuality. But the deeper significance of finding that self-actualization amid family crisis was completely left out. It would be great to someday see a version of this anthology from male writers whose partners left their married families for a different sexuality.

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Book Report: Sex at Dawn

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern SexualitySex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthropological review of human sexuality theory and history is neatly argued, but still flawed. The basic argument is that we are not evolved for monogamy, a point illustrated by many rebuttals of contradictory “research” throughout recent history, as well as evaluations of sexual practices in the communities of our evolutionary siblings — bonobo monkeys, in particular.

The central flaw in arguing that we should not, according to the authors, expect ourselves to adhere to monogamy, lies in the pure fact that monogamy ideals have grown and flourished in our agricultural, large-scale western societies. (The case is different in isolated tribes in the rest of the world.) Our bodies may not be evolutionarily suited to monogamy, but our emotions and our societal conditioning seem to be. Indeed, this is why so many people in first-world Western countries still have emotional difficulty with cheating partners or, in more liberal circles, the practice of polyamory. The authors of Sex at Dawn seem to recommend the latter, but even professional sex and relationship guru Dan Savage has to counsel polyamorous wannabes to go slow and take baby steps to re-condition their monogamous hearts.

All in all, this book was very thought-provoking, a must-read for any sociology nerd. However, a huge takeaway from it is my new conviction that human beings really need to stop trying to understand why we act the way we do, and just take it a day at a time. Anthropology and psychology are well and good, but at the end of the day, it’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to — or, more accurately, we’ll be monogamous or polygamous if we want to.

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Book Report: Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ender’s Game seems to be on the favorites list of everyone who was once a nerdy pre-teen boy. After seeing it on so many such lists, in fact, I decided to investigate. I asked a lot of now-grown men what exactly drew them to Ender’s Game and left such an impression, but I’m still slightly mystified.

I think the appeal may lie in the endless battle sequences, which may certainly appeal to some — girls, even! — but not to me. I found the pacing of the story incredibly slow: all the talk of an all-out war with the buggers, and not a plotline climax to be seen… until the last thirty pages. The book drags on about Ender’s ascent in rank as soldier, with a few twists and turns, and although I suppose the meat of the overall plot is dynamic enough, I personally didn’t feel connected to any of it. I admit that the ending was a shock, but not enough to excuse the previous 200 pages of unsophisticated jumps forward by years within the span of a paragraph, unromantic narrative, and characters who somehow never became real to me.

The video game simulations seemed contrived and irrelevant to me, and the picture of life at the battle school wasn’t vivid enough for me to find it a worthy place to spend the majority of the book. By the end, I felt almost like each character was a different physical representation of the same boring army type — even Valentine, the “soft” sister character.

Pop culture phenomena certainly interest me, and I’m glad to have finally checked this one out. But it didn’t captivate me enough to make me follow through with the rest of the series. Like The Hunger Games, I feel this book could stand alone just fine, and I was much less enchanted by this one than by The Hunger Games.

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Book Report: The Hunger Games

Readtainment - The Hunger Games

The text: The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The media: novel
The synopsis: In dystopian America, a tyrannical government sentences its surrounding districts to a yearly battle to the death, each district submitting one girl tribute and one boy. Only one can win, and Katniss Everdeen will be the underdog as she volunteers to take her sister’s place for the weakest district.
The lesson: Great storytelling ignites a passion for imagining, for believing in love and asking life’s big questions. [Some spoilers included in this post.]

From a reviewing standpoint, there are some technical things that this book got perfectly right. The blurbs stuck in my mind so much that they guided my own appreciation – Stephen King said he “couldn’t stop reading,” Stephenie Meyer said she was “obsessed with this book,” John King of the NYT Book Review called the pacing “perfect.” I share all of these views, and my love for this book will stay for a long time.

To me, The Hunger Games easily ranks alongside The Time Traveler’s Wife and the now over-praised writing of JK Rowling. I am always searching for voices like Suzanne Collins’, whose ease with words pairs effortlessly with the perfect embodiment of human feeling. The world she has created in this book, although often gruesome and harrowing, made me starry-eyed and dreamy for the humanity delicately encapsulated in it. I did not expect this book to rekindle my belief in love, but it did. (Briefly, maybe, given the ending.) But perhaps I’m just on a love-appreciation spree.

Collins executes a perfect balance of surprise with just the right measure of head-cocking “wait, can it be…?” moments as we flow through the story of Katniss, Peeta and their fight to the death with 22 other teenaged “tributes” in a dystopian reinvention of America. I began this book without many expectations, but found myself, like Stephen King, utterly unable to stop reading.

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