Monthly Archives: August 2012

I love learning about other cultures, and how people live within the realms of specific faiths, so this blog about oppression within Islam is such an eye opener for me.

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Book Review: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

The Sorrows of Young Werther, by J.W.v Goethe.

A novella about a young man, an artist and writer, who goes off to the country to enjoy what nature may inspire. In his enthusiasm for new experiences, and meeting new acquaintances, he fails to take heed of friendly warnings, and becomes obsessed with a local woman who’s promised to another man. Despite the fact Lotte marries Albert, Werther attempts to maintain a friendship but only succeeds in exciting his obsessions, resulting in him becoming more and more melancholy.

There are lots of beautiful descriptions of the environment and daily life that Werther observes, but what I grew weary of was how much of a sap Werther became. He was a self proclaimed “sensitive” soul, but he became so hapless without a daily fix of “his” Lotte. It always seemed like Lotte was either truly ignorant of Werther’s passions, or she took pleasure in seeing him so uncomfortable. As it turns out, she isn’t the latter but I can’t really see her being entirely ignorant either, but it seemed like she did nothing in an attempt to prevent his attachment to her.

The book is set out in three parts, part one and two are as if we’re reading letters that Werther writes to an old friend about his life and love, as well as attempting to rid himself of his hopeless feelings once Lotte marries. Part three is an overview of Werther’s life as if written by an editor and contains snippets of things he wrote to his friend, as well as his final letter to Lotte.

Personally, the book wasn’t what I expected it to be. I found myself getting quite annoyed with the characters, and situations that went on. At 170 pages or so, it was hardly a difficult read though. Worth reading if you enjoy reading letters; or reading lots of observations on daily life, seasons, emotions, human interactions, etc…

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Book Review: Elementary Forms of Religious Life.

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Emile Durkheim.

 

(A book I read around June, I think, but hadn’t written a review.)

Emile has based this work on the ‘old religions’, particularly the totem faiths from the early days in Australia. He does, however, draw on comparisons with many religions through the ages, and link this to societies and how religion ‘fits in’.

Whilst much of the information in this book is quite repetitive, skim reading alone can extract some really interesting and original thought processes. He even predicts how society’s reliance on religion for a moral guide will be on the decline, and offers his and other’s observations for this. Emile wrote this in the early 1900s, and was writing from the back of an economic and spiritual depression. His beliefs were from a time where intellectuals seemed to believe you couldn’t be religious, whilst claiming to be an intellectual, as religion apparently was not part of a rational thought process.

Despite these opinions being quite plain within his work, this piece in particular was quite intriguing as he follows the history of religion, and his beliefs in why people worshipped in these ways. He balanced society, societies needs at those times, and the faith of choice. He followed patterns, and compared them to societies in later ages and how the fundamentals of their religious practices differed or remained similar.

Whatever your status with regards to religion, I think this is a great book to browse if you’re interested in learning more about the history of religions and societies.

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Book Review: Witch and Wizard.

 

Witch and Wizard: book 1, by James Patterson.

 

I read this book around February or March, but hadn’t done a review for it for some reason. This book is James Patterson’s YA book, in an attempt to encourage young people to read more. At least, that was the general gist of his introduction anyway. It is written around the idea that there will be a hostile takeover (such as the one I described in The Handmaid’s Tale) but, it seems, this takeover in ‘the future’ is centred around the eradication of anyone with a ‘gift’. By that, I mean supernatural.

This book describes a school aged brother and sister who have escaped an indoctrination programme and have set up with other young people, hoping to find their parents. It goes through their journey of discovering these talents that their parents have been hinting at (“you’re special“), and now have to figure these things out together. Naturally these ‘gifts’ are something amazing for other young people, but there are ‘informants’ scattered about who will give away their position in exchange for power. Apparently, for some, it’s better to be a servant of sorts, than a fugitive.

This is the first part to who knows how many books… personally, I wasn’t overly impressed. I got the distinct impression I’ve read much of what was written before. There were few things that seemed ‘original’. I detected elements that seemed to be taken from the TV series The Tribe where kids were left to set up a society since something wiped out all the grown ups; V for Vendetta; and a couple of episodes of Charmed (based on what may happen in the future)… I may be wrong, just how I interpreted some of it.

In terms of keeping kids entertained though (and I have friends that love the series), I can see why it would interest them. There’s lots of action, easy to read, and who wouldn’t love to wake up one day and find you’re almost all-powerful? The annoying thing is the way these gifts are described. They just know how to use them instinctively, and these gifts seem to have few limitations. And yet, they keep getting caught! Gosh darn it.

 

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Book Review: Sorceress.

Sorceress, by Celia Rees.

 

This is the sequel to Witch Child which was set in the 1600s and is set up as if this is a historical text with a fictional historian searching for information on a young girl called Mary who had fled England with a group of Puritans after her Grandmother was hanged for being a witch. She was desperate to escape the same accusation, and followed these settlers to America. This book ends as Mary escapes the settlement before they can try her as a witch.

