Weekly Preview 21/3/21

Hello everyone. I’ve reached the unfortunate conclusion that I need to focus all my efforts on my exams. I thought I’d be able to continue writing some blog posts alongside, but I’ve just been too exhausted to do it, and I think it’ll just cause too much stress if I continue to try. I’ve still got a review for Something Wicked which I have agreed to write, but apart form that, this’ll be my last post for a while. Hopefully I’ll be back soon-ish, but I don’t know how thing’ll turn out.

Weekly Preview 14/3/21

Hello everyone. This past week has been a pretty slow one, where I’ve been cramming revision into most of my waking hours. Not exactly glamourous, but it needs to be done. Next week, however, is much more exciting. To start with, I’m going back to school tomorrow, which hasn’t happened in a year. I’m definitely looking forward to it, but there are some nerves too. Then I start the training for my census job on Tuesday. Not really sure what it’s going to be like. Anyway, all this combines to give me a very busy week. Given this, for the foreseeable future I’m going to try to post one or two book reviews a week, as well as my continued analysis of The Grapes Of Wrath, Music Monday, and this weekly catch-up post. I think trying to do any more than that is just setting myself up for failure.

I’m planning to review Lustrum, which I really enjoyed as it tied directly into the topics we cover in my latin lessons, as well as being an exceptional political thriller. I felt like it continued the story of Cicero well, and I plan on reading the final part of Robert Harris’ trilogy soon. Also, I hope to review Something Wicked, which was a surprisingly good indie book about a police investigation of vampires. I’ve also started The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, but it is a pretty meaty book.

Slow Reads: The Grapes Of Wrath Week 7

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at the same time if you wish, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

Chapter 20 seems to be a the culmination of all the bleak foreshadowing thus far. The Joad family have arrived at a Hooverville (a decrepit area filled with the rundown tents of the migrants), and it really is a sorry sight. I just can’t get over the fact that the US, supposedly the land of freedom, treated its citizens this atrociously less than a century ago. Worse though is that I’d never even heard of these events before, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

The first thing I want to comment on is the lack of labour protections. Policies of blacklisting and locking up those who lead worker unity movements were widespread. Since there wasn’t a minimum wage, it was easy to do a full days work and still not be able to feed your family. All this build the picture of a time when the rich protected their interests at the expense of the poor very effectively. A picture that looks horribly like today. The US has the worst minimum wage to average wage ratio of all the developed nations that have one, yet there is still significant resistance to raising it. The scariest part, however, is that in the book, the working classes were mostly united against the rich who were feeding off them. This is not the case today. I sometimes wonder if we are too far gone this time, due to changing technologies like social media.

One of the characters bluntly remarks that religion can’t cure hunger. I’ve been seeing the religious themes throughout the book, and haven’t known what to make of them up to this point. Now, it seems to be saying that institutionalized religion cannot provide for you, and might even be a stretch on the money you have (as with the funerals). However, I think there is a place for spirituality in helping keep people grounded during hard times. It gives them something to live for.

There are two more characters who have difficulties adapting this week. One, John, turns to drink, while the other, Connie, abandons his wife and unborn child. I think this is here really to emphasize just how hard this change is. That the manual labourers are so much more worthy often than the those who own the plantations, since so many have such fortitude after surviving in the awful conditions for any amount of time. There isn’t really much to say that I haven’t covered in previous weeks, but I just wanted to draw your attention to the theme reoccurring. I’m sure more of the family will succumb to the conditions before the novel concludes.

There was an incident with stew that really demonstrates just how dire the conditions are. The Joad family turn up and start cooking the remains of the food they brought with them. As soon as the children of the camp smell it, they all crowd around to watch, hoping to get a portion. Ma is heartbroken that she can only give them all the smallest of tastes, and even then she can’t feed the whole family properly. Then one of the kid’s mothers turns up to complain about Ma feeding her child, probably because it makes her feel insecure as a parent. This scene was honestly so hard to read.

There have been many mentions of families being torn apart forever up to this point. Since the internet obviously doesn’t exist, there is a very good chance that if a family split up, they will never see each other again. The frequency of this happening, and the casualness with which it’s discussed, is deeply saddening. While I’ve often focused on the economic costs of the migration, this clearly shows there are social, specifically familial, ones too. It’s so easy to overlook an individual person’s life being ripped apart when we look back in history, and this book does an excellent job of bringing individual pain to the fore.

Another thing that’s barely changed since the novel was written: police abuse of power. I might not be as blatant as falsifying evidence and setting Hooverville ablaze, but it is still very prevalent in our current society. The treatment of economic migrants in the book is very reminiscent of the treatment of ethnic minorities today. Once again, Steinbeck’s masterpiece is extremely relevant still.

When John tries to share his pain, it seems to be taboo. There is a ‘speak no evil’ culture, where a positive mindset should be maintained at all costs, and you shouldn’t burden others with your own problems. This was a pretty forward thinking criticism by Steinbeck, as far as I’m aware. I’m happy to say that, as a society, we are much better when it comes to mental health issues, and sharing our emotions without stigma, although we still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, this was a pleasant reminder of the progress we’ve made, as it can be easy to lose sight of that.

