Welcome to the first of my monthly book reviews. I am doing this as part of my Classics Club Reading Programme ( see the designated page on this site ) where I will be reading one book a month for the next 5 years but also because I think it's a great way to give my take on the story, summarize my thoughts and explain what I have learnt reading each book.
I chose this story because it was reccommended by a friend and I thought a futuristic tale could be a great way to start the year and so it has been! This book is just the sort I like - it's very original and has some meaty ideas to get your teeth into.
So, what's it all about? I'm sorry if they are any mistakes in my account but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Brave New World is set in a futuristic world state where humans are farmed in laboratories and conditioned throughout their lives to fulfill set roles in society and maximise consumption. This human 'production line' world unsurprisingly sees Henry Ford, captain of American industry, as God. People belong to different castes or levels of society and busy themselves with their work, organized sports and parties. They are kept 'happy' by taking large amounts of the drug 'soma' which has no immediate negative side effects and that is provided by the state. Basically everything is different from our society - there are no families or long term relationships and promiscuity is encouraged. Anyone who differs from the standard is considered defective, for example Bernard Marx who comes from the highest caste but who is unusually short, causing him to feel inadequate and therefore doubt the system and his friend Helmholtz Watson, also an 'Alpha' who feels he would like to do something more useful with his life. However, it seems that not all the world is under the world state as there are 'Savage Reservations' where some people live in families, have children and basically live our less perfect life. Perhaps naturally in a world where Ford is God, travel is quick and efficient and so people can easily go on holiday, even to visit a reservation. Bernard goes there with Lenina, a girl who is beautiful but unlike Bernard, shallow and strongly attached to conforming. Lenina is shocked by the way people live in the reservation. It is very rough, dirty and violent, in stark contrast to the world state. The couple meet Linda, a woman who once lived in the world state but was stranded in the reservation there after an accident while she was on holiday. Linda had to stay in the reservation because she was pregnant and it would have been shameful for her to be pregnant in the world state where there are only test tube babies. She raised her son John there with stories about the better world on the other side but they both remained outsiders, she because of her prosmiscuous ways and he because he didn't completely belong to either world. John sought refuge in his only reading material , The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and was inspired by the beautiful language and sentiment. When Bertrand discovers that John's father is in fact the Director administrates the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre he wants to take John and Linda back to the world state to reveal the scandal and discredit the Director who had previously threatened to exile him for his controversial ideas. Once back in the world state, the Director resigns in shame and Linda is put on a 'soma' holiday and eventually dies. This is really sad because it shows how strong her conditioning had been that after tasting freedom she preferred to go back to her 'cage'. John 'The Savage' instead becomes like a celebrity. There is a love interest between John and Lenina but it doesn't go anywhere because she is too superficial. John's grief at his mother's death causes uproar and Bertrand and Helmholtz are exiled by the "Resident World Controller for Western Europe" for antisocial activity. John decides to isolate and punish himself but soon attracts prying eyes. He finds this extremely irritating and lashes out, hitting a women (probably Lenina although this is not clear). In his remorse he commits suicide and is found hanging.
I have found the book very inspiring, particularly some of the words of John 'The Savage', who wants to live life, in all its shades, to the full. The quote
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
sums up what I want to do with my book club. I want to feel strong emotions and 'live a thousand lives' through reading'. I believe that emotional connection makes memorization easier and longer lasting so put simply, reading can help you to improve your English by doing something you love. This quote is my motto for this year as it really motivates me.
As regards the language of the book some of the most interesting examples can be found contrasting the language of two of the main characters John and Lenina. Lenina spouts drilled, bland set phrases that she has learnt through hypnopedia (sleep learning) while John quotes Shakespeare. Okay so the words aren't his own but he adapts them to his own personal circumstances adding meaning.
I have already written an article on idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are key when learning a language as copying phrases that natives use quickly allows you to sound more natural in a particular context and create empathy and the idea of shared experience and belonging to a community. It allows helps you avoid translating from your own language into English. However, paradoxically, now that English has become an international language, overuse of idioms may be exclusive. Remember that many of the expressions we use today were first coined in literature, most importantly Shakespeare. Why not shape things up a little and create your own or resussistate expressions you read in literature?
