Read Harder Progress Report, August/September
I didn't report in last month! Shame. This post contains spoilers for books I read this past month.
I finally finished reading Murder on the Orient Express in August. It took me a while but I was a little surprised by the ending. I don't think I can write about it without giving away spoilers. Honestly, I had a hard time getting through this one because it felt a little slow until the abrupt twist ending. (Maybe due to lack of travel, I misunderstand the dilemma of being stuck on a train that's gotten stuck in snow in the middle of nowhere? At least when I rode a commuter train daily, if that happened to me, I'd be able to walk to another mode of transportation.) Prior to the main storyline, a little girl named Daisy Armstrong is kidnapped and murdered by a gangster named Cassetti. The family of that little girl subsequently falls into shambles; her mother, pregnant with her younger sibling dies when she goes into early labor due to the murder of her older child and her father commits suicide from the loss of his entire family. This young family happens to be descendants of an actress named Linda Arden—Daisy's grandmother. The murder that the book speaks of is that of Mr. Ratchett, a passenger on the train who gives off a kind of sneaky vibe. In the beginning of the book, Ratchett asks Poirot, the main character and a seasoned detective, for his assistance because. Ratchett/Cassetti deserved worse than what he got, IMO. This is a much darker tale than I was expecting and I wasn't disappointed. I hope to read more of Christie's work in the future; I happen to have a collection of 4 of her other stories that I've been meaning to get to.
I also re-read Brave New World last month, which was my prompt for the book I read and either didn't like or finish. Until now, I forgot how crazy this novel is and why I had a hard time reading it in high school. (I don't think I was mature enough in high school to really understand it either.) Around year 2540 AD, children are essentially farmed and grown because government has gained nearly absolute control over the population. Children are grown in Bokanovsky groups labeled by Greek letters that dictate physical/genetic makeup and indicate their social status. (For example, if I remember correctly, gammas are deliberately given alcohol in their development to stunt growth, as Lenina and Fanny speculated accidentally happened to Bernard, an Alpha.)
I didn't remember that in the "civilized" society, people don't get the choice to age. If there was one thing I did remember from reading the book 15-ish years ago, it was Soma. Even though 70% of the female population is required to be sterile by law, Soma is the drug that all of the "civilized" population takes as birth control and an anti-depressant. ("Every one belongs to every one else, after all" and "everybody's happy nowadays" are other indoctrinations taught to children in their sleep.) In the book, it's considered normal for everyone to have relationships with multiple partners, and I guess Huxley couldn't have possibly predicted a pandemic like AIDS happening at least partially due to promiscuity. Instead, "civilized" people consider monogamy and parenthood to be smut and is not socially acceptable. I do see the appeal of not having to worry about having children or being really emotionally attached to much of anyone, but not allowing people to have that choice is very dystopian and depressing.
While we don't farm children by the thousands, I do see parallels from the culture in the book to our current society that I don't think existed when the book was written. The "spend, don't mend" indoctrination specifically stood out, because I know that a lot of us typically go out and buy new clothes when our old ones are worn. While we don't use hypnopaedia on our children, we are products of our environment. In the book, the purpose of that, along with the "I do love flying" indoctrination, were meant to drive future economic growth in those sectors. (For example, once the children in that group were adults, they could purchase a helicopter and their own new clothes.) I feel like I appreciated this story a lot more as an attentive adult and parent rather than a generally apathetic, and not particularly bookish, teenager.
A few days ago, I started re-reading The Power of Habit—my choice for the "book of social science" prompt—because I was getting nowhere with Neuromancer and decided that I wanted to switch back to some non-fiction after having just read a novel about depressing dystopian future. I chose this book because it's one that can positively affect my work. I had to read a couple of chapters for a class in my masters program and I liked it enough that I wanted to keep it and finish reading it.
At the beginning of the year, I thought I might be able to knock this list out by the end of December. As we progress through the year, I've realized that due to personal things and new work opportunities, I will not hit my goal. I'm okay with that and realize it will likely take me at least through mid next year to complete all of these prompts. However, I'm glad to have gotten exposure to new authors and ideas that I previously might not have considered reading.