Monday, February 27, 2017

The Cozy Book Corner No. 12: Dystopian Fiction and Its Current Relevance, Part I

Welcome to my Monday 
bookish feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.

The disastrous, pernicious effects of the 2016 election results are being felt by everyone in this country, although some refuse to acknowledge them as being, in fact, just that: pernicious. 

Donald J. Trump, who so obviously and thoroughly used to enjoy telling his reality show participants, "You're fired!" (yes, the glee was evident on his face) is now the president of this great country. From "The Apprentice" and "Celebrity Apprentice" to the White insane is that?! However, Trump has always shown his true colors. He's a classic narcissist who loves power and control. Now, unfortunately, he has it. Totally. I say "totally" because it's very evident that few in the GOP are opposing him. Perhaps, and hopefully, that situation will soon change, especially if solid proof emerges of Trump's ties with Putin. 

Unbelievably, this country is now being led by a man who has a personality disorder, a man who tolerates no opposition, a man who attacks the media simply because they are reporting the truth about his own "fake news", his own "alternative facts".

I am totally amazed that these things are happening in these United States of America. 

In the wake of the sweeping chaos created by "The Trump Tsunami", I've discovered that the popularity of dystopian novels such as Brave New World and 1984 has soared. Indeed, this has been pointed out in several articles on the Web, such as the one by Madeline Raynor at EW, published on January 31, 2017. In this article, titled "Classic dystopian novels' popularity surges in Trump's America", Raynor names the novels that are selling out on Amazon, as a result of the madness we're seeing coming from the White House.

The Number One spot is held by George Orwell's 1984. While this novel is a satirical look at socialist, and not fascist, totalitarianism, the main theme is that "Big Brother is watching you", and thus, one cannot express one's views freely. This is a salient feature of all dictatorships, be they of the Left or the Right. Views opposing those of the reigning regime are stifled, silenced. 

We have certainly seen the stifling of opposition by the Trump administration, and very recently, too. Respected journalistic entities such as CNN and "The New York Times" were recently banned by Trump sycophant Sean Spicer from an informal White House briefing, known as a "gaggle". Trump considers CNN and "The New York Times", as well as other so-called "liberal" (translation: objective) news media, to be purveyors of "fake news", for the simple reason that they criticize his policies. In his paranoid egotism however, he perceives them as merely being personally  "antagonistic" toward him. Conservative news media were, however, invited to attend the briefing, precisely because they support his policies, whether or not they are unfair and cruel. This points to a stifling of opposing views, and an endorsement of those views that line up with the Trump administration's take on reality. 

The second book mentioned in the Raynor article is It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, which I have just purchased from Amazon. The Goodreads synopsis reads, in part, as follows: "A cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America. Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler’s aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press. Called “a message to thinking Americans” by the Springfield Republican when it was published in 1935, It Can’t Happen Here is a shockingly prescient novel that remains as fresh and contemporary as today’s news."

From the quote above, it seems chillingly evident that Lewis actually wrote a prophetic novel, as his main character bears a frightening, and very close resemblance, to Donald Trump. Indeed, one reviewer on Goodreads, Michael Finocchiaro, pointed out, in his review of Lewis's novel, that " all the bookshops there had Roth's The Plot Against America and It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis." (He's referring to bookstores in London.) You can check out his entire review in the link below.

What strikes me the most about the Goodreads synopsis is this part of the quote: "....with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press." This sounds too similar to Trump's agenda for comfort. While Trump has not concentrated his so-called "reforms" on sex, the other parts of this quote do indeed sound eerily like some of his campaign promises. He, too, wants to get rid of "welfare cheats", as well as "crime" (in the person of illegal immigrants), and "a liberal press." Bingo! Lewis must have had a crystal ball hidden somewhere in his closet.

Here's another incredibly prescient, highly relevant quote, this one directly from Lewis's novel: "I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne. Zero Hour, Berzelius Windrip.”