This novel raises some interesting questions. How close to our world is Huxley's? Is our decision-making being controlled with social media, pornography, the commercialisation of sex, advertising and reality TV? Mond the Resident World Controller for Western Europe says "The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get." Is that so bad? Do we really want to be happy all the time? I think Huxley contrasts the world state and the reservation to underline the fact that yes, life may be messy and hard but it is real, and in the midst of it we can find beauty as John found Shakespeare.
I spent this afternoon finishing reading Brave New World. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon! A time for myself, sitting in the sun on the terrace, at the same time catapulted into a strange future world and just like a visitor in another country, reflecting on the advantages or disadvantages of my own reality.
On Friday I found out that there were many quotes from Shakespeare in the book and that intrigued me to continue with my reading. I really identify with John's attitude. He is uplifted by the beautiful expression of human emotions and experience, be they positive or negative. In contrast we have Lenina who despite being exposed to beauty and art, is so conditioned that she cannot understand or appreciate it, preferring to stay in her comfort zone. Lost in Classics is for the Johns in life. My daughter is in the last year of middle school so we are visiting some high schools in order to choose one for her for next year. At the moment she seems oriented towards language high school, but I was impressed by the Head Teacher of the Classics high school who said 'What is the point of studying Latin and Greek? The truth it is not useful, we study for the pure pleasure of learning.'
All this has inspired me to write my manifesto today, to explain where I am coming from and why Lost in Classics is so important to me.
I want to experience life to the full, be open to opportunities and possibilities. I am nosey but with good intentions. The best moments of my life are when other people open up to me, let me see their truth and allow me to share with them without judgement or prejudice. Everyone has a story to share, every experience has something to learn from. Difficult experiences bring out the best in people. Reading is another way of relating to others through the ages. Society encourages us to stay in certain boxes, but in the end our life is our own and we have only one. My own life is specific to me but there are countless experiences and possibilities that I can access through reading. Imagination is more vivid and more wonderful than any film. Life today is so busy we are encouraged to live up to certain standards, to be the perfect wife, mother and friend, be respectable and achieve a good status, get on the property ladder, have a car, buy, buy, buy. For me being is more important than appearing. I want to make the most of every day, not just survive now to live better in a future that may never come. I appreciate beauty and art for art's sake, but like to see beauty everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. The best way to learn is through something you are passionate about, this makes things easier to remember, more personal and less like work. The best way to sound more natural when learning a language is to identify and copy phrases that mother tongue people use. Classics writers' work has lasted in time because they are people that are most able in using language. They present beautifully expressed ideas on timeless themes. The internet should be used for making virtual and real connections and indulging our passions with people that we could not normally meet. Doing something that you love is never a waste on time. In our busy world, it is important to dedicate some space to ourselves, for reflection and even for pure relaxation. Be lost in classics whenever you have the opportunity: you will not only gain in terms of vocabulary but it will also lift your spirits and allow you to feel part of the history of mankind.
Have you started reading Brave New World yet? I have been listening to the audiobook and I have also started reading the book online. I have got to chapter 4. If you haven't started yet I really recommend it, it really gives you loads of food for thought. It's set in a topsy-turvy future world state with the motto COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. In this world babies are selectively grown in great quantities in laboratories and conditioned to have certain charactersitics, preferences and abilities and perform specific roles in adult life. 'Suggestions' aimed at instilling traits and increasing consumption like 'I do love flying', 'I love having new clothes', 'Ending is better than mending', 'The more stitches, the less riches' are repeated to the people by hypnopaedia or learning through sleep. (Have you ever tried that as a way of learning a language? What were the results?)
"Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too–all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides–made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!" The Director almost shouted in his triumph. "Suggestions from the State."
This might sound scandalous at first, but if you think about it also in our world we are constantly bombarded not only by messages, slogans and propaganda (Just Do It - Nike, Because you're Worth it - L'Oreal) but even by idioms and other fixed sayings in our everyday conversations which can be considered as a shorter way of expressing more complicated ideas in a catchy, memorable way (Don't judge a book by it's cover).
When I read I try to notice some interesting language that I can share with you and as I read the first four chapters I noticed that there were idiomatic phrases, some repeated more than once, and I had the impression that this was done to underline the fact that the people in the story do not have their own individual ideas, their words are not their own but rather repeat phrases they have heard.
Here are some of the idiomatic expressions from the book that we commonly use today, if you learn them you will sound like a member of the English speaking community!
1. Straight from the horse's mouth
Many idiomatic expressions come from sports as it is a subject that many people have in common and can relate to. This one obviously comes from horse riding, which also involves betting on the winner of the race. Before placing a bet, the gambler can try to get some insider information on the best horses from those in closest touch with the horse, that is, stable lads, trainers etc. The only thing closer to the horse is the horse himself.
Here is a quote from the Syracuse Herald, May 1913:
"I got a tip yesterday, and if it wasn't straight from the horse's mouth it was jolly well the next thing to it."
If you hear something (straight) from the horse's mouth, you hear it from the person who has direct personal knowledge of it or is an authority on the subject.
In Brave New World the students use this expression when they write down the Director's words exactly as he says them as he gives them a tour of the laboratories.
2. below par
"Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par." Chapter 1
Something below par is below average, or below the acceptable standard.
This could also be associated with sport, this time golf. Par is the number of strokes an expert player should normally require for a particular hole or course. In golf, below or under par is positive because it means that the golfer uses fewer strokes than expected or standard. In other situations if a number is below par, it is not up to standard. But par can also be a financial term that refers to the face value of a share or other security, so below par could also mean under this value.
Par comes from Latin, ‘equal’, also ‘equality of value or standing'. Associated phrases are above par - better than is usual or expected, on a par with - equal in importance or quality to and par for the course - what is normal or expected in any given circumstances.
3. be only too happy to do something
'Mr. Foster was only too happy to give them a few figures.' Chapter 1
This phrase means to be very willing to do something. You can use only too to emphasize to that something is true or exists to a much greater extent than you would expect or like.
'Know only too well that plans can easily go wrong.'
'When the new baby comes along, it is only too easy to shut out the others.'
Her family knows only too tragically that running from the cameras does not end well. Times, Sunday Times (2016)
It's only too easy to get stuck in routine. The Sun (2016)
He knows only too well what this means for farmers. Times, Sunday Times (2008)
The emperors were only too eager to help clarify that issue. Christianity Today (2000)
He knows only too well that his foot and mouth connect all too easily. Times, Sunday Times (2015)
4. a very great deal
"But in the interval," Mr. Foster concluded, "we've managed to do a lot to them. Oh, a very great deal." His laugh was knowing and triumphant. Chapter 1
A great deal means a large quantity, to a considerable degree or extent, by a considerable amount, often, frequently or highly. We can compare deal to lot, as lot means a portion. Deal as a verb comes from Old English daelan meaning divide or participate (in fact before starting a game of cards you have to deal the cards) which in turn comes from Ol Dutch 'deel' or German 'Teil' meaning part.
5. make a point of doing something
"I shall make a point of going," said Henry Foster. Chapter 3
When you make a point of doing something you consciously and deliberately make an effort to do it, consider or treat (an action or activity) as indispensable. The point meaning "the matter being discussed" dates from the late 14c but the meaning "sense, purpose, advantage" is first recorded in 1903. "The point" of something is the reason for doing it.
6. it / that won't do
'It's such horribly bad form to go on and on like this with one man. At forty, or thirty-five, it wouldn't be so bad. But at your age, Lenina! No, it really won't do.' Chapter 3
This is used for saying that a particular situation or way of behaving is not sensible or suitable. The verb do can also mean be suitable, acceptable, enough or sufficient.
"if you can't get espresso, regular coffee will do"
Everything in Brave New World is opposite to how it is in our world. Here promiscuity is encouraged and monogamy frowned upon.
7. be a a stickler for something
Trust Henry Foster to be the perfect gentleman–always correct. And then there's the Director to think of. You know what a stickler …" Chapter 3
A stickler is a person who insists on a certain quality or type of behaviour. The noun originates from Old English stihtian to set in order and English stightle control.
"This last week or two," he went on, "I've been cutting all my committees and all my girls. You can't imagine what a hullabaloo they've been making about it at the College. Chapter 4
Everyone agrees that a hullabaloo is a a commotion, a fuss but the origins are not so clear.
