Thursday, September 15, 2011

Giveaway Winner Announced and Versatile Blogger Award

It's September 15th. Time to announce the winner!

Thank you so much to everyone who has entered and subscribed. I'm super excited about my plans for this blog. And now...

I wrote all the entries on this handy list:

Then I put a bunch of numbered slips of paper in a hat (actually, a box), and pulled one out! As you can see, my cell phone takes awful pictures, so I didn't bother taking a picture of that. But the winner is number 30. Which is...

Josh Gallant!

Congratulations, Josh! You've won the $25 Amazon Gift Card. Hopefully you'll use it for books.

Please email me at and give me your email address, so that you may receive the prize.

In other news, SueBE from has awarded me with the Versatile Blogger Award. Wow! Thank you so much, SueBE. You should all go check out her blog. Not just because of the award, but because she has interesting posts like this: Mysterious Book Art in Edinburgh and highly relatable posts like this: Writer's Block.

The rules for accepting the award are as follows:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this Award along to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know about it.

1. I'm horrible at sharing information about myself. Most people have to force stuff out of me with endless questions. Talk about a crappy conversationalist.
2. The World/Inferno Friendship Society has been my favorite band since I was FIVE years-old. Hardly anyone I know has heard of them.
3. My favorite poet is Arthur Rimbaud.
4. I'm currently learning Japanese and Latin.
5. I think everything tastes better with pesto.
6. I've read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban over 20 times.
7. I have three cats, one of which is named Little Poot.

Now for step three!

1. Shanella Reads
2. The Write to Make a Living
3. Maggie's Bookshelf
4. Fresh Pot of Tea
5. AustenProse
6. Fictional Candy
7. Intoxicated by Books
8. Ali's Bookshelf Reviews
9. Ekfamilybooks
10. Pen to Paper
11. Behind the Rows
12. Peace, Love, YA Lit
13. Book Girl
14. Elana Johnson
15. mrsqbookaddict

You should all go check out these blogs. I'm new to the blogging world, but I love these blogs so far!

Happy reading,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Giveaway Info and the Story Without a Hero

Hi guys! The winner to my giveaway will be chosen and announced tomorrow. I just wanted to tell everyone that this day is your last chance to enter. Good luck!

And thank you SO MUCH to the people who have entered and subscribed. You guys are great. :) I’ve been reading all of your book suggestions, and many of them will go on the full 25-book list. The next book I’ll be reading, however, will be The Divine Comedy: Inferno. I’ll also be doing something special with Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova (hence my new banner :) ).

And now, my last post directly related to Brave New World:

Rather than discussing the conclusion of Brave New World, I’m going to discuss its main protagonist, Bernard Marx. Brave New World and 1984 are often compared, as they’re both dystopian novels in which a futuristic government has obtained complete control through technological means. I haven’t read 1984 in a long time, but I do remember that it centered around a man and woman who aimed to escape their totalitarian government.

This is typically what protagonists do. Protagonists tend to be the good guys who, if they don’t start out being moral and idealistic and all the things we admire, are awesome by the end of the story. Or if they’re not awesome, the story centers around their downfall, which is usually intended to teach a lesson. (Like in The Picture of Dorian Gray.) But Brave New World is less personal than that; in many ways, it wasn’t about Bernard. Bernard Marx was neither good nor bad. He just was. He just was in this annoying, petty, jealous kind of way. My first instinct was to dislike him, but his role in the story breaks a cliché about novels – especially dystopian ones – so I’ve tried to overcome my initial feelings.

Brave New World belongs on the canon simply due to its superb originality. It’s a dystopian story without a hero. (You can argue that John the Savage was the hero, but I will disagree.) The novel says, “Here is a society based around consumerism. Look how much it sucks.” And there’s more to be learned from that then, say, many recently-published dystopian stories that involve courageous young heroes who overthrow totalitarian governments and live happily ever after (not that I’m putting any of the dystopian stories with happy endings down). This book tells us that if we keep embracing extreme consumerism, and if we rely on buying, buying, buying to keep our capitalistic economy healthy, then we’re sacrificing our morals.