I got chills up my spine as I read this. It sounds remarkably like Trump's attacks on the American press. The tone of paranoia and even contempt is very much the same. This is truly amazing, as this novel was first published in 1935. Yet, here we are, in 2017, seeing it become a reality!

In third place on Raynor's list is Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. First published in 1932, this novel envisions a world in which there are no nations, but a World State in which everyone is "happy", due to the use of drugs, brainwashing, and genetic engineering. The year in which the events in the novel take place is 2540 AD. I don't think, however, that such a dire situation would actually become a reality in this country, at least, with Trump at the helm. He's just too much of a nationalist for this scenario to actually become real. Future presidents, though, could bring us closer to this horrible future. But at present, perhaps this book doesn't represent much of a prophetic warning to Americans.

In fourth place in Raynor's article is The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Ashwood. In this novel, which I have been wanting to read for some time now, there's a totalitarian state that actually assigns certain fertile women -- known as "handmaids" to certain men, for the express purpose of having children with them, as fertility rates are very low in this future society.

Although the above scenario sounds like a nightmare, as sex is totally divorced from love and family, and engaged in only as "a duty to humanity", I really don't see this as ever happening in this country, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. First of all, something would have to cause fertility rates to fall. Then, the whole structure of our society would have to be drastically modified in order to force fertile women to have sex with men they neither love nor wish to commit to. What kind of something could have such an effect on world fertility rates? Besides, we Americans have always been averse to theocracies such as the one depicted in this novel. Surely our constitution would ensure that this type of government never took hold here. Right? Right? On the other hand, I don't know.... The Alt-Right now seems to have come into its own, alarmingly enough. And Christian Fundamentalism is unfortunately pretty much aligned with the extreme right-wing values of this group, as well as those of the Tea Party. So one does have to wonder.....

Of the four novels mentioned above, I think the one that most closely predicts, and mirrors, our present situation is It Can't Happen Here. In light of current events, this title is also most ironic, because, sadly, it IS happening here. Raynor even references a Salon article by Malcolm Harris, published on September 29, 2015, and titled, "It really can happen here: The novel that foreshadowed Trump's authoritarian appeal". There's a very telling quote from this article in Raynor's own. In it, Harris states: “With his careful mix of plainspoken honesty and reactionary delusion, Trump is following an old rhetorical playbook, one defined and employed successfully in the 1936 presidential campaign of Senator Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip.” Indeed!

There's another dystopian novel I'd like to point out, although perhaps it doesn't completely mimic what's currently going on in the chaotic tangle that is the Trump White House. It's Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. In this incredibly powerful novel, which I've read and reviewed (I have not read the ones mentioned above), books are completely forbidden, in the interests of keeping the masses happy and numbed to anything that would create dissension. There are firemen in the book, but their task, instead of saving lives, is that of rooting out hidden book collections, for the purpose of burning them.

Given Trump's penchant for attacking those who disagree with him, who knows but that this might actually happen in the not-so-distant future, except not quite in the way envisioned by Bradbury. In fact, this unbalanced man might go as far as to seize total control of the Internet, as well as of all publications, whether magazines, newspapers, printed books, and ebooks. It sounds like a totally nightmarish scenario, but we thought someone like Trump would only remain a fictional character in a novel written back in the 1930s by one Sinclair Lewis.....

As this is a topic of high current relevance, I will have to continue exploring it in a subsequent post next week. I hope to bring up more dystopian novels that contain totalitarian elements, and thus, are currently MUST READS.

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Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Blogger Hop No. 2: The Movie Was Better Than The Book

Welcome to the Book Blogger Hop,
hosted by Billy @

For more information, and 
to find out the topic of next week's question, click HERE.

This Week's Question

What was the one time you thought
the movie was better
than the book?

(Submitted  by Tomi @ 

My Answer

Several years ago, when video stores were still around, I found this absolutely AMAZING movie, "Shining Through", starring Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. The fact that these actors were playing the leads should have told me that I was in for a real treat, as these two are excellent performers. Furthermore, the supporting cast was of the very best caliber -- Liam Neeson, John Gielgud, and Joely Richardson. So I snapped up the DVD, and watched it as soon as I got back home.

