50 Book Challenge 2014 Part 3(1000 Posts)
Thread 3 of the 50 book challenge. Here are the previous threads...
The idea is to read 50 books in 2014 (or more!)
I don't think of dystopian fiction as being set out of our time. If that's the definition, then it probably isn't dystopian (although ya novels like Hunger Games and Divergent aren't clearly set in a different time either, but are dystopian). Although, it would not be unreasonable to argue that Lexicon is set in a future projected time: where words can be used for mind control and the poets exist- these aren't currently feasible in our society. Although it's close enough to be more than a little unnerving.
It has a lot of the themes and ideas prevalent in dystopian literature though: the undesirable society (I doubt anyone wants to live with that level of mind control)- and as such, it is also "frightening" in a sense; it presents a pessimistic view of the ruling class (the poets) - I don't think they come off especially well by the end ; the poets are at times brutal and small groups form a kind of resistance (Woolf, Eliot); there is a clear theme of identity (the poets have to give up/ hide theirs, they're given alternative names, there's also the storyline with Wil); there are also elements of the intellectuals being controlled.
It has all the literary features of dystopian fiction: conflict, a hero, subversion.
Bringing over my complete list so I can keep track:
1. Mad about the boy, Helen Fielding
2. The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith
3. The Husband's Secret, Liane Moriarty
4. Mr Penumbria's 24 Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
5. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kudd
6. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
7. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
8. Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte
9. The Rosie Project , Graeme Simsion
10. Shirley, Charlotte Bronte
11. The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
12. The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass
13. What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty
14. Stoner, John Williams
15. Instructions for a Heatwave, Maggie O'Farrel
16. Lady Oracle, Margaret Atwood
17. The Hypnotist's Love Story, Liane Moriarty
18. The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer
19. Longbourn, Jo Baker
20. North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
21. Life After Life, Kate Atkinson
22. I've Got Your Number, Sophie Kinsella
23. Appletree Yard, Louise Doughty
24. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
25. Stay Close, Harlan Coben
26. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
27. Maddadam, Margaret Atwood
28. Love Nina, Nina Stibbe
Looking back at my list, I'd say my Top 5 so far is made up of:
- A Farewell to Arms
- The Rosie Project
- North and South
- Life After Life
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
(OK, that's 6 but shhh, I couldn't choose).
Just read through about 10 pages to catch up. Lexicon sounds interesting. Will add to my TBR list.
Since last post, I've read
20. The Last Pre-Raphaelite, Fiona MacCarthy - huge biog of Edward Burne-jones, lots of detail and research gone into it, but felt a bit detached.
21. Last Friends, Jane Gardam - 3rd in her trilogy about elderly ex-pats coming back to Britain after the handover of Hong Kong. Not quite as perfect as the first two, but still warm and funny and sad. A great read.
22. And the Mountains Echoed - great story in it but too many characters and different narratives.
Now reading The Scarlet Letter but I've got The Goldfinch in my sights!
My top 5 so far this year:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Wednesday - re Dystopia:
This is really interesting. I never thought there could be doubt about whether a book is dystopian or not
Looking at the definition of the word "dystopia":
Merriam Webster Dictionary says it is "an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives".
Oxford Dictionaries says it is "an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one".
I really think "dystopian" refers to a fictional society/world, as does "utopian", obviously. Dystopian novels are a sub-genre of sci-fi, and that is because they are all imagined societies - 1984, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, Fahrenheit 451, etc.
I haven't read Divergent but Hunger Games is definitely set in the future. Are there now or have there ever been a society where each city gives up two of its children to fight to the death? No. Therefore, it is set in the future. In fact, its Amazon page says "Set in a dark vision of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place..."
"Although, it would not be unreasonable to argue that Lexicon is set in a future projected time: where words can be used for mind control and the poets exist- these aren't currently feasible in our society."
Maybe they are perfectly feasible now and we just don't know it! That is the story of the book, after all - an everyday encounter of a girl on the street with a young guy doing a street survey shows her the existence of these people she never suspected. Every little detail in the book is consistent with the world as we know it, all the way down to technology they use (cell phones, internet, etc) and the time it takes to fly to Australia. There is absolutely no sign that the story is taking place at any time but right now.
I'm really surprised that you would think Lexicon may be taking place in the future and Hunger Games may be a story taking place right now in 2014. It goes to show how different we all are as readers and how different our perceptions of the same book may be.
48. Heartbreak Hotel - Deborah Moggach. 3/5. Quite an amusing, lightweight novel. Not great literature, but enjoyable all the same, and good to read about romance amongst the middle aged and elderly. A bit daft in places, but lots of fun and feel good factor. Would make a great holiday read.
