Sunday, April 13, 2008

Books to Buy (and Read) Before You Die

1. Animal Farm by George Orwell -- One question I had in mind when I finished the book: "Where the f*ck did Snowball go?" Animal Farm reads like a fable but the message that it puts across still rings true today. Originally intended as a satire attacking Russian Communism and how Stalinist Russia has "perverted" the ideals of socialism, Animal Farm still remains relevant for the striking parallels and symbolisms that Orwell draws into his tale of a socialist/"animalist" utopia gone bad.

2. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair -- today's bargain bookstore purchase for only 45 pesos. This classic work exposed the dark underbelly of the meat packing industry in America. This book literally shocked the living daylights out of US President Theodore Roosevelt that an investigation was ordered into the state of the meat industry which resulted into laws passed regulating the quality of meat processing in America. I am currently browsing through its pages and it is a fascinating read. Chapter 1 is a narrative of the life and struggles of the workers encapsulated within a wedding celebration. A bit Homeric in its approach as the book started en medias res and then works its way backwards in the succeeding chapters. So far I'm on chapter 4 and I was already treated to a whole chapter devoted to the butchering of livestock. Grabe! This is what I like about 19th century and early 20th century writers -- their writing is so rich in description that you literally get a feel of the environment described in the book. In this book's case, the smell of the meatpacking factories was richly described, as in this chapter describing our protagonist, Jurgis (pronounced Yoor-gis) and his fellow immigrants were first taken to the meat packing area -- the 'stockyards':

...And along with the thickening smoke they began to notice another circumstance, a strange, pungent, odor. They were not sure that it was unpleasant, this odor; some might have called it sickening, but their taste in odors was not developed, and they were only sure that it was curious. Now, sitting in the trolley car, they realized that they were on their way to the home of it -- that they had traveled all the way from Lithuania to it. It was now no longer something far off and faint, that you caught in whiffs; you could literally taste it, as well as smell it -- you could take hold of it, almost, and examine it at your leisure. They were divided in their opinions about it. It was an elemental odor, raw and crude; it was rich, almost rancid, sensual, and strong. There were some who drank it in as if it were an intoxicant; there were others who put their handkerchiefs to their faces. The new emigrants were still tasting it, lost in wonder, when suddenly the car came to a halt, and the door was flung open and a voice shouted -- "Stockyards!"

(from the Bantam Classic Edition, copyright 1981, Bantam Books)

A few parallels I found between the two books, so far:

1. Chapter 3 of The Jungle devoted several pages to describing the butchering of pigs, in Animal Farm, the pigs were the administrators of the Animal Farm.

2. Jurgis, the lead character of The Jungle, has a striking similarity with Boxer, the workhorse in Animal Farm. Both are humble, quiet workers who consider their physical strength as their greatest asset. And when confronted with challenges, both essentially have the same, almost mantra-like reply, "I will work harder!" I'm just hoping that Jurgis' fate in The Jungle is better than poor Boxer's in Animal Farm.

More books in the coming days, so stay tuned hehe


kept confusing George Orwell with Orson Welles...hahaha mixing film classics and literary classics...

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