Capitalism is immoral, says Brave New World, because it relies on immoral strategies to get consumers to buy. Those strategies include Huxley’s fictional hypnopaedia or, as a more relatable example, a real life commercial that uses psychological tricks to exploit human vulnerability. Most advertisements we see exploit our humanity in order to dehumanize us.

Think of the commercial that convinces you that you need to buy clothes from Store X, and this commercial airs all across the country so that millions believe they need to shop at Store X. Store X’s commercial has taken advantage of our innate psychological vulnerabilities as people. We can be convinced we need something, even when we don't. And if humanity is defined by our intrinsic individuality, then millions of people shopping at Store X have allowed themselves to be robbed of a bit of their humanity.  

This book, as dystopian novels often do, took one quality of our world and brought it to the extreme. Huxley magnified mass consumerism so that he could further inspect it and prove its inevitable immorality. John the Savage, the only moral character in the story, died after coming face-to-face with the World State. Bernard succumbed to immorality once he reached his zenith of fame, and took every woman he wanted. Etc. Because of the World State’s economic system, immorality was intertwined with every facet of life for its citizens.

One time my sister and I were on a walk. Out of the blue, she asked me if a capitalistic society is destined to sacrifice ethics for profit. I thought about it for a block or so. Can a capitalist society remain moral and intact? I couldn’t decide. In the end, I told her I didn’t have enough information on the topic.

One of the reasons why I’ve made this blog is so that I can “prove” reading has a direct impact on peoples’ lives. Brave New World has allowed me to answer my sister’s question as I was unable to before. This certainly counts as a direct impact, but I bet I can take it further.

Aldous Huxley thought warning others about the failings of mass consumerism was so important that he wrote a novel about it. I respect that immensely, and am willing to apply his views in the real world.

Rather than endlessly questioning myself about how consumerism has shaped my identity, I’m going to see how a lack of materialism will reshape my identity and quality of life. Perhaps some of you have heard of the 100 Thing Challenge (if not, go here: Because I've read Brave New World, I will participate in that challenge for the remainder of this blog project. I’ll have to make time to get rid of, give away, and sell my things, but once it happens I’ll certainly blog about it!
Until next time, happy reading!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brave New World: Rocks and Bones and Lonely People

It’s late; too late to be up when school is starting in a few days, but I want to savor my last moments of leisure.

Today I reread a passage I underlined earlier in Brave New World, and I thought I’d write some thoughts on it.
 On page 138 of my edition:
“He was all alone. All alone, outside the pueblo, on the bare plain of the mesa. The rock was like bleached bones in the moonlight. Down in the valley, the coyotes were howling at the moon. The bruises hurt him, the cuts still bleeding; but it was not for pain that he sobbed; it was because he was all alone, because he had been driven out, alone, into this skeleton world of rocks and moonlight.”

Did you read it? Good.  Now read it again. Let the words wrap around your mind, and let your tongue wrap around the words. There’s poetry in this, a genius musicality; strip it of its meaning and the cadence is still there. In the punctuation, the repetition, the sound of syllables.

Did you read it five more times? Did you write it down? Good.
This passage is so achingly sad, every word biting into me with an icy rawness. What’s worse, Huxley writes with an otherworldly, surreal voice, etching eeriness into the mundane. The rock isn’t white or light in color, it’s bleached bones in the moonlight. John’s standing on a skeleton of a world, a world that’s missing all the fleshy parts, the pieces that really matter. A globe of bone. A hollow, skeletal place where people who are different – people like John and Bernard – are left alone on the mesa in the moonlight, sobbing with no one to hear.

And then, half a page later...
Alone, always alone,” the young man was saying.

