Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

30 04 2008

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

By Lewis Carroll

Summary:

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, more commonly known by the Disney title Alice in Wonderland, is a book of fantasy and the minds imagination. The book takes us on the fanciful travels of a girl named Alice as she follows the proverbial white rabbit down a hole and into a whole new world. In this new strange land Alice experiences and meets a variety of odd characters including talking flowers, Humpty Dumpty, various live chess pieces, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. The main purpose of the story is to thoroughly confuse the reader into trying to make sense of the nonsense. The book is a satire on man’s attempts to understand what is truly meant to be gobbledygook. For example Carroll satirizes the “white man” when he has Humpty Dumpty attempt to interpret The Jabberwocke – a nonsensical poem full of made up words.
The story begins when Alice is playing with her kitten and suddenly beings to realize that the chess pieces on the chess board are moving around and talking like human people. As she leans into further explore she finds that they are growing to her own size and she encounters a new land that she has never known. In the beginning she encounters a group of talking flowers – who find the petals of her petticoat fascinating but plain – and introduce her to the Red Queen. It is here where she finds her true purpose in this strange land. Alice wishes to become a Queen and the Red Queen then informs her that she can be a queen too, all she must do is follow a set of directions to cover certain “squares” (here is a reference to the chess board that has inevitably turned into this fanciful world) and she will become a queen. Alice sets out to follow these instructions along the way and through her adventures meets a rather peculiar crew of characters. She meets with a white knight who makes lots of inventions which make no sense and hears a tragic tale of a Walrus, Carpenter and some baby oysters from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb. In addition she meets a rather pompous Humpty Dumpty and a very sad frightened White Queen.
In the end Alice finally manages to make it to the 8th square and finds herself crowned a Queen. However things take a turn for the worst as she is seated at a massive banquet in her honor between the two Queens – white and red – who make the dinner increasingly difficult and confusing. She begins to get flustered and just as everything seems to get out of control she is awoken by her kitten – Her Majesty – meowing and patting her face. She then finds herself dreadfully silly and thinks that it is all a dream but then as she looks at the chess board she begins to doubt that it was a dream. Here Carroll blurs the lines between imagination and reality by having the main character doubt the reality of her situation.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

The Book Through the Looking Glass has been criticized and critiqued throughout the ages despite its widespread popularity among children and adults. There are three main arguments circulating about the flaws of the book. One major problem that many libraries and esteemed authors had with the novel is that it is “too strange and full of nonsense.” Even famous fantasy writers such as Terry Pratchett and L Frank Baum both have openly stated that they disliked the book. Baum says that his books were “fantasy with purpose” while Alice stories were just nonsense.
The second major criticism that was responsible for widespread challenges and several bannings across the United States is the association with drug highs. In society Alice in Wonderland has been associated with acid and LSD trips. In fact artwork from the book (and in more recent years the Disney cartoon production) have been printed on the acid papers. Because of this association many schools have construed the book as having drug references and a promotion of using the drug by showing a somewhat “pleasurable” experience as the outcome. For specific examples, in a small town in New Hampshire it was challenged in 1980 for references to drug trips, and they said that it was inappropriate because it was suggestive to students to experiment. In a similar case in the early 1900s it was suspended from the classroom use at Woodsville High School in Haverhill, NH because it contains “expletives, references to masturbation and sexual fantasies, and derogatory characterizations of teachers and of religious ceremonies.”
The final major criticism came from an international source. In 1931 Through the Looking Glass was banned by the Chinese governor of Hunan Province. The reasoning behind the banning was that “Animals should not use human language and that is was disastrous to put animals and humans on the same level.”
Personally after reading the text I could see some potential beliefs for the drug references especially when it comes to the Knight that Alice encounters walking through the woods. The Knight is clearly unstable and his nonsensical talk far outstrips some of what is read up to that point in the story and could definitely be interpreted as his being on a drug trip. However, in my opinion, in our present day society it has become so common to refer to anyone acting in a strange manner as “being on drugs” that I hardly think that unless a small children’s book is explaining the art of rolling a joint that it will make that much of an influence on whether the child experiments as an adolescent. And in reference to the China Ban, I think it is completely preposterous to say that animals can’t be portrayed with humanistic characteristics because if that is the case then they must have a universal ban on all Disney movies.

