Review: Brave New World

Brave New World
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brave New World appealed to me so much more than 1984 did. They both deal with similar concepts: a controlling government that imposes its own will on society. The government of 1984 does so by oppression. The government of Brave New World controls through kindness. Humans are conditioned even before birth to be consumers. They are conditioned to lack a fear of death. Each child is born predestined for a particular role in society, and through careful conditioning, developed to love playing that role.

Brave New World is going to stick in my mind for a long time, and may be one of those few books that I go back to re-read in the future. If we don't see the cage, are we free?

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Review: 1984

1984 by George Orwell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Lots of people are exposed to 1984 in high school as required reading. I wasn't one of those people, but I still was aware of many of the concepts of the story because they are part of our common discourse with regard to politics and government. I decided it was time to get the full story and checked this out from my library.

First, an explanation of my 2-star rating. I didn't enjoy this book. I didn't care about Winston, or Julia, or any of the other characters. I felt that it wasn't even really so much as a story as it was a loose framework upon which Orwell's thoughts on communism could be hung.

That aside, Orwell's thoughts on communism and power are really interesting. While I wouldn't recommend reading the entire book, I would highly recommend reading the book within the book (Goldstein's manifesto). It is a very frank essay covering how a body in power might abuse that power to remain in power forever, and purely for power's sake. It's terrifying. The behavior of the party and Big Brother is taken to an extreme, so I don't think it is fair to say that any current government has taken the tenets of that essay to heart. However, it is easy to identify various elements in place all over the world. Whether it is falsification of the past (holocaust denial), falsification of production (North Korea), or continuous involvement in warfare.

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Review: The Light Fantastic

The Light Fantastic
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The same whimsical humor from the first discworld book is present here. We get introduced to a handful of new characters that I hope we see more of. I thought this book was entertaining, but not something I would recommend. This style of humor is great in small samples, but I grew tired of it after the first hundred pages. Still, I will probably continue reading the series.

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Review: Brain Jack

Brain Jack
Brain Jack by Brian Falkner

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Have you seen the movie "The Net"? The one with Sandra Bullock? If you watched that and thought, "Wow, hacking is really cool" then this book is for you. If, on the other hand, you laughed yourself out of your chair at the ridiculous way hacking was portrayed, you may want to give Brain Jack a pass. The story builds momentum well, and there is plenty of action, but there were times when I thought my eyes were going to roll right on out of my head.

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Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In my experience, YA books fall into a handful of categories: short books with remedial language intended as throw away entertainment, coming of age stories that identify with the readers experiences, and thinly veiled parables. However, that doesn't mean YA books can't be enjoyed, and I did enjoy this book. Don't let the 3 star rating fool you, it is really more of a 3.5. A Wizard of Earthsea, for me, falls in the parable category, but it isn't heavy handed at all.

I wish I would have read this prior to reading [b:The Name of the Wind|186074|The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)|Patrick Rothfuss||2502879] as it has many of the same concepts. The two books provide a very clear picture of the different of writing for a young audience and a mature audience. Rothfuss's world is so much richer. I really appreciated the afterword in Earthsea by Le Guin where she talks about her initial reticence to do a YA book, and how she approached it. It's nice to see that the author is consciously making certain decisions in the writing of the story.

In a few years, I'm sure I'll be recommending this book to my kids.

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Review: The Dead of Night

The Dead of Night
The Dead of Night by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I concluded my review of Tomorrow When the War Began with "I'm eager to see what happens next." Apparently I wasn't that eager, as it is now three years later and I'm just now finishing the second book in this series. This is a very brief episode wherein Ellie and her friends continue to adapt to life as guerrillas in an occupied nation. We get a bit more depth from each character, and the group goes on a few outings for both reconnaissance and attack. If you enjoyed the first book, you will certainly enjoy this one as well.

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Review: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I desperately wish this was a book that I could recommend, but I can't. I wish that the author built solid arguments based on proven research and logic. Instead, while I wholeheartedly agree with the main sentiment, I find myself at a loss at who I could recommend this to.

Last Child in the Woods sets out to demonstrate how the modern child, through a lack of interaction with nature, has experienced a development failure. In order to combat this problem, we must find ways to reintegrate our children with nature. There are tidbits of excellent advice based on research throughout, such as research that shows when children use all of their senses to absorb information they are much more likely to retain it. This is in contrast to our modern classroom environment where students are lectured to and observe examples on the board, then asked to repeat them at home. In this way, children are only experiencing one or two senses in tandem. Moving the learning environment outdoors exposes the child to all of their senses at once.

I was looking for this book to provide the following:
- A definition of the problem (identify specific developmental issues in children)
- A definition of the root cause (lack of exposure to nature), along with properly cited research to bolster that claim
- Proposals for addressing the root cause (public, private, and personal) as well as properly cited research that demonstrates how these efforts are effective

This type of structured argument is not found in this book. What the book does provide is unstructured rambling that tries to cover too much territory in too shallow of detail. It is for that reason that I can't take it to my local, state, and federal representatives. I can't recommend this book to the school board. Instead, I'm left with a book that appeals to me emotionally, but leaves me with no ammunition to argue that we should make broader efforts to expose our children to nature. If there is one element of the book that I would recommend, it would be the last 70 or so pages where Louv provides concrete recommendations on activities to undertake, community actions, and further reading.

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Jade Mason