The words awoke a plaintive echo in Bernard’s mind. Alone, alone… “So am I,” he said. … “Terribly alone. … You see,” he said, mumbling and with averted eyes. “I’m rather different from most people, I suppose. …”

“Yes, that’s just it.” The young man nodded. “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.”
    Writers are infamous for their solitude, but in many ways they reach out more than the most social butterflies. Aldous Huxley’s work has been immortalized, and because of that I’m reading his book, and connecting with his deepest, most profound thoughts on loneliness, 80 years after he recorded them. Some writers are reclusive, but the very act of writing is one of the best ways we have to connect with people. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, a writer or a door-to-door salesperson, you want to form connections with people just as much as…everyone else.
 That's important to keep in mind. Don't push away those who don't seem like you. Because in the end, the otherness is an imagined thing, and it matters little - no, it matters not at all. What matters is that we don't put people on the mesa. When one puts another on the mesa, so to speak, they're no better than the passive citizens of the World State, consuming soma and revolving endlessly around shallow occupations, ignoring the humanity within them, within all of us. It's a primitive, pre-evolutionary, horrible thing to do, and yet we do it all the time. We put ourselves on mesas; we push others there.

  Until next time, happy reading – and if you’d like, leave a comment so that I don’t find myself on a blogspot mesa, sobbing to a virtual moon. :)

     Also: Thank you to everyone who has signed up for my giveaway! I had this fear that no one would, and I’d be left looking like a dweeb on the internet, but I’m very pleased to be getting all of your comments. I’m taking you book suggestions seriously too. Thank you very much, and I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On the Validity of Fanfiction

This post is not about Brave New World, or classics. It’s about fanfiction.

There are authors in this world who forbid fanfiction about their books to be posted online. I respect their decisions, and don't care to discuss that. One of those authors, however, is George R.R. Martin (author of the Song of Ice and Fire series – writer of the Game of Thrones HBO show). Here is writing advice found on his website:

"And write. Write every day, even if it is only a page or two. The more you write, the better you'll get. But don't write in my universe, or Tolkien's, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else's world is the lazy way out. If you don't exercise those "literary muscles," you'll never develop them." (emphasis mine)
I like George R.R. Martin’s books (I read A Game of Thrones.). This post isn’t about him. This post is a defense of the validity of fanfiction. Martin's quote just helps to prove it needs a defense.

Stereotypes Debunked
1)      Fanfiction is the 'lazy' way out. If you don’t exercise those ‘literary muscles,’ you’ll never develop them.”

Fanfiction is all about following someone else’s rules. Rules are important when writing. I’m currently writing a story in which people astral project, and I’ve got about 30 pages of notes filled with rules about this world I’ve created. When I’m writing, I have to follow those rules if I want to convince readers my world is developed. Since I MADE those rules, this isn’t hard to do. Sure, every now and then I make a mistake, and I say, “Hey, it’s not possible for my protagonist to be thinking about sandwiches right now! He's on the astral plane - he can't get hungry!” and I have to sigh, and backspace, and write something else. But for the most part, following my own rules is easy. I made them. They’re hard to forget.

Following someone else’s rules is hard. You have to keep them in mind with every sentence you write. Since you didn’t make them, they don’t come instinctively; a lot of them you’re going to have to memorize. You'll find yourself stopping at inconvenient moments to look up facts. You may be opening a copy of Twilight rather than reading nonfiction, but you're still doing research. And researching is an essential skill for a writer.

It’s my hypothesis that if you’re keeping another’s “world rules” in mind while writing fanfiction, pretty soon you’ll have a better grasp of your own world’s rules. Your "research muscles" will be strong, and none of your protagonists will be thinking about sandwiches when they shouldn’t.

2)      Writing fanfiction is different from writing “more legitimate” works.

Here’s a lovely quote from Francine Prose, taken from her book Reading Like A Writer:  

“And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls “putting every word on trial for its life”: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.”

             Because Prose is so quotable, here’s another:

“Among the questions that writers need to ask themselves in the process of revision – Is this the best word I can find? Is my meaning clear? Can a word or phrase be cut from this without sacrificing anything essential? – perhaps the most important question is: Is this grammatical?”

