The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.”

4/5 stars.
Re-read on August 25, 2019 to August 28, 2019.
ebook, 322 pages.
Originally read June 2011.
Paperback, 311 pages.

I am unimpressed with my younger self and the impressions I initially had with this book. I must not have had the emotional intelligence or wherewithal to truly grasp the raw and gripping moments in this story or maybe the recent current political atmosphere has opened up my eyes to some of the real themes that are present in this book. I reread this book in the anticipation of it its sequel that was just released this September.

This was my original and very poor review from the first time I read the book back in 2011.

This novel was hauntingly interesting and a scary thought of what our future could potentially hold. I enjoyed the story but I wasn’t overly enthralled. The story is similar to that of a female version of Orwell’s 1984 so I guess Atwood’s story felt like something I was already familiar with. This isn’t entirely Atwood’s fault as this novel was written in the early 1980’s so I can imagine the impact that this book would have had with these kinds of radical and dystopian types of ideas and would have certainly warranted a Governor’s General Award. Overall, I enjoyed the novel but it is not at the top of my dystopian novel list.

Pffft, see? Kids these days, I tell ya. Thank goodness I grew up a little.

Offred is a Handmaid in the morally righteous and strict society of Gilead. She doesn’t want to be one, she was forced to be one and her own daughter and husband are snatched away from her. The declining birth rates have ‘forced’ the hands of religious fanatics to alter society and ‘cleanse’ it to what they believed to be a pure and functional society. Women are stripped of their careers, finances, and worth and forced back into the homes and put within strict roles that the leading men, the Commanders, thought appropriate: Marthas, the caretakers, cleaners and cooks for the homes of Commanders, Wives, upper-class women who have the privilege of being allowed to marry and may or may not have children, Econowives, the poor women who can’t afford to have Marthas, the Aunts, women who have found a “higher calling” (AKA the ones trying to find a way out of getting married) never marry or bear children and tasked with educating and training women in each group, and of course the Handmaids, fertile and often rebellious women who fit into none of the categories and are forced to serve Gilead by being sent to Commander’s homes to bear children for them.

I think that Offred’s story is even more relevant than it was before and that this story will speak to a new generation of women who are still fighting for rights and autonomy over their own bodies.  I’m also thankful that there is a sequel as I had forgotten how much of the ending left you hanging. Not that I would change it but it will be good to see the follow-through and hopefully what eventually happens to Offred and Gilead as the end *spoiler alert* of the story implies that the Gilead society did, mercifully, eventually crumble.

There was something about reading this for a second time that hit me emotionally where it missed this first time. I think it’s a combination of things, for one, I’m at an age where I’m considering having children and am worried about my own fertility, that I am disturbed by some of the backwards movements that have happened a little too close to my home country, and that I’m a little more learned and aware of some of the issues and challenges of being a woman and I’m finally starting to realise how not okay I am with it. On top of that, Atwood’s writing is a pleasure to read as it is concise and highly engaging.

This is a book that should be read in schools and then re-read later on, like I did, to appreciate the full horror of this story. I cannot wait for the sequel and I hope that it continues to push and question societal issues surrounding women as this book has.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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4/5 stars.
Paperback, 184 pages.
Read from September 8 to 9, 2015.

Bradbury has been scaring book-lovers everywhere with this novel since its first publication in 1954. I decided to re-read this book as my first encounter with it would have been more than 10 years ago. I remember the book leaving me with horrifying impression, it’s one that I’ve never really forgotten. I’m glad that I re-read this book as an adult though as I was able to appreciate some of the more tragic elements as well.

Guy Montag is a fireman. Not the kind that puts out fires and saves lives but the opposite; Montag purposely starts fires. In futuristic plot of this novel, the job of a fireman is to burn the homes down of people who own books with the purpose of destroying the books and teaching the owners of the books a lesson. Montag has never questioned his job, in fact he actually enjoys it to a degree.