The second book, Sorceress, is where the same historian is gathering information on Mary’s journey after she left the settlement. There is more involvement from this historian and a native girl called Agnes who is believed to be a descendant of Mary but, in my opinion, we don’t see enough of these characters. They are merely the channel by which Mary’s story is told. Alison, the historian, supplies context; Agnes supplies the ‘visions’ which are of Mary’s life as a white girl accepted by the natives, and the problems she faces through her adult life. Particularly once the white men realise there is an English woman living with the natives, who isn’t a captive, and is rumoured to have skills as a sorceress.

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed both books, particularly with all the information on native tribes and how they lived their lives, I preferred how Witch Child was presented. It was a story still told through Alison, but the second book was too fractured. You were constantly pulled out of Mary’s story to then follow Agnes and Alison, when there didn’t seem to be that much happening with them. They were effectively secondary characters that merely offered us the true story. Which is a shame really, as I would have liked to have heard more of Agnes.

Maybe there will be a third book following Agnes next… Whether these are books you plan on reading yourself, or give to your child, I think there is enough for either group to enjoy.

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Book Review: Cast of Smiles.

Cast of Smiles, by Amanda Brookfield.

 

I think this would fall into the category of “chicklit” (the bright pink cover even embarrased me), though it wasn’t all romance, hearts, and flowers. The general idea was about relationships such as friendships and marriage, but it followed a group of friends that had known each other since they were teenagers and there was plenty of dark motives, manipulation, and betrayals to keep me interested.

The book itself wasn’t overly complex, and many of the characters made me want to beat the shit out of them. I think that may have been the point though – some of the characters were pretty loathsome from their arrogance and inflated sense of self importance. They believed that nothing could ruin them, or take from them what they believed they deserved. Which led to a sense of karma getting its own back. They got what they want, but at what cost? Serves you right for not opening your eyes…

There were other characters that started out being a nuisance, but grew into quite likeable characters. You understood them better, and things worked out for them in ways you hadn’t expected.

This book covers a couple of issues around mental health (though only really skims the surface), when a potentially unbalanced girl is forced to bury her feelings, and how that then manifests. Little miss perfect later finds she can no longer hold together her immaculate exterior when the world she knows is falling down around her.

The interesting dynamics would be a good book to read, particularly if you’re after poolside reading, or just something very light. It’s well written, and quite well thought out. There are a few twists and turns thrown in but, like I said, nothing overly complicated.

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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

This is a story exploring what many of us may be beginning to fear – the future. I don’t mean a future of robots, technology, The Matrix, etc. But something much closer to home. Something more like what was explored in V for Vendetta – a hostile takeover that results in suppression and repression of individuals. The Handmaid’s Tale is following a woman in her early 30s (we actually never learn her real name), who tells us of what it’s like to live a life of emptiness. To go from having the freedoms that we have now, like being able to wear what we want, love whom we want, work how we want, etc. To being under the control of this organisation that has killed members of the government, but has used fears of terrorism to control the general public until they are able to shut down regions, and impose their rules and conditions on an individual’s way of life.

The major changes started with a new law: no woman could hold property. Their bank accounts were frozen, and could only be accessed if they were to transfer their money and property to a male partner, next of kin, or friend. This was so incredibly easy to do since noone used paper money, they used cards and computers (not far from what we do these days, right?)

Once the women were effectively debased, they then moved onto the men. The main theme seems to around sex/procreation. Those men without status and power, according to the new regime, weren’t allowed to have sex. If you were caught breaking these rules, you were killed. Just as this is the case with the women – you were caught, and you were killed. Sex was part of an intricate plan to rebuild the population. If men in power couldn’t produce children with their wives, they were provided with a handmaid who, as part of a ceremony, they would sleep with. Sex wasn’t love, or a part of a loving relationship. It was business.

It was the topic more than anything that had me continuing to read, as it was quite difficult to follow the story in the beginning. The narrative kept jumping between the past and present, various people she’d encountered, etc. I guess, when I think about it now, this was supposed to be a transcribed account of her past so, if this was reality, she probably would be jumping from one point to another. But, it just meant I had to give it a little more time to follow the story.

Despite not much really happening, it was very gripping tale. Just the fear for her when she began to rebel, learning what the consequences were for talking to anyone, never mind some of the more daring things she did  later on… What I particularly found enlightening was Margaret writing about a tourist visiting the state where our character is. All women are wearing what would be considered a habit (hooded dress and veil to prevent anyone from seeing them), and how these asian tourists looked sexually provocative in their midlength skirts. She makes the comparison to how she had once been referred to as “westernised”. This change in thinking had happened in just a few years, and this narrative makes it quite clear how ‘easily’ things can change from what we know.

I think this book should be read by anyone willing to give it the time, if only to remind you of how damn lucky you are. Even if you don’t believe it right now, you actually are!

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