Next up, The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini, and Gentlemen & Players - Joanne Harris.
Cote - your definitions don't really assist the argument that "Lexicon" is not dystopian, because it is an imagined place. The Poets are not real, their life is not real, the ability to control minds by showing "barewords" and for those to wipe out entire societies is not real. It is imagined. It is set in a world that is close to ours (eerily close to ours) but it is not the reality we know. All good dystopian novels do this - they are our world, but not quite. The second definition also refers to it being a place where "people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives" - this is the life the Poets lead. They are dehumanized - their identities are taken away from them when they become poets (they are no longer themselves); they accept they have to fulfill needs, but to be successful poets, they must do so without desire (a base and necessary human emotion); they cannot reveal their true identities without being compromised. They live in fear of being compromised - this fear is underlined by the fact that trainees are given separate "powerful" words so as not to be able to use the power against each other. There is a fear of language and what it can do.
I'm curious about how you've come to the conclusion that "Lexicon" is set in the present day. I may have missed something, but I could see no clear references to this (yes, the technology etc that they have is the same as ours, but the reality is not ours). In fact, it seems to be deliberately not set in a certain time, so as to create the illusion that this could very easily be our world. Ultimately though, it is not our world. It is not real. It could be, but it isn't. This is one of the things that makes it a good dystopian novel.
"There is absolutely no sign that the story is taking place at any time but right now" - except, you know, that whole poet's / mind control scenario
"Divergent" and "Hunger Games" are only set in the future in the same way that "Lexicon" is. They all have elements of our world, but with a dark twist that makes their world both familiar and unfamiliar to us at the same time. All good dystopian novels do this: take "Nineteen Eighty Four" that was a novel set in the future, but it was a future so close to the reality of the time is was written that it was unnerving, because of it's familiarity with the world at that time. I'll leave aside discussion of "Divergent" as you aren't familiar with it.
To address your "Hunger Games" query "Are there now or have there ever been a society where each city gives up two of its children to fight to the death?" In the literal sense of giving up two children every few years to fight to the death, no. But in another sense, yes, this is a world we are familiar with. We have "given up" our young to fight to the death in wars since the beginning of civilization (and arguably before that). The two world wars are obvious examples: young men were conscripted to fight other young mean, from other societies) to the death for "the greater good" (Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et decorum est" is a great description of this - the reality of young men fighting to their deaths because their country's leaders have told them "it is sweet and right to die for your country" "your country needs you" etc etc). Many young men were "chosen" rather than volunteering, rather than the system we have now, where our young men volunteer (in a way "as tribute") so that other young men are not forced to go to war. There are parallels here with a world that we know and understand.
In "Hunger Games" there is also the parallel that the government is the head of society: it's location is a place of wealth, opportunity, glamour, "high society", whilst the further from the government location you go, the more desolate and poor the districts become. There is an argument to be made that this is similar to our society. Certainly, it is a reality we can be familiar with, in the UK, but more clearly the world as a whole.
"Hunger Games" also incorporates our dependence on reality TV (and by "our" I don't mean yours and mine personally - I would rather pickle and eat my own eyeballs than watch reality TV shows, and I have an inkling you may feel the same), but as a society that dependence / reliance is there. In shows like Big Brother, The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent, Celebrity Jungle Thing (I forget it's name) etc, there is a focus on people being chosen from the masses to compete with all the other chosen ones, avoiding eviction, to be the sole survivor at the end. Granted, they don't literally fight to the death, but there is a parallel there. It is something we are familiar with, with an unfamiliar twist, so as to unnerve and "frighten" us into believing that this could happen.
That was larger than intended, and I have more
In a definition of Dystopian Fiction, John Joseph Adams makes this comment:
"In a dystopian story, society itself is typically the antagonist; it is society that is actively working against the protagonist’s aims and desires. This oppression frequently is enacted by a totalitarian or authoritarian government, resulting in the loss of civil liberties and untenable living conditions, caused by any number of circumstances, such as world overpopulation, laws controlling a person’s sexual or reproductive freedom, and living under constant surveillance" (Adams, 2011).
In "Lexicon" society is the antagonist - a society where technology is used to classify people ("Are you a dog or a cat person?" etc). The work of the Poet organisation is directly in contrast to Emily's aims and desires: she wants to retain her own name (Emily) on becoming a poet - she cannot, she wants to be allowed to have a relationship with another poet -she cannot, she finds a way to make a happy life for herself in Broken hill - the Poets take that away from her. There is a loss of civil liberty - mind control, particularly in Emily's case where she is forced to commit an awful act in direct contrast to her own wishes. The circumstances causing this include living under surveillance and laws controlling sexual freedom (in fact, in Emily's case, this seems to be the main motivating factor).
The article also makes the following relevant points:
"Some common themes found in dystopian fiction include mastery of nature—to the point that it becomes barren, or turns against humankind; technological advances that enslave humans or regiment their lives; the mandatory division of people into castes or groups with specialized functions; and a collective loss of memory and history making mankind easier to manipulate psychologically and ultimately leading to dehumanization"
"Discussions regarding personal freedom, the role of free will, the value of individual resistance to dictatorships, and the power of technology to transform people’s lives are also typical characteristics of dystopian fiction."
On [http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson926/DefinitionCharacteristics.pdf this] website, the
"Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control. Dystopias, through an exaggerated worst-case scenario, make a criticism about a current trend, societal norm, or political system"
"Lexicon" fits the bulk of this definition: it is imagined (in the sense that aspects of the world are not real), the poet's maintain an illusion of a perfect society, where people are controlled by thoughts / through technology (but we are aware that this is an illusion as the main character deviates from this right from the outset), and the novel itself is an interesting discussion / criticism of the current trend / societal norm of seemingly random questionnaires, technology controlling what we see (currently this applies to adverts on websites we visit which are targeted towards us), but in Barry's world, this has been advanced further so that entire websites are constructed based on information we have revealed through technology.
It also lists the Characteristics of a Dystopian Society, a number of which are relevant to this novel:
• Propaganda is used to control the citizens of society (signs on the gates at Broken Hill, false reporting of the events in the area, words in all areas designed to exercise control over the general public)
• Information, independent thought, and freedom are restricted (I don't need to explain the parallel's here, do I?)
• A figurehead or concept is worshipped by the citizens of the society (Yeats is worshipped by the poets in the sense that he represents the best they can be in their line of work)
• Citizens are perceived to be under constant surveillance (they are under constant surveillance)
• Citizens have a fear of the outside world (the poet's are afraid of life outside of their faction)
• Citizens live in a dehumanized state (discussed earlier)
• The natural world is banished and distrusted (nothing can be trusted to be real with the poet's around - their is always a sense that they are controlling the outcome)
• Citizens conform to uniform expectations. Individuality and dissent are bad (particularly clear in the Poet's)
• The society is an illusion of a perfect utopian world (the world looks idyllic in a sense - people only get information they want or need, the concept of being a Poet initially looks like the perfect world - the idea of being able to control others with language appears utopian, but the novel subverts this and shows us what happens when this goes wrong.
Have you had enough yet? because I have more...
"I'm curious about how you've come to the conclusion that "Lexicon" is set in the present day. "
Because there is absolutely no indication that it is set at any other time than today. None whatsoever. Unlike Hunger Games, which is very clear that it takes place in a dystopian future North America.
"In "Lexicon" society is the antagonist"
Er... no Society at large has no idea that any of this is going on. The antagonist is a secret society. Lexicon is no more dystopian than Da Vinci Code, where you also realise that there are secret societies pulling the strings behind the scenes.
This genre is called Conspiracy Fiction.
I understand why you are confused - the existence of a secret society with what looks like supernatural powers makes it look "unreal". However:
(1) Those powers are not supernatural: They are people who are naturally resistant to persuasion whose skills are then further trained. Then they get given these 'words' that work to 'persuade' others.
(2) Even if they were supernatural, that would only make this book sci-fi, not dystopian.
Actually, this book is similar to Dr Sleep (the sequel to The Shining) - people with special powers control and/or prey on the rest of us. Neither book is dystopian, since they do not describe a terrible future world. They both describe today's world, with a secret society of special powers as the antagonist.
I'm not confused at all Cote, I just don't agree with you, which is a different thing entirely.
Are you really going to hang your entire argument on the fact that you believe it isn't set in the future? Because, it ISN'T present day. It cannot be present day. The abilities and technology outlined in the book simply don't exist now. For that reason alone, it can't be considered to be present day. I accept it's not far in the future - many of these elements are possibilities, but they don't currently exist.
Even if you don't accept that, it doesn't prevent the novel from being dystopian (or at the very least having dystopian elements) because a novel does not have to be set in the future to be dystopian. It has to be an imagined world, an attempt to create a utopia which has failed.
From wikipedia: "As fictional dystopias are often set in a future projected virtual time and/or space involving technological innovations not accessible in actual present reality, dystopian fiction is often classified generically as science fiction, a subgenre of speculative fiction." Dystopias are OFTEN set in a future projected time, not exclusively. Furthermore, "Lexicon" does involve technological innovations which are not accessible in actual present reality.