When you’re writing fanfiction, you’re performing the ongoing act of picking words out of a very large, very metaphorical bucket, and you’re taking those words and flinging them at a page with some other words, making sure they’re in grammatical order so that they’re smooth and transcend the dumb, nonsensical thought your mushy brain originally had. In other words: When you’re writing fanfiction, you’re writing. And writing is what it takes to be a writer.

3)      Fanfiction has no point.
The other day I was with my sister. On her coffee table was the book Lewis Carroll, Photographer of Children: Four Nude Studies. I said to my sister, “It’s not that I’m judging Carroll. It’s that I can’t fathom what would motivate a person to photograph naked kids. What gave him the idea?” And she answered, “What motivates a person to write a story about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole?”
Fanfiction has just as much a point as other fiction. There’s not much of a difference between the person who came up with Alice and wrote about her, and the person who just wrote about her. They’re both writing stories that others can enjoy.  I find that entirely noble and worthy of respect.   
4)      Fanfiction stories aren't like "real" stories - making one would never give someone valuable writing experience.

     Writing fanfiction gives writers more experience with plot. If I was capable of writing fanfiction, I’d probably start with changing facts about stories that never sat well with me. For instance, Voldemort’s “pure and irredeemable evil” never seemed convincing enough. I’d explore that, research his backstory, and fill in gaps until the reasons for his evilness satisfied me. Or I’d redeem him. I don’t know. The point is, I’d be asking myself questions like: “What’s wrong with this plot? Why don’t I like X or Y? How can I fix it? How can I enrich this character’s backstory? How can I tweak this scene, change this line, make this character do that?” And those are very, very good questions to ask if you want to become familiar with the natural flow of a plot or the study of character development.

This post is not an angry response to George R.R. Martin, nor am I denying that there’s a lot of crappy fanfiction out there. But most crappy fanfiction writers don’t plan to be serious writers anyway. Every person looking to make writing his/her occupation does, in fact, need to create his/her own worlds. However, that doesn’t mean fanfiction isn’t a valid hobby worthy of time and effort.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What Makes This Brave New World of Ours Happy?

Point Reyes Beaches

                I was standing on a cliff in Point Reyes, overlooking the beach and an endless blue. There were people around me, but not many. Sea lions below me. For a moment – just a single, precious moment – everything was perfect in its tranquility. I felt my mind stretching over the undulating hills in the distance, and I knew that the smile I was wearing could have never left my face, if I just stood on that same cliff for years and allowed myself to be eroded with the stones and sand.

                It’s a memory I’ll keep forever, and it’s already so romanticized in its original state that I don’t have to worry about time distorting it into a hyperbolic depiction of flawlessness. It really was perfect. I felt a wholesome contentment I don’t care to thoroughly explain. And it made me think of Brave New World. 
                One of the fascinating facets of stories is how one’s perspective of them can change due to the environment one read them in. I read Brave New World while in California, so my memories of the book are now intertwined with my memories from that trip. The pristine beauty of Point Reyes is on every page of Brave New World, its splendor at constant battle with the discontentment in the novel.
                Throughout the book, Lenina must assure the depressed Bernard that she’s happy. The entire world is happy, she says. Why is he dissatisfied? Because of Ford, Bernard can spend the rest of his life playing outdoor sports and consuming soma and being so. darn. happy.

                It’s common knowledge that if one must assure oneself of one’s happiness, then such happiness doesn’t exist.
        Happiness comes from several elements*: Producing beautiful things, experiencing beautiful things others have produced, and experiencing beautiful things that exist without human intervention. These three elements are broad. The first – the act of producing – could mean anything from stringing beads on a bracelet, playing tennis, making a Youtube video, going to a satisfying job, inducing another’s smile with your joke, etc. The second probably doesn’t need explaining. The third is being connected to nature – whether that means going to Point Reyes or looking at the clouds in the morning and breathing in the air and thinking such things are grand.
**(Psst! These astericks mark a footnote!)