Read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Google Books

Read Through the Looking-Glass on Google Books

 

 





The Da Vinci Code

30 04 2008

The Da Vinci Code

by Dan Brown

Summary:

Robert Langdon is a professor of symbology at Harvard University in Paris on business when he is awoken in the middle of the night by the French Police. Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Lourve, has been murdered, and a mysterious cipher has been found near his body. While with the police, Langdon meets Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist with the French Police, who informs Langdon that he is actually a suspect in Sauniere’s murder, and Neveu helps Langdon escape through a bathroom window. Neveu helps Langdon escape because she believes that he is innocent, and has a personal interest in finding the real killer because Sauniere was actually Neveu’s estranged grandfather. Together Neveu and Langdon discover that Sauniere was a member of a secret society, the Priory of Sion. The Da Vinci Code follows Neveu and Langdon in a race through Paris, discovering century-old secrets while uncovering secret messages hidden in Da Vinci’s artwork.

Review:

I found The Da Vinci Code to be a very fast paced and interesting novel. The prologue starts off with Sauniere being murdered in the Lourve, and as he dies, trying to find a way to leave behind a secret message. The prologue sets the pace of the entire novel and immediately leaves the reader wondering what is happening. As one continues reading, Brown answers the question by following Langdon in his adventure to discover the truth behind Sauniere’s secret life. In The Da Vinci Code, Brown brings up various conspiracy theories about Leonardo Da Vinci’s artwork and the life of Jesus Christ. I found these theories interesting, for example, the theory that the figure to the left of Jesus Christ in Da Vinci’s “The Last Summer” is actually Mary Magdalene. While the theories in The Da Vinci Code are interesting, one must remember that they are only theories and not proven fact. In addition, The Da Vinci Code follows Brown’s standard plot formula: a murder in the prologue, a main character with an attractive ally, and a villain that was previously thought to be a friend. While The Da Vinci Code is no great work of literature, it still manages to be captivating and interesting to read.

Why is this book “dangerous?”

The Da Vinci Code is a controversial novel because many readers believe it is an anti-Christianity novel and that the message it conveys is that Christianity is a hoax. The novel makes the claim that Jesus Christ married and fathered a child with Mary Magdalene, and that the Catholic Church has been covering it up, while Sauniere’s secret society protects the members of Jesus Christ’s family. Some argue that The Da Vinci Code can be potentially dangerous if the readers forget that it is fiction, and begin to believe the claims in the book.  In the book, a character says that he knows a secret that would “devastate the foundations of Christianity”. The Da Vinci Code is seen as dangerous because readers may start to believe the claims made in the book as truth.





Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

30 04 2008

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

By Hunter S. Thompson

Summary:

Journalist Raoul Duke and attorney Dr. Gonzo travel to Las Vegas in 1971 to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race for a sporting magazine and decide to make it more of a vacation. “We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a saltshaker half-full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, laughers, screamers and some other goods”. They walk around the city of Las Vegas extremely buzzed on many different types of drugs. They have many different encounters with the city and different people around them. As the duo prepare to flee the city, Duke gets another assignment to cover a Narcotics Convention organized by the National Association of District Attorneys and the two simply book a new hotel room across town and begin the process anew. Eventually, they begin to mistrust each other, and the two leave Las Vegas separately.

Review:

When I read this book, I found the book extremely hilarious because the entire book is describing an insane drug frenzied journey of two men in the craziest city in the world. The book started with a bang when it drops you down directly into one of the drug induced hallucinations of Duke, which kept me glued in from the start. However, once the book goes on and you start to understand what Thompson is trying to say it soon becomes apparent that nobody really knows what Thompson could be trying to convey. Many people have tried to say that it is a political satire on the period but I do not know much about that periods politics so I could not really notice that. Nevertheless, I did happen to notice another thing that I believe Hunter S. Thompson was trying to say as well. I believe he was actually talking about his inner demons, and how they relate to the United States. He keeps trying to say that he used to have high ideals and morals until all of a sudden he started to crash and not care anymore. I believe that when you look at the American people in the time period this is when they made the switch from being very polite and conservative to being sort of the hippy liberal types that were around in that time period.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