Perhaps it comes from hunting, a rhyming cry halloo-baloo! (halloo meaning hello). The old Scots term baloo, means a lullaby, a soothing song to calm a baby to sleep, but the connection with our hullabaloo seems contradictory. Other suggestions are that it comes from French, hurluberlu meaning scatter-brained, or from the English
hurly-burly, a contracted form of hurling and burling, where a hurling is an even older term for a commotion, disturbance or tumult. Burling may be just a rhyme of the the first word, as has happened also in namby-pamby, itsy-bitsy and others. I prefer the theory that it comes from India. When I read The Great Gatsby I discovered that the phrase 'The Big Cheese' meaning the most important person originated in India from chiz meaning thing or the real genuine thing. The term 'Hullabol' is still used in Indian English to describe a type of public demonstration, involving making a great noise. 'Hulla' is either derived from 'Hamla' meaning 'attack' or from 'halhala' meaning 'ululation' (both words from Persian and then Urdu). 'Bol' is from the Hindi verb 'bolna', 'to utter or say'.
I found all these expressions in the first four chapters of Brave New World. Even a little reading can offer many opportunities to learn, so don't get discouraged, let's move on through this Brave New World together in 2019! Which other idiomatic phrases can you find? Tell me in the comments.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a good rest and that the new year has started well for you. Do you make new year's resolutions? Many people say, for example, 'I'm going to lose weight', or 'I'm going to save money'. These are great ideas, but as we know, things may start off well but more often than not they are short-lived. What are your intentions or projects for this year? If you plan to improve your English this year, and you love reading classic novels, then you can use my Lost in Classics Reading Diary to keep you focused and stick to your resolution throughout 2019.
I have been working on this diary over the holidays and I must say I am proud of it because it not only looks gorgeous but it can also be very useful in helping you follow the novels that we will read each month in my Facebook Group and will discuss in our monthly book club meetings.
If you already follow me on Facebook you will have noticed that in November I posted many questions asking about your favourite novels and authors. Well, I used your answers to choose the twelve books that we will read together this year and here they are. Twelve months, twelve books, twelve genres.
1. January - Futuristic - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
2. February - Romantic - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
3. March - Women - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. April - Jane Austen - Persuasion by Jane Austen
5. May - Bildungsroman - Martin Eden by Jack London
6. June - Children - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
7. July - American - The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
8. August - Travel - A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
9. September - Crime - The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
10. October - Horror - Dracula by Bram Stoker
11. November - Short Story - Desirées Baby by Kate Chopin
12. December - Festive - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Yes, I know Jane Austen is not a genre but her books are so popular and she has such a following that it could be argued it is!
Last year, my choice of books was influenced by word count, I wanted to start low and gradually work up, in fact we started with The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe, a short story of only three thousand words and we finished with The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde with seventy-eight thousand! That's quite an achievement so well done if you read all or even some of the books! This year I decided to choose books in twelve different genres, regardless of their length because the feedback I have received so far has taught me that time is a problem for many people so it doesn't matter how long the book is. If you want to and can read all the book that is great, if not you can read a short version or even an extract or one chapter. I just want to inspire you to read so if you read as much as you can, that's great! Another possibility is that if you know in advance that we will read your favourite book in say March, you can start reading now and give yourself more time to prepare. This month I will be uploading all books to the BOOKS! page of this site so you can plan ahead if that works for you.
The diary includes a message from me and the confirmation of your membership of our book club followed by a page where you can note your favourite books. Then there is one page for each month complete with questions and space to record interesting language or quotes from the novel as well as your book review. If you submit your review, I will give you a free gift each month! Each page also includes important births, deaths and other events. If you look on my Facebook Page for that day, you will find more information about that author or book with links to read the book, or a video, picture or quote or any other interesting things I find. Finally on each page of the diary you will find a motivational quote from an important author which I hope will inspire you to keep going!
So how can you follow Lost in Classics this year? There are many ways to get involved. First check out my Facebook Page every day for inspiration to learn and read and this blog every Monday for lessons to be learnt from the language and themes in the novel we are reading that month. I also have a Facebook group where we discuss the novel of the month in more detail looking at the history of the author, the language, themes, characters, setting etc. Ask me if you would like to join. Members will receive the Lost in Classics Reading Diary, and bi-monthly newsletters with monthly infograhics focusing on language points covered that month. At the end of each month there is the option to take part in an online or live book club meeting. For more details of how the book club meeting works look at the dedicated page on this site.
If you would like to dig deeper or work on a particular area of your English with more personalized help from me, you might like to consider taking part in a group or individual programme (see the PROGRAMMES page of this site).
My resolution for this year is to get as many people as possible involved with Lost in Classics so please tell your friends and let me know if there is anything else I can do to inspire you to read and help you to learn and improve your English.
Happy Reading in 2019!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.