You're also disregarding all the other aspects of dystopian fiction which point to "Lexicon" being dystopian, or at the very least, having a heavy dystopian element.
Ok, so I should have been clearer the antagonist is a secret society - it's still a society. And, actually, society at large IS the antagonist - they are so easy to brainwash and manipulate with language that they inadvertently cause the rise of a secret society bent on controlling their minds.
There's also the fact that a number of reviews refer to it as dystopian / having dystopian elements (including one that the publishers saw fit to publish in the front of the novel) which points to at least a possibility that the author has considered the possibility of the novel being dystopian.
Published on his website are these:
“A scary and satisfying blend of thriller, dystopia, and horror.”
—Devon Thomas, Library Journal
“Barry’s smartest dystopia yet”
—Michael Ann Dobbs, io9
Other reviews include:
(referring to it as a dystopian society)
"A dark, dystopic grabber in which words are treated as weapons, and the villainous types have literary figures’ names. Plath, Yeats, Eliot and Woolf all figure in this ambitious, linguistics-minded work of futurism."
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
This one refers to the parallel society - so it's not our world, but an imagined version of it (which might offer us one point of agreement?) "Lexicon grabbed me with the opening lines, and never let go. An absolutely thrilling story, featuring an array of compelling characters in an eerily credible parallel society, punctuated by bouts of laugh-out-loud humor."
—Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats
I have no doubt you can find me a hundred reviews that suggest "Lexicon" isn't dystopian, but that wouldn't really help my argument...
It's not my argument, Wednesday. It's not an argument at all.
Read Dr Sleep and let me know if you think that is dystopian and/or happening in the future.
Maybe others here who have read Dr Sleep can tell us what they think, too.
I'll have a look at Dr Sleep as a future read, definitely.
Regardless of the merits or otherwise of it being dystopian, I thoroughly enjoyed "Lexicon" - thanks for the recommendation
Bringing my list to this thread + adding the latest read:
1. The Worst Journey In The World - Apsley Cherry-Garrard
2. The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice From TheSilence Of Autism - Naoki Higashida
3. Cook With Jamie - Jamie Oliver
4. Music In The Castle Of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach - John Elliot Gardiner
5. The Cuckoo's Calling - J. K. Rowling
6. The Twelve - Justin Cronin
7. Bad Science - Ben Goldacre
8. The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
9. A Good And Useful Hurt - Aric Davis
10. The Prestige - Christopher Priest
11. The Genesis Secret - Tom Knox
12. Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel
13. Dune - Frank Herbert
14. A Colder War - Charles Cummings
15. Persuader - Lee Child
16. Déjà Vu - Ian Hocking
17. Dance Of The Happy Shades - Alice Munro
18. The Sky's Dark Labyrinth - Stuart Clarke
19. The Mote In God's Eye - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
20. Shock Of The Fall - Nathan Filer
21. Lexicon - Max Barry
22. The Sensorium Of God - Stuart Clark
This is the sequel to The Sky's Dark Labyrinth, which I read last month. 'Labyrinth' was about Kepler & Galileo and this book focuses on Halley & Isaac Newton, slightly further in time. Again, I couldn't help but go at how the church and its cronies held back the advancement of science and rational thought for so long.
As with 'Labyrinth', this book also came short of my expectations. It was OK and I'm glad I read it because I learned things about the discoveries & lives of these men that I didn't know before, but it's no A Strangest Man or Measuring The World.
Next (and last) book in the trilogy is The Day Without Yesterday, which tells the story of Albert Einstein.
You are very welcome, Wednesday. Let me know if you come across anything similar
I've a few on my to-read list which Goodreads recommended but I haven't tried them yet
How did you find Bad Science Cote? Someone else has recommended that to me.
I liked it a lot. I think it should be required reading in schools
Sounds like high praise indeed. I might bump it up the list a bit.
I'm meant to be working by way through the books I chose for the Goodreads group series challenge, but I feel like I've lost my way with it a bit. I'm currently reading the 5th in the Anne Rice Vampire chronicles and am struggling with it, but I don't want to give it up because I feel like I've invested so much in reading the series up to that point, that I want to know how it pans out.