When the novel was published in the Rolling Stone magazine, in the summer of 1972, many critics did not appreciate the novel’s lack of a cohesive plot and the excessive drug use of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo. However, those reviewers understood that, while the novel lacked a plot, Thompson had written a work that was going to become a very important part of American literature. The major concern of people who did not like the book was just two things. The first is that the book has an intense amount of drug use and a lot of bad language as well, which never is received extremely well. The other concern is that this book is an example of Gonzo journalism, which is when the reporter or writer throws himself into that story or environment and just tells an autobiography about it. The major critics and reviewers of his time did not appreciate this type of reporting. Thus, they did not give it very good reviews until the seventies when people opened up their minds a little bit.





Unhooked

30 04 2008

Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both

By Laura Sessions Stepp

Summary:

Laura Sessions Stepp is a journalist for the Washington Post who specializes in issues with children and families, more specifically teenagers and sexuality. Stepp is a frequent public speaker around the country. Outside of writing, Stepp served on a panel for the U.S. Surgeon General focusing on adolescence. Unhooked is the second of two books she has written.

The book discusses Stepp’s two-year study of nine ambitious high school and college students, aged 15 to 21. Through meetings, lunches, and emails, Stepp follows these young women as they explore high school and college. What she found was a dangerous new culture unlike the one she had experienced in high school and college- one based around hooking up. Stepp argues that the term “hooking up” is “deliberately undefined by this generation so that when you tell a friend you hooked up with someone, you’re not really telling them anything at all.” (Stepp, 1) When exploring the student’s backgrounds, Stepp finds enlightening information. Many of the women who are involved in the hooking up scene have parents (more specifically mothers) who encourage their daughters to be perfect in school and to not waste time developing relationships with boys. These students were raised to have careers, not become housewives. While several of the parents in the book prefer that their daughters get involved in hooking up rather than developing dependent relationships and see it as the lesser of two evils, Stepp disagrees. She believes the hook up culture is not only emotionally damaging to students, but that it also deters them from developing the relationship skills necessary in marriage. Her argument develops as the reader follows the students through several one nighters, failed attempts at relationships, and their ultimate feeling of loneliness.

Review:

The primary problem I have with Unhooked is the students Stepp chose to study. The college students she followed were Duke University and George Washington students. As this is not a random sample of students, it is difficult to say that Stepp’s findings are true of all college campuses. There probably is a hook up culture of some kind on every American college campus- which in some ways hurts Stepp’s argument. Stepp believes, more or less, that “the combination of post feminist liberation and pressure from parents to “do it all”- as one kid puts it- has led girls to confuse the need to be independent (which they associate with success) with the need to be invulnerable.” (O’Rourke, 2) But what about the kids in the hook up culture who do not have pressure from parents? If there is hooking up in many colleges, and only a portion of those involved have pushy parents, where does the desire to hook up rather than have a relationship begin? Stepp often tries to relate her information to the larger mass of American college students when in fact she may not be able to. While I agree with her point that lasting relationships are more rewarding than hook ups, Stepp sometimes goes too far and comes off as antifeminist (something she is not). Stepp writes that feminism has gone too far: “it needs to revisit its assumptions and expand its vision of what it means to be a woman.” (Aronowitz, 1) She continues this idea by suggesting that women should admit that bars are not a place for ladies, and instead they should stay home to bake cookies, because guys, she confides, will do anything for homemade treats.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

Any book that criticizes the way things are is bound to raise some controversy. Similarly, when a book discusses sex or any other “taboo” topic, some may find it easier to avoid the issues rather than discuss the topics that the book brings up. Some found the book to be controversial because it reveals scary and threatening information about what the current teenage generation is doing. Others found the book threatening to the feminist movement that has come so far over the years. One critic wrote that the book “is an odd throw back- not only in its point of view, but also out of sync with the current climate of high-achieving girls who are usually applauded for focusing on their careers and their female friends, rather than on finding Mr. Right.” Another critic wrote that Stepp “resurrects the ugly, old notion of sex as something a female gives in return for a male’s good behavior.”(Rosenbloom,1)

