Autumn Reading Events

October is here, the month of things spooky, Gothic, and mysterious. There’s a couple of reading events I’m considering joining (either officially or unofficially):

Victober 2021 – Read 1+ books from the Victorian era, with extra challenges suggested by the hosts. As we all know, a lot of great Victorian literature features the supernatural and bizarre. My personal recommendations (if you have the reading bandwidth) are Dracula (of course!) and The Woman in White. For something short, try some medical-inspired short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle in the collection, Round the Red Lamp: Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Lifefree on Gutenberg!

Club DARE 2.0 – Hosted by the Classics Club, this is a challenge to read at least one book from your CC list that counts as Gothic. I actually have quite a few on my list… if I could find the time, I would go for The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott, the inspiration for one of my favorite tragic operas.

Right now, I’m reading a novella called The Wendigo, by Algernon Blackwood. I enjoyed The Willows back in June, so I thought I’d give Blackwood another read. His writing is painfully dated (e.g. racial language/stereotypes), but the plot itself—a moose hunting trip in the haunted wilderness of Canada—is very enjoyable so far. It was published in 1910, but it’s reminiscent of Doyle or Haggard from a decade or two previous.

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“O brave new world, that has such people in โ€™t!”

As promised…Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is all kinds of cray-cray.

Basically it starts out with an average guy named Bernard who is unhappy in the hedonistic, manufactured, drugged-up society he lives in. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, conformity in this world means a continual stream of carnal self-indulgence, and if you don’t fall in line, you get weird looks (or horrors, banished to Iceland to live with other nonconformists). Nobody has a family; instead, every baby has been designed in a lab to serve a particular purpose, resulting in a caste system where the “lower” humans are purposefully restricted in size, appearance, and intelligence, while the Alphas are designed to develop into “superior” beings. In spite of the science, however, discontentment still lingers in hearts like Bernard’s, so he sets out to find a way to break out of the mold.

From there, the book takes a bizarre turn when it abandons Bernard as the protagonist and takes up the story of John. John is a so-called “Savage” who lives on a reservation in the southwestern U.S. An outcast in his tribe, he grew up memorizing a tattered copy of Shakespeare, which has instilled in him a sense of morality and order, as well as curiosity about the outside world. Bernard sees John as an opportunity to gain personal media attention and aplomb, so he brings him back to England as a kind of exhibit. The culture shock, however, turns out to be too much for John, and disaster ensues.

I had rather mixed feelings about this book. Stylistically, it’s insanely clever—a facade of charming, Wodehousian Britain overlayed onto a sick totalitarian state where monstrosities and immorality are normalized and nobody really cares. Orwell did something of the same kind in 1984, with his very British “hullo, chaps” flavor of communism, but Huxley is better at dark humor and constructing a fictional culture that is disturbingly believable. On the other hand, at times his zesty writing comes off as kitsch, especially the scenes on the reservation and the bizarre ending. I will say, I wasn’t bored!

Overall… creepy, weird book, somewhat better than 1984, in my opinion. I may do a more in-depth comparison video about the two novels, since there’s more that could be unpacked about their futuristic worlds.