I'm thinking of putting the challenge to one side for a bit and reading some other books
My list so far:
The 1. Neil Gaiman "The Ocean at the End of the Lane"
2. Grimm's Fairy Tales
3. Victor Hugo "Les Miserables"
4. Diane Setterfield “The Thirteenth Tale”
5. Anita Shreve “The Lives of Stella Bain”
6. Vickie Johnstone - "Travelling Light"
7. Jodi Picoult "The Storyteller"
8. Stephanie Meyer - "Twilight"
9. Stephanie Meyer - "New Moon"
10. Stephanie Meyer - "Eclipse"
11. Germaine Greer "The Female Eunuch"
12. Stephanie Meyer "Breaking Dawn"
13. Alan Sugar "The CV"
14. Alicia Hart "Brains, Trains and Video Games"
15. Gavin Extence "The Universe vs Alex Woods"
16. Colin F. Barnes "Artificial Evil"
17. Sue Monk Kidd "The Secret Life of Bees".
18. William Landay "Defending Jacob".
19. Jodi Taylor "A Second Chance"
20. Maria Goodin "Nutmeg"
21. Vernon Coleman "Secrets of Paris"
22. Nathan Filer "The Shock of the Fall"
23. Charlotte Perkins Gilman "What Diantha Did"
24. Essie Fox "The Somnambulist"
25. Neil Gaiman "Stardust".
26. John Kerr "A Dangerous Method".
27. Anne Rice "Interview With The Vampire".
28. Anne Rice "The Vampire Lestat"
29. Jasper Fforde "The Last Dragonslayer"
30. Louise Rennison "Withering Tights"
31. Louise Rennison "A Midsummer Tights Dream"
32. Suzanne Collins "The Hunger Games"
33. Suzanne Collins "Catching Fire"
34. Suzanne Collins "Mockingjay"
35. Ian Rankin "Knots and Crosses "
36. William Golding "Lord of the Flies"
37. Patrick Dilloway "The Carnival Papers"
38. Anne Rice "The Queen of the Damned"
39. Matt Pritchett "25 Years of Matt".
40. Ian Rankin "Hide and Seek".
41. Deborah Harkness "A Discovery of Witches"
42. William Shawcross "Counting One's Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother"
43. Phillipa Gregory "The White Queen"
44. Anne Rice "The Tale of the Body Thief
45. Nicholas Best "Five Days that Shocked the World "
46. Deborah Harkness "Shadow of Night ".
47. Ian Rankin "Tooth and Nail". Pretty solid Rankin. Had some good twists.
48. Roger Mortimer "Dear Lupin: Letters to a Wayward Son"
49. Philippa Gregory "The Red Queen"
50. Ian Rankin "Strip Jack"
51. Ian Rankin "The Black Book"
52. "Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops"
53. William Harrison Ainsworth "The Lancashire Witches".
54. Philippa Gregory "Lady of the Rivers"
55. Veronica Roth "Divergent"
56. Faye Carlisle "Psychology for Parents"
57. Philippa Gregory "The Kingmaker's Daughter"
58. Max Barry "Lexicon"
I don't know why there's a stray "The" in there
I'm going to copy everyone else & bring my list over
1) Longbourn - Jo Baker
2) You had me at Hello - Mhairi Mcfarlaine
3) Love, Nina - Nina Stibbe
4) Getting over Mr Right - Chrissie Manby
5) The Husband's Secret - Liane Moriarty
6) The Donor - Helen Fitzgerald
7) Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - Robin Sloane
8) The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
9) Black Venus - Angela Carter
10) The Emergence of Judy Taylor - Angela Jackson
11) Sir Gawain and Green Knight - trans Simon Armitage
12) Can Anybody help me? - Sinead Crowley
13) Alex by Pierre LeMaitre.
14) Romps, Tots and Boffins: the strange language of news - Robert Hutton
15) The Examined Life: how we lose and find ourselves - Stefan Grosz
16) The Unknown Ajax - Georgette Heyer
17) The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
18) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
19) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins
20) Scaredy Cat - Mark Billingham
21) Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
22) Relative's book.
23) Beatrice Goes to Brighton - M C Beaton.
24) The Library of Unrequited Love - Sophie Divry.
25) The Language of Dying - Sarah Pinborough.
26) Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell.
27) Fun Home - Alison Bechdel
28) The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald
29) The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
30) Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch.
31) After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson
32) Poison by Sarah Pinborough
33) We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
34) Thank you, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
35) Beauty by Sarah Pinborough
36) The Burry Man's Day by Catriona McPherson
37) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
38) Charm by Sarah Pinborough
39) Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
I really liked Beautiful Ruins, Walter brought the different threads of the story together and each section was compelling and interesting. Walter writes selfish yet loveable rogues well, this novel is full of very flawed yet very attractive, endearing characters.
Cheboludo I really enjoyed Beautiful Ruins. The Richard Burton chapter is just so funny but I enjoyed the rest of it too.
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