Happily, I was TOTALLY blown away. 

The story concerns Nazis and spies. I've always had a fascination for WWII movies, so one of the things I really liked about this one was how often other famous films of this period were referenced in the plot.  But there was much more than that. There was the fascinating plot itself, the chemistry between the two leads, the suspense, the danger....

Griffith plays a young Brooklyn woman who is half Irish and half German/Jewish. She starts working as a secretary for Michael Douglas's character, who works for the government. The story takes place in the early 1940s. 

This woman, Linda Voss, is a very perceptive, insightful person who has a vested interest in the events taking place in Germany; her cousin, Liesel Weiss, is a talented flutist living there, and her life could very well be in danger.   Linda immediately realizes that  her boss, attorney Ed Leland (Douglas) is in reality more than he appears. In fact, she soon discovers that he's a colonel in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA) who has already gone on several secret missions to Germany.

Of course, the two eventually become lovers, and, when an agent is suddenly murdered, Linda convinces Ed to let her replace him as a spy in Germany. She also wants a chance to rescue her cousin in the process.

This was such a riveting, satisfying film!! I've seen it at least three times, and want to do so again, now that I'm posting about it! Released on January 31, 1992, it was written and directed by David Seltzer. The music score is by Michael Kamen.

This film is based on a novel of the same name, written by Susan Isaacs, which was published by HarperCollins in 1988. Since I was so in love with the film version, I then rushed out and bought the book. Well, I was in for a huge disappointment....

I dove into the book, expecting to find the same great storyline, the same passionate romance, the same excitement. Although some elements of the plot were incorporated into the movie, I was upset to see that the relationship between Ed and Linda was not given the emphasis that it received in the movie version. In fact, Linda first falls for another attorney, named John Berringer, whom she has an affair with and eventually marries.  I remember I started to frantically skim through the book, desperately searching for Linda and Ed's story. I had to get through SO many pages to find it, too. The story with Berringer did not interest me at all, from what I read. In contrast, Linda and Ed's relationship, as portrayed in the movie version, was absolutely enthralling.

The suspense and action in the movie were great, while, from what I read of the book, things seemed to just drag. 

To be fair, I never did read the book in its entirety, but merely skimmed it. What I gathered from it, though, was that it was just not as riveting to read as the movie was to watch.

Writer/director Seltzer did a fine job of tightening up the plot, thus making it much more compelling. He eliminated the Berringer character as well as events in the first three-quarters of the novel, and instead zeroed in on Linda's heroism, and the way it impacted her relationship with Ed.

The last third of the movie was totally electrifying to watch, and I almost couldn't sit still the first time I saw it. The movie ends on a very sweet note, too, as the story is framed in an interview that Linda later gives for a BBC documentary special. 

I did some Googling for this post, and read the Wikipedia article about the film. When I reached the end of it, I was shocked to discover that this movie was not well received at all, by either the critics or the public. In my honest opinion, this movie should have received an Oscar for Best Picture, and Griffith and Douglas should have received awards for Best Actor and Actress, as well. Neeson, Gielgud, and Richardson also turned in stellar performances, and deserved their own Oscars. The cinematography was excellent, with beautiful scenes of the German countryside, and the action scenes were very well done. The suspense was worthy of Hitchcock himself. So I really don't understand why this movie was not a success.

Perhaps I'll pick up the book again, and see why the critics in particular rated it as much better than the movie. But I really don't care what anyone else says about this film. I consider it a masterpiece of romance and suspense, and would actually like to throw rotten tomatoes at the staff on the "Rotten Tomatoes" website!

When I checked out the DVD on Amazon, I was very pleased to see that the movie has garnered a total rating of 4.5 stars from 839 reviewers! In contrast, the hardcover First Edition of the novel has received a total rating of 4 stars, from 105 reviewers.  So all  those who criticized it, back in 1992, were TOTALLY WRONG.      

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this topic?
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