Category Archives: Course Readings

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

This sci-fi novel was apparently the basis for Blade Runner, but I haven’t seen it and therefore can’t make any comparisons on that front. However, this novel kept my interest, and that’s saying a lot for a sci-fi novel.

It gives an apocalyptic view of earth after World War Terminus. The world is dimmed by a constant drizzle of radioactive fall-out, and most people have emigrated to Mars or other planetary colonies. Left on earth are people called specials who were adversely affected by the radiation and other people who for various other different reasons choose not to emigrate. Animals have a great importance. They are a symbol of prestige and wealth. Owning a real animal as opposed to an electrical animal is a major status symbol. This is where we first meet bounty hunter, Rick Deckard.

Rick Deckard and his wife own an electric sheep. It’s like a dirty little secret that they keep to themselves. Rick dreams of nothing more than owning a real animal rather than an electrical one. His bounty hunting of androids is his only way of getting closer to that goal. The androids that Rick hunts are escapees from the Mars colony where they are used as servants. They are more human than machine, and Rick begins to feel a sort of empathy for his prey.

This story was incredibly deep for such a relatively short novel. Rather than trying to talk about all the details of the novel I can only say, go read it for yourself. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I was wary at first because of my life-long aversion to reading sci-fi, but after the first few pages, I was hooked into the story. I could feel Rick’s ambivalence towards the androids and was more than a little horrified at the wasteland that Philip K. Dick made of earth after the war. Sci-fi or prediction? Since the book was written in 1968 during the birth of the Cold War, it’s easy to think of this as a prediction type novel. However it’s so much more than that. Dick asks several philosophical questions which we humans have always and will continue to seek the answers for.

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Richard Wright’s Native Son

Have you ever really liked a character in a book but hated their actions and choices? Rooted for them to succeed, but really hoped they didn’t do what you knew they were going to do?

That is exactly how I felt about Bigger Thomas, the protagonist of this novel. I really liked him, wanted him to make a life for himself, but knew that it was ultimately impossible. After all, he was a poor black man in the first half of the 20th century. He accidentally kills a rich white girl, but feels empowered by it. He almost makes himself believe that he killed her on purpose. Then he tries to get away with it by writing a ransom note and signing it “Red” with a communist sickle and hammer. We all know what happens next… he gets caught. He gets tried with very little of what we like to call “due process”. And he gets sentenced to death. Bigger’s life is inevitable. What makes this novel a true gem is the fact that Wright wrote the character of Bigger so that we can’t help but feel for him. We have compassion if not empathy. We can almost understand when he kills his girlfriend Bessie to keep her from talking. I say almost, because Wright doesn’t pull any punches with his descriptions of the violence. It is graphic, and it is horrible. Yet we see it coming. It has to happen.

I read this book for the first time when I was in high school. I picked it up off the shelf just because it was there. I have had to revisit it because of the course I am taking in college, and I find that I have a greater understanding of the book now than I did the first time I read it over 13 years ago. While this book is a course reading, I’ve placed it under pleasure reading as well, because it was a pleasure to read this intricate and thought provoking novel.

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James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

This has got to be one of the most difficult books I have ever read. I’m having a hard time following the stream of consciousness style of writing Joyce uses to create the inner workings of Stephen Dedalus’s mind. It starts out with Stephen as a young boy, and his thoughts are random and choppy. There is very little description as to setting or other characters because the novel itself is all about Stephen’s coming of age.

Yet again, this is a book I’m reading for my upper level college course “The Novel”. I’m really not enjoying this class. I had gone into it hoping that I would become more familiar with and fall in love with new writers and books. What I’ve learned so far is that I really should just stick with the types of stories and writers that I know I love to read. Yes, these novels are great pieces of art, but that doesn’t mean I should lie and say, “oh god, what a wonderful book.” Yep… that would be a lie… because this one, in my own personal opinion.. is crap.

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Ward Churchill’s Kill the Indian, Save the Man

From around the 1880s to the 1980s Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes and their tribes and placed in “educational institutions” or “boarding schools”. In these schools, the were forced to speak only English, practice only Christianity, and wear only “white” clothes. They were brutally punished for speaking their own languages. Essentially, the US and Canadian governments set about a policy of cultural genocide against the indigenous people in their countries. Over half of the children who were subjected to this forced “learning” did not survive. They died of disease, malnutrition and most likely destroyed spirits. It is heartbreaking to read.

Ward Churchill has done his research on this topic and knows his stuff. Most of what he brings to light angers me beyond belief. It is a shame, however, that Churchill tends to be unable to write in a layman’s style language and give the facts life. His writing is tedious and overly scholarly, if you know what I mean. I’ve very much enjoyed reading this part of our hidden history, and will likely look for memoirs from actual victims of the institutions.

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George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss *updated*

I read the first half of this last week. This week, I have to try to finish it so I can write a literary analysis of it. I’m finding it tedious to read. A lot of the descriptions seem unnecessary and just downright over the top. So far, I’m enjoying the story, but getting to it through the superfluous other stuff is annoying. Yet again, this is for a class, so this isn’t something I would pick up just out of the blue and say, “hey, I WANT to read this book.” Probably won’t ever want to read it again, either.

UPDATE: Ok it’s a woman’s perogative to change her mind, and boy have I. Not only did this book get better with time, I actually think I might go back and read it again. At the end of the book, I kept thinking back to the many instances of foreshadowing that led me to the ending, so now I want to go back and read it again if only just to catch them all. I’d also like to get a deeper understanding of Eliot’s use of irony throughout the book… no, not the sarcastic irony we a know and hold dear, the dramatic irony. It’s very deeply woven into the book, and I really think I missed out on a lot of it in my mad rush to finish the book in time to write a paper. So, in all, that superfluous, tediously detailed stuff is probably very important to the novel… duh, right?

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Mooring Against the Tide by Jeff Knorr and Tim Schell

I’m taking a creative writing course this semester, and the required text for the course is actually turning out to be quite helpful. It is written in plain language that is easy to understand. The book is broken into two parts, one for poetry and one for fiction. Each chapter so far has included good working definitions of terms used in writing poetry and fiction. There are also many examples from real workshopping sessions and real student writers. I’m enjoying the class more than I expected to mostly because this book is such a good go-to resource.

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Contemporary Native American Political Issues by Troy Johnson

This semester, I’m taking a course called Contemporary Issues in Native American Culture.  There were two textbooks  required for this course, the one listed here, and Contemporary Native American Cultural Issues by Duane Champagne.  We haven’t yet delved into the Cultural Issues book yet, but we have read the first essay in the compilation by Troy Johnson. 

The first essay was by Ward Churchill regarding Native American tribal sovereignty.  I found this essay to be extremely hard to read.  Rather than using plain language, Churchill used what I like to call legalese.  For the average reader, the information that Chruchill was trying to get across was completely lost in the language.  His information was extremely interesting, once I got to the heart of it, but it took me a while to hack my way through the jargon.

With any luck, the rest of the essayists in the book will be a little easier to read and understand.  I’m enjoying this class, and because I have some Indian heritage, it’s important that I learn at least a little about my past.

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