It is a dangerous book- but for a different reason than other dangerous books. It is not trying to change something old and traditional, but change newer ideas that mean more to us because of their more recent founding. It does not denounce Christianity or inspire Communism. Instead, it undoes something that many women have worked for

Rather than accepting progress, the modern feminists believe Stepp is encouraging young females to change back to the 1950’s mentality of women being housewives, not presidents.


Also see:

Rosenbloom, Stephanie. A Disconnect on Hooking Up. 1 March 2007. The New York  Times. 15 April 2008. www.nytimes.com/2007/03/01/fashion/01hook.html

Willis, Nona. Come Home With Me, Baby! 18 February 2007. The New York Observer.  15 April 2008. http://www.observer.com/node/36723

O’Rourke, Meghan. In Defense of “Loose” Women. 20 February 2007. Slate. 15 April  2008. http://www.slate.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2159995

Stepp, Laura. A Conversation with Laura Sessions Stepp. Laura Stepp’s Website. 15  April 2008.  http://www.laurastepp.com/unhooked/qa.html





We The Living

30 04 2008

We The Living

By Ayn Rand

Summary:

Kira Argounova arrives in Petrogard as an 18 year old girl living under the Communist grasp. She struggles to find a way to make ends meet for her self as well as provide enough to help her family. As a teacher she spends her time at the school and only is able to obtain whatever is given out by the Communist party. She falls in love with a man named Leo whose father was of a counter revolutionary and were both wanted by the Communist police. They live together for some time until the government determines who they are and they are dismissed from their jobs as well as from their education programs. Leo is diagnosed with incipient tuberculosis and they have no way to pay for his treatment. Kira begins having an affair with a Communist Officer named Andrei who she met while a student at the institute of technology. Kira tells Andrei who is in love with her, that she needs the food for her family when in reality it is being used to help Leo with his TB. Leo finds out about the affair and leaves Kira to live with a rich woman who agrees to pay for his treatment as Kira attempts to find a way to leave Russia. She uses a fake travel permit in order to take the train to the border where she must then sneak across. In the process of this she is shot and fatally wounded and dies before making it across.

Review:

This book dives into the world of not only the ideals of communism but the struggles that many of those who found themselves trapped within the system faced on a regular basis. From the challenge to survive on minimal food and necessities for an entire family or being watched constantly and guarding your thought each of these slowly crushed hopes, dreams and spirits. This book sends a very powerful message focusing on what Communistic society is really like in the way that people are forced to live. It does not focus necessarily on the politics alone but on the individuals, their struggles to survive, and what happens to those who do not follow along the same ideals.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

This book is considered dangerous because of the in depth look that Ayn Rand takes into the world of Communism as a collective as well as the struggles with each individual. This book clearly is in argument with Communism as it constantly points out the hardships and struggles that go along with this collective ideal that was so sought after for so long in the USSR as well as other parts of Asia. This book was more than likely encouraged by people in the US due to its view of the red scare of communism that was considered to be everything that the United States was against although it was also more than likely not allowed at all in any country that followed any sort of ideals of communism.





Three Cups of Tea

30 04 2008

Three Cups of Tea

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Summary:

Greg Mortenson, a 36 year-old American from Montana, attempted to climb K2 in 1993. After spending more than two months on the second highest mountain in the world, Mortenson realized that he lacked the energy to complete his journey to the summit and began his descent. Lost in the mountains of Pakistan, Mortenson survived only because of the generosity and hospitality of the inhabitants of a village called Korphe. The villagers nursed him back to health, and Mortenson promised to return the favor. Three Cups of Tea follows Mortenson’s struggles in Korphe and other villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan to bridge a wide cultural gap and return the kindness he received with the gift of education. During his time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mortenson was kidnapped, sent death threats, and terrorized by groups such as the Taliban. He survived all of these troubles, and succeeded in founding 55 schools under the Central Asian Institute in some of the most hostile territory of these two countries.

Review:

In a post 9-11 world, Three Cups of Tea provides a refreshing view of life in Middle Eastern countries. The media tends to present a negative two-dimensional view of all Middle Eastern cultures and those who belong to them. Mortenson reveals the unique personalities of Korphe’s inhabitants as well as their strong familial and hospitable customs. The “three cups of tea” are part of a custom the people of Korphe have for all their guests. The first cup of tea is offered to all strangers and guests who enter the village. Once offered the third cup by a village elder, one is considered an ally of Korphe and part of the family.
Mortenson uses his story to counter the effects of cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism, which is the idea that the best way to help an impoverished society is to impose on them the culture of a wealthy society, characterizes the attitude of most Western people. Mortenson’s message is one of the possibility and hope of world peace achieved through his brand of outreach. He succeeds in helping the people of Korphe and other villages to advance in the world by means of education, while retaining all aspects of their culture. Mortenson hopes that through education, extremist views can be eliminated.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

Though Three Cups of Tea has not been banned in schools on a large scale, Greg Mortenson has had two fatwas (any order by an extremist Muslim official, usually for anyone who is able to kill the person against whom the fatwa is declared) issued against him. Sher Chaco, a mullah in the Baldur valley, issued a fatwa to have Mortenson banished from Pakistan forever. After seeking advice from a senior Islamic Shi-ite cleric, he wrote to and was summoned by the Shi-ite Council of Ayatollahs in Qom, Iran. The council agreed with Mortenson’s intensions to educate Pakistani children, especially girls.
The second fatwa was issued against Mortenson by a conservative mullah in northern Pakistan. As an “infidel,” Mortenson was to be prohibited from building schools, especially if girls were to be educated in them. The community, which disagreed with their mullah, brought the issue to high Islamic court, which ruled in Mortenson’s favor.
There are schools for girls and boys throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan built by Mortenson, including the areas which attempted to exclude him with fatwas.





Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

30 04 2008

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Roald Dahl

Summary:

Charlie Bucket is almost starving to death, but his luck changes for the better when he wins a lifetime supply of candy and a chance to visit Willy Wonka’s top-secret chocolate factory. This novel is one of Roald Dahl’s best written pieces yet, and has fascinated children for more than thirty years. Five lucky people who find a Golden Ticket wrapped in one of Willy Wonka’s wonderful candy bars win a visit to his mysterious chocolate factory. Charlie Bucket is too poor to buy more than one candy bar a year, so when he wins a ticket, his whole family celebrates. The four other lucky children are not as nice as Charlie, and they’re punished for their bad behavior. Greedy Augustus Gloop falls into the chocolate river he’s trying to drink from and gets sucked up a pipe. Chewing-gum addict Violet Beauregarde grabs a stick of gum that blows her up into a giant blueberry. Spoiled Veruca Salt is deemed a “bad nut” by Wonka’s trained squirrels and thrown in the garbage. And Mike Teavee demands to be “sent by television” and gets shrunk in the process. But there’s a wonderful surprise waiting for Charlie at the end of the tour because he was so nice and followed the rules, unlike the other four children.

Review:

I think that this book is great for children, as is brings imagination and creativity to the table as well as candy, a child’s’ favorite. The book is filled with mind boggling illustrations and a world that kid’s dream about. I recommend this book to all children and even to teens as they find humor and interest in the naughtiness of the children in the book. I think that this is definitely one of Dahl’s favorite books and surprisingly I found that the book was very similar to the movie.

Why is this book “dangerous?”:

In 1988, a librarian in the Boulder, Colorado public library was discovered to have placed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in a locked reference collection (upon discovery it was returned to the general library) because the librarian believed the book described a poor philosophy of life. The racist descriptions and illustrations being the only things changed in the revision, Dahl obviously stood by everything else he wrote in the book. One frustration many critics shared is that Charlie is the hero because that is his role in the plot, not because of any positive good of noble qualities, but because he is poor, quiet, and polite. A phony representation of poverty is Charlie’s only character and being.