                Interestingly, dystopias almost always lack all three elements. In Brave New World, humans are artificially made and mass produced in order to mass produce other stuff. Talk about unsatisfying! No one creates anything, and many of the people in the caste systems have been brainwashed to hate nature.
                You have to pity fictional dystopias, because the people in them lack the means to be productive. And as much as people resist using energy nowadays, using energy is what makes us smile.
                I think Huxley realized that. He saw the technology being produced around him and was concerned by his society’s need for constant convenience. With the Internet, that need for convenience has expanded into a need for brevity.
                I wonder if dystopias are possible outside of the bounds of fiction. When you strip a population of its right to produce, surely revolts will occur. Surely there would be such outrageous objection that the dystopia would never form in the first place. 
                In this way it’s difficult to take books like Brave New World or 1984 seriously. In real life, people will refuse to be destroyed and they will insistently create. And yet…
                And yet…
                As long as humans remain confused about what makes them happy, Brave New World will have a place on our bookshelves.
   Here’s more of my thoughts on Brave New World. This brings us to the middle of the novel. Don’t forget about the giveaway – it ends September 14th! Until then, happy reading!   

*At least my happiness. I've assumed this is universal, though, as most things are. Note that I could be wrong and you may get angry and say, "But Hannah, only GRAVY makes me happy! The rest doesn't matter!" and in that case you're right, completely right, and I'm just going to stand here awkwardly in this imaginary corner, and I want you to know that you're free to be made happy by gravy, and only gravy, although I have no idea what you're doing with that gravy and why it makes you so happy and I really don't want to know, although I do want you to know that while I may present certain ideas of mine as facts on this blog I do this only because it helps make my sloppy writing somewhat less sloppy, and not because I don't believe gravy doesn't make you happy. Please don't be offended.

** Note that all of these Point Reyes pics were found online, and do not belong to me, because I didn't take any pictures while in CA. I'm a firm believer in "you'd do better living more and commemorating less***," which is also a group of words that don't belong to me, but rather to the band the World/Inferno Friendship Society. It appears nothing much belongs to me today. That's okay. I'm not feeling possessive anyway.

***From the song Tattoos Fade.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

★ Giveaway: $25 Amazon Gift Card! ★ One lucky winner!

EDIT: I'm sorry, but to all people leaving comments: As it states in the rules, you must SUBSCRIBE to this blog in order to be officially entered. Thank you!

Hi guys! Since this blog is still new, I thought it would be appropriate to have a giveaway! Consider this our mutual welcome to the blog.

I wasn't sure what to give away (I'm very indecisive), so I'm leaving the choices up to you. I'm keeping it broad, with a $25 Amazon Gift Card for books!

There will be ONE winner! When you win, I will message you and ask for your email address. Because the card will be given through email, this giveaway is INTERNATIONAL.


  1. Comment below! Any comment will do, but maybe you can suggest a classic book for my list this year.
  2. ~ You MUST be a subscriber to this blog ~
The winner will be RANDOMLY chosen. :)
    You get 1 entry for commenting, but if you want multiple entries you can:

    • Post about this giveaway (with a link!) on Twitter  +1 entry
    • Post this on your blog     +1
    • Post this on your tumblr   +1
    Please put the Twitter, blog, and tumblr links in the comments below. Otherwise, I can't give you the extra entries.

    The contest ends in one week, on SEPTEMBER 14th, 2011.

    Good luck and happy reading!

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    Thoughts on the Introduction: Take a Tour of a Brave New World

    I went to California, I read Brave New World, and now I'm ready to share my thoughts.

    I had this secret fear that I would read the book and have nothing to say, but luckily that's not the case. I'm going to break it apart, so consider my posts for Brave New World as a pilot of sorts.

    In the introduction, we're taken on a lovely tour of a factory in which human beings are mass produced.

    This is one of the best introductions I've ever read. It's so clever. Darn clever. If anything, the book deserves to be on the canon just because Aldous Huxley decided to explain a world by giving us a tour. Because it's not actually a tour of the factory we're getting. It's a tour of a different society.

    Many authors make an effort to indirectly explain a new world to readers through subtle detail and strategic planning, and Huxley audaciously ignores that technique. Totally doesn't care. He says, "the hell with it!" and gives us a tour. A tour. A tour. Brilliant.

    By the way, I'm not going to provide summaries on this blog - I'll either assume you've read it at one time (or read the SparkNotes for it at one time) or are reading it with me. These posts are more about the things I think about, in the back of my head, while I'm reading - not about repeating what occurs on the page.

    Right. So back to the factory.

    During one scene that stands out vividly in my memory, the Director takes the boys to a garden in which several hundred children are running around naked, participating in 'erotic play.' This 'play' is entirely acceptable. In fact, it's expected. When one boy is uncomfortable with it, he's taken off to receive psychiatric care. This scene disturbed me. The repulsion was instinctive, reflexive. And this reaction made me think of a scene that occurs prior to the garden scene, in which the boys on the tour witness some babies who experience World State conditioning.

    In that scene, the babies are holding books and flowers until they are shocked. It's intended that they will grow up to associate books (and reading) and flowers (and nature) with pain, and have a "natural" dislike for both. So as I read about the children's erotic play, horribly disgusted, I had to wonder: Is this a result of my conditioning?

    Is associating children and sex actually wrong? If so, why? There's a difference between "wrong" and "immoral" in this case, as Brave New World illustrates that morals tend to be decided by figures of authority; while authoritative, they're also arbitrary, making the whole concept of morals manmade and essentially meaningless.

    This scene was immoral by my era's standards. But is it wrong? By this I mean to say, is there something unnatural about it, is it damaging to the children, is there some higher, less arbitrary power that declares it wrong?

    I'm not going to answer those questions. I have no answers; I seek no answers. is interesting to think that perhaps, just perhaps, my intense disgust was motivated only by the collective disgust of those around me. My society perceives children and sexuality as being nearly antonymous, and consequently so do I.

    How much of myself do I have? Where does the "real me" end, and the "environmentally-conditioned me" start? Is there even such a thing as the "real me," or is radical environmentalism all that we have?

    Jeez, Huxley. You make me feel like I'm not even me. Like there isn't a "me."

    Oh, that's right. Every one belongs to every one else.

    But I don't really believe that. I bet you don't, either. Huxley probably wrote it because he disagreed with it so much. Because he wanted to embrace individualism.

    That's when I remember that I'm an individual because I wasn't produced in a factory and shoved into a caste system. I was born in a specific place with a specific family and a specific set of genes, and no one else in the world shares exactly what I was born with. As I grew, I went on to experience things that no one else will experience quite as I did, and I was presented with ideas that may be very similar to the ideas you've been presented with, but my experiences and innate personality have forced me to view those ideas in a different way. And etc. So that's why I am me and not you, and why Brave New World is fiction and not real. Moving on.

    I read a brief bio on Huxley before starting the book, and he lived during a time when technology was making rapid advances. This made him distraught, and Brave New World became his hyperbolic reflection of the worries he harbored for the future of mankind. In a way, this book is like his prolonged complaint of the place he lived in, made into a story and vastly exaggerated to get people to listen (or read). But it feels like the opposite of a complaint.

    As I read about the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explaining to the boys that their roles in life were predetermined, and our current concept of reproduction (I mean sex) no longer exists in the grand year of 632 After Ford, I shivered. And I felt really, really glad for my parents, and the world I live in, and that the written horrors before me were written. Fiction. Harmless.

    In many ways, the book is simultaneously a critique and celebration of modern life.

    And it's interesting that the book has stayed so relevant, as consumerism is still expanding and evolving, just as it was in Huxley's days. But then again, so many people point this out that it's not that interesting.

    So there. Some of my thoughts on the first 56 pages or so (depending on your edition) of Brave New World. Care to comment? Discussion is welcome.