The family has a rebellious streak when it comes to authority. They are a proud people, like so many of the migrants, and so, rightly or wrongly, are stubborn about bowing to those in positions of power. This sometimes means that they ignore or resent good advice that is given to them by people who have already experienced the horrors. This example of the confirmation bias is not surprising, as human have been doing it for centuries, but certainly doesn’t serve them well. Again, this parallels our modern society, with the rise of post-truthism and the anti-intellectual sentiment. However, it does enable them to stand up to those who abuse their power. As long as they keep fighting, they haven’t lost, as the thought goes. My personal worry is that they will be broken by the system before long.

I’m reading chapters 21 & 22 next week. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on my analysis and how it relates to the modern world.

Weekly Preview 7/3/21

Hi everyone. You might remember that I said I was going through a period of demotivation last week. Well, I’ve come out the other end, and everything seems to be looking up (even if I’m still not happy about the exams situation). I think part of the reason for this is that I now have a lot on my plate. Alongside near constant revision, and the possibility of returning to school, I’m also starting my job in just under a week and a half. I find having a lot going on helps me stay focused. The downside of this is that I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to write blog posts, but I’m hoping it won’t be affected too much.

Bookwise, I’ve read a lot this week. I reviewed two indie books, both of which were very good, Realms and Penny Pinching Tips For The Morally Bankrupt. I also finished reading The Empire Of Gold, which is the final book in the Daevabad trilogy (reviews for the first two here and here). I thought it was a pretty satisfying conclusion, although I think I enjoyed it a bit less than the previous two. My full review will be coming soon.

This week I’ll be reading another indie book, Her Mad Song. I’ve read the first few chapters and I can’t say I’ve been particularly captivated, but there is still plenty of time for that to change. I’m also just over halfway through Lustrum, and I’m loving it. The politics of ancient Rome is absolutely my thing. I’ll probably be reviewing one of these this week as well, although which one depends on my mood at the time, as well as how quickly I finish them.

Slow Reads: The Grapes Of Wrath Week 6

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at the same time if you wish, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

I was warned that this book was heart-wrenching, but clearly I was not prepared. The desperation that people are facing is so strong I can practically smell it. The way the migrants are treated fills me with such rage at the unjust ways of the world. I’d better get on to my comments before I get too worked up.

The most visible theme this week was migration, and it wasn’t even close. It was hard to go five pages without some native Californian looking down upon the people who had been driven off their own land and were fleeing west to find work. The way these people are treated is absolutely disgusting, being dehumanized and thought of as lesser – something that minorities have had to face since time immemorial. They are even derogatorily labelled ‘Okies’. I guess that was what surprised me so much initially: that these migrants came from the same country, and looked the same as the Californians, yet were discriminated against regardless. Although, know that I give it more thought, it makes sense. Even today, people in different geographical regions in the same country are looked down upon, and seen as less intelligent.

The whole situation mirrors are own today. In the book, the average California resents the migrants for coming and taking their jobs and lowering wages. However, they miss the big picture, in which the rich get richer through unfair means, and everyone else suffers. The migrants and natives should be a united front against exploitation, but instead a wedge has been driven between them. Similarly, today inequality is growing, not because migrants are coming and stealing jobs, but because the richest in society don’t do enough to help the average citizen. Yet the migrants have taken the blame again. Honestly, I cannot believe just how relevant this book is today, given it was written 1938.

The final piece of this puzzle is that, according to the book, if you keep citizens hungry and oppressed, they will rise up against you. This seems to be where the novel is trending, and, once again, it mirrors current society. In the past year, we’ve seen mass BLM protests, due to the mistreatment of an oppressed group, as well as the capitol insurrection riots, partly because another section of the population is poorly paid and feel mistreated. While these actions were taken by vastly different groups, with vastly different beliefs, it does feel like we are heading to some kind of revolution in the US.

There is also a link between greed and not properly living life. The richest people have a million acres, yet they drive around in bulletproof cars, scared of dying. I think this is true to some extent today, but it manifests itself in materialism. Those who have little find happiness in the little things, while the richest try to fill the hole in their souls with expensive stuff. Nevertheless, I don’t think this link is anywhere near as strong now as it is in the book. While I’m not convinced that rich people who can solve any problem by throwing money at it are likely to be truly, deeply happy, I don’t think they’ll be scared to live either.

There is a return to ignorance is bliss theme from last week. Here, people wonder in several places if they should withhold important information form others, simply because it is upsetting. Once again, my instinct is that this obscuring of information is what got them here in the first place. It seems like the compulsive need to shield themselves and everyone around them from the harsh reality of the world puts them at a disadvantage when dealing with the unscrupulous businessmen. The same is still true today. Potentially the reason we get so many unfit people in government.

