Event: The Reading Hour 2013.

It’s that time of year again—National Reading Hour—and last year for the event I chronicled the books I’d read and what I thought of them and thought I’d do something similar this year.

Without further ado, here’s an incomplete list (I threw out my day planner from last year in which I’d pencilled in time for reading certain publications so some of this is from memory) of the books I’ve read since then.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling.

The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog & of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andre O’Hagan.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

After the Fall by Arthur Miller.

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later by Francine Pascal.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander.

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Undisputed by Chris Jericho.

Night Games by Anna Krien.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers.

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Feminism & Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler.

What books have you been reading in the past year?

Related: The Reading Hour.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn Review.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner Review.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf Review.

Night Games by Anna Krien Review.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers Review.

Books: The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Again, I don’t do New Years resolutions, but hopefully in listing the books I didn’t get around to reading in 2010 in a public forum where reviews are commonplace (um, this blog, for those of you not keeping track), I’ll be forced to devour in 2011.

1. Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley. I’ve been very vocal about my love for Mick Foley in recent months, and I was lucky enough to receive his latest memoir (number four, but who’s counting?) for my birthday, two months ago. I’ve been eagerly anticipating having enough time to dive into it headfirst, and I’m hoping it’ll be the first I check off my list this coming year.

2. Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal. I love Marilyn Monroe, both as an icon (though I wouldn’t go as far as to have her image tattooed on me, à la Megan Fox), and as a fascinating person who had many layers, some of which are peeled away with the release of this book. This is a high priority read.

3. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady & the Unicorn, so something tells me I’m going to love Remarkable Creatures, about two female fossil hunters in 19th century England. The subject matter is a bit left-of-centre for historical fiction, but it appeals to me nonetheless. I know I couple of friends who own copies of this book, so maybe I can bum a lend…?

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have a tendency to build classics up in my mind before I’ve read them, and I’m then sorely disappointed. I have a feeling a similar effect will occur with The Great Gatsby, which I became interested in reading when I heard that it will be subjected to a movie remake at the hands of Baz Lurhmann. So bogan-esque, I know!

5. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Crosley’s books have done the review rounds in some of my favourite and trusted mags, like Yen and Cleo, with nothing but good vibrations about her collection of essays.

6. How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. Yes, this is Crosley’s second appearance on the list, but all the buzz surrounding her books and her clever, witty and sometimes snarky tone means I can’t wait to gobble them up!

7. The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe by Jeffrey Meyer. I read a review of this tome earlier in the year, and it has stayed with me since. Most intriguingly, the book “houses an appendix detailing the illnesses and operations” Monroe had throughout her life.

8. The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne. I can’t get me enough of Dominick Dunne, so it’s a surpriseeven to methat I haven’t read all of his books yet. This one is somewhat of an official memoir, as a lot of his fictional works blur the line between reality and fiction, Another City, Not My Own especially.

9. The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. In case you were wondering, I plan to do a lot of Monroe-related reading in 2011. This is one of the more imaginative books about her life.

10. The Prince, The Showgirl & Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clarke. Both are the basis for the new Michelle Williams effort, My Week with Marilyn. Just while we’re on that, I’d like to sneak in another Monroe-inspired fiction: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, which another biopic starring Naomi Watts as Monroe is based on. Perhaps if I had picked up the copy I always see at my favourite second-hand bookstore, Bendigo Book Mark, it would have given me more incentive to read it. No, wait, that doesn’t work for the numerous other books I’ve got sitting there, just begging to be read…

Related: In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Things Bogans Like.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Elsewhere: [Bookslut] Genius, Goddess: Reading Theatre.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.

Book Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

 

There has been a lot of talk of Animal Farm on the internet lately, so I thought, what better time to post a review of the 1945 George Orwell classic than now?

For those of you not familiar with the story of Animal Farm, here is a quick low-down (spoiler-alert):

After an uprising from the animals of Manor Farm, it is renamed Animal Farm as it’s “four legged” residents run its human owners out, representing the events prior to World War II in Stalin-led Russia.

During this revolt, Old Major (who is said to channel Karl Marx or perhaps Vladimir Leninalthough Christopher Hitchens notes that “there is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig… Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time [sic] and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took me years to notice what was staring me in the face”) the farm’s boar leader, comes up with the Seven Commandments of Animalism (mirroring Communism), which young pigs Snowball and Napoleon put into practice after Old Major’s death. These Commandments are:

  • Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  • Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  • No animal shall wear clothes.
  • No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  • No animal shall drink alcohol.
  • No animal shall kill any other animal.
  • All animals are equal.

At first the residents of Animal Farm are happy and embrace the Seven Commandments, but turmoil quickly ensues. Snowball and Napoleon (meant to represent Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, respectively) become drunk with power, challenging the other residents of the farm and each other.

Snowball suggests building a windmill, but Napoleon opposes it and has Snowball run out of the Farm. Napoleon takes over leadership, and he and his army of pigs, including right-hand man Squealer, declare that Snowball stole the idea for the windmill from Napoleon, and that they will go ahead with the erection of it.

After a violent storm, the windmill is found destroyed and Napoleon accuses Snowball of sneaking in and demolishing it. Anyone believed to be consorting with Snowball is killed off, and Napoleon brainwashes the poor residents into believing that Animal Farm is better than the human-run Manor Farm. Meanwhile, the pigs adopt human characteristics and begin to walk upright.

As the novella comes to a close, the Seven Commandments have been changed to accommodate Napoleon and his pigs; “no animal shall sleep in a bed” becomes “no animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets”, and “but some animals are more equal than others” is added to the final commandment. After the sacrifice of many of the Farm’s residents, the final scene describes a dinner party held by Napoleon for the residents of the area, both human and porcine, between which the other animals cannot tell the difference.

That’s the premise of Animal Farm crammed into as small a nutshell as I could find!

I loved that the book was simply written, yet the themes and messages were still easily deciphered. I highly recommend acquiring the book, as most editions come with several Orwell-written Appendices which highlight the political undertones of the story.

I also recently watched the 1999 film version, starring Kelsey Grammar as the voice of Snowball and Julia Louis-Dreyfus voicing horse Mollie. While Andrew O’Hagan writes that “art involving talking animals is often deeply political”, I chose to bypass the 1954 animation as the newer adaptation was more readily available for hire and more closely resembles the book.

One major difference, though, is that the role of border collie Jessie is heightened in the movie, and she plays narrator and the maternal voice of reason. Snaps to the dog’s trainer, as Jessie is very lovableas all dogs areand believable. It’s those puppy dog eyes, I tell ya.

Speaking of animal authenticity, the pigs chosen to play Napoleon and Squealer were appropriately repugnant, whereas Snowball’s onscreen incarnation garnered much more sympathy from me than he did in print.

The film version moved along much quicker, and I thought the use of propaganda films starring Napoleon and Squealer to address the animals of the farm was very smart. These films showed the pubic hangings of rats and hens, à la Stalin, and amendments to the commandments.

All in all, the movie was likeable, and served as a motion picture compliment to better illustrate the ideas and goings on in the book.

But book over movie every time, baby!

Elsewhere: [The Guardian] Andrew O’Hagan on Fiction’s Talking Animals.