In this futuristic world, books themselves are seen as a danger and a disruption to the society that Bradbury has depicted, the premise behind this ideology is that people are happier this way. Sadly, it means that people have become willfully ignorant. They’re wrapped up on medications to keep them happy and let them sleep, or  they’re lost in their ‘TV families”. TV has become so advanced that people can actually interact with the actors as they come to life in their living rooms. This new “blissfully” ignorant  population has been trained to not feel the desire to learn, or to really feel anything. The attitude of the people in this society is summed up with a by Montag’s Fire Captain, Beatty:

 “Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs…. Don’t give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

Montag’s world is turned upside down when he meets Clarisse, his 17-year-old neighbour. While their interactions are brief, it’s clear that Clarisse is eccentric and odd. She has an innate curiosity that Montag hasn’t ever witnessed before and she poses question to Montag that he has never ever considered. After Clarisse and her family mysteriously “disappear’ Montage begins to question his whole existence. He cannot accept his current circumstances and he breaks under the overwhelming amount of unanswered questions. Montag sets out to overthrow the current regime of government, regardless of the substantial sacrifices it will take.

As a teenager, I recall hating Mildred. I felt she was a despicable character. However as an adult, while I didn’t like her any less, I could at least empathize with her to some extent and understand some of the decisions she made. What was heartbreaking to read, was how hard Montag tried to reach out to her and have a real connection but sadly, Mildred is shell of person. She doesn’t know what it’s like to really feel or connect with anyone.

I recall struggling a bit with the writing as a teenager, thinking that maybe my age was the barrier but I found some similar issues reading this novel again. The writing style is choppy and so to the point that if you skim for a second, you’ll miss something important. I had to go a n re-read a few paragraphs for this reason.

If you haven’t read this book, you should. It’s a an eye-opening science fiction about the importance of knowledge.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Since Go Set A Watchman, the prequel to this book, was just published and I am currently waiting on my copy from the library, I thought I would re-read To Kill A Mockingbird. The last time I read this book I must have been about 15 years old, and while I remember enjoying the book I couldn’t have told you what it was about so a re-read was definitely in order. Reading through the book this time around was like reading the book for the very first time and it was extremely enjoyable.

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4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Read from June 08 to 16, 2015.

Since Go Set A Watchman, the prequel to this book, was just published and I am currently waiting on my copy from the library, I thought I would re-read To Kill A Mockingbird.  The last time I read this book I must have been about 15 years old, and while I remember enjoying the book I couldn’t have told you what it was about so a re-read was definitely in order. Reading through the book this time around was like reading the book for the very first time and it was extremely enjoyable.

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic novel that is set in the Jim Crow era and the Great Depression. The book has been in publication since 1960 and is one of the most successful books still in print today. The book won a Pulitzer Prize 1961. The new book, Go Set A Watchman was, actually written first in 1957 but the publishers were more interested in the flashback scenes in the book and encouraged Harper Lee to write a story based on that, which is how To Kill a Mockingbird came to be. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the publication of Go Set A Watchman, especially about whether or not Harper Lee really wanted the book published or completely understood that it was going to be published.

Fun Fact: Harper Lee was close friends with Truman Capote.

Jean Louise, or Scout, as she is most often referred to is six years old and lives with her older brother Jem and their widowed father Atticus in Maycomb Alabama. The book takes place over a period of three years. Jem and Scout become friends with a boy named Dill, who visits Maycomb every summer. The three of them are fixated on a home where the elusive Arthur “Boo” Radley is rumored to never leave his home. No one knows why, but Boo has kept himself cooped up in his home for years and no one has seen or heard from him in long time. There are variety of nasty rumors that are spread around town as a result. Atticus is one of the county’s lawyers and he has been given one of the most controversial cases yet. He is defending a black man named Tom Robinison, who has been accused of raping a young white woman named Mayella Ewell. The Ewell’s are a disreputable family to begin with and many have already concluded that the claim itself is false but no one is willing to defend a black man, regardless of his innocence, and no one has ever won when defending a black person. Many people in town are skeptical, angry or offended with Atticus and his affinity for Tom and his willingness to defend him. The back lash comes to affect both Jem and Scout in different ways as the two of them grow.

The book is narrated from Scout’s perspective giving the reader the interesting insights of a curious but resilient young girl. I adore Scout. She is honest, keeps up with the boys and is reluctant to act like a lady. Scout’s perspective adds additional depth for the reader as Scout is experiencing a variety of adult scenarios and you get to perceive them as she does, through the eyes of a child..The book has a unique readability because of Scout’s perspective as well, especially in her regards to Boo Radley. The book is playful but smart as it engrosses some very serious issues of its day as well as some basic life lessons on how to treat people. The playfulness of Scout is balanced by Atticus’ wisdom.

Overall a very worth while and pleasant read. I’d recommend this book to anyone, young or old, as it’s a very accessible story thanks to Scout’s perspective. If Go Set A Watchman is anything like this book then I will be happy to read it despite its controversy.