With this next point, I have no idea what to make of it. One of the characters, Noah, upon arriving in the desert in California, left the family to live in the wilderness. The best I can make of it is that he couldn’t handle all the change, so he returned to his roots. Let me know if you have any suggestions as to why someone would abandon their family, likely forever, to make a life scavenging in a foreign land.

Next, we come to Uncle John – the man who can’t forgive himself. His entire life is dedicated to trying to make up for a mistake he made which led to his wife’s death. He carries the burden around with him, and it has meant he no longer really lives. He should definitely feel guilty, but when that guilt has completely and utterly destroyed his life, I think he has gone too far. This is a stark contrast to Tom, who killed a man, admittedly in self-defense, and feels not an iota of remorse about it. I guess this places John firmly in the past, while Tom is squarely in the present (and is likely better off for it). I hope John finds it in himself to forgive, but I don’t think it’s likely. I think he’ll end up another causality of the march of progress, just as Granpa was.

Speaking of which, Granma was also a causality of the journey. She lasted a lot longer than Granpa, but in the end, she too wasn’t well enough to make such an arduous trek. Once again, this signals a culling of those stuck in the past, and those unable to adapt to a new way of life. However, I’m not sure this theme holds true anymore nowadays. Technology has rapidly evolved in the past decades, and while it probably hasn’t been easy for the older generations, they have adapted and haven’t died.

Next week will be chapter 20. As always, I’m curious to hear what you think about these point, both in relation to the book, but also how they relate to our world now. Specifically, do you think that the older generations have adapted well to the changing technological landscape over the years?

Slow Reads: The Grapes Of Wrath Week 5

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at the same time if you wish, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

It’s been a few weeks since I read the last part of The Grapes of Wrath, but I felt it was much more enjoyable than previous weeks. Everything seems to have been properly established now, and so it feels like I’ve gotten to the meat of the book. I also felt more gripped by the writing and events than I had in previous weeks, and I feel the characters are really coming into their own at this point. I still have plenty of things I want to talk about this week.

The first significant event was that Ma Joad challenged a plan laid out by the men, threatening to attack them if they didn’t stay together, instead of spitting up when a car broke down. I feel like this is going to fundamentally alter the family dynamics later down the line (for the better – because patriarchy sucks). The more interesting think to me, though, was how easily traditional values were given up on in the face of upheaval. One of the great strengths of humans is said to be their flexibility, which means I’m optimistic that the great challenges we face today such as growing inequality and the climate emergency, might be resolved. However, with the climate emergency specifically, I do worry that our flexibility might not be enough because of its gradual nature. I guess the question is just how easily can humanity adjust to new circumstances?

Two points of view are presented when it comes to dealing with problems. Casy, the preacher, wants to face them head on, and plan to minimize their impact, whereas Tom just wants to take them as they arrive and live in the moment, ignoring the future. This seems to be a core though of the book. If the farmers had just planned ahead, and not sold away their farms to the banks, year on year, they would be in the trouble they are. I firmly come down on Casy’s side, and believe that planning is vital to help us all reach our true potential. Although this could lead to a loss of a sense of purpose, as with Casy himself.

There is a small extract about Tom’s time in prison, where he says it crushes the life out of you. While the book hasn’t said much about this issue so far, I had quite a visceral response to this. The degradation some people face in prison is horrifying, regardless of the crime they committed. I think this just reaffirmed my belief that we need rehabilitation over punishment, especially since Tom was in for manslaughter through self-defense, not something that makes me think he is intrinsically evil and deserves to suffer. What’s worse, though, is he doesn’t regret his actions at all. I’m really not sure if he should, but clearly sending him to prison was a waste of everyone’s time and taxpayer’s money.

The next scene of note to me was at a junkyard. Tom and Al need to get a replacement part for the car that broke down, and there they meet a one-eyed man feeling sorry for himself. While I wouldn’t say Tom was necessarily nice to this guy, as he essentially told him to get over himself, he at least treated him like a human being. This compassion was nice to see, and Tom reaped the rewards by getting a large discount on the parts they needed. To me, this was just a subtle reminder that kindness costs nothing, and no matter how dire your situation, there is no excuse for being awful to other people.

The other theme in this scene was to do with insecurity. The one-eyed man was completely crippled by thinking he was somehow less than other people because he had lost his eye. He was unable to move past it, and constantly thought no-one could ever like him again. I take this as Steinbeck saying stay positive about the situation, but I wonder how others might read it. Al also has bouts of insecurity, as he feels like everyone blames him for the car breaking down, when, in reality, no-one does. I’m interested to see if this insecurity continues throughout the book, and if it will have adverse consequences later down the line.

A quick side note: there were two more instances of people driving vehicles actively going out of their way to try and hit animals. Obviously this is cruel, but I really don’t understand why they do it. I wonder if it is to do with exerting power over something when they feel like they are losing control over their lives. I guess there is also the symbolism of machine dominating nature, which has been a recurring theme. Let me know what you think about why this has been included.

The foreshadowing of problems arising once they get to California continues this week. The Joad’s met a man who had already been out there, and was coming back because he was taken advantage of and lost everything. He claims that the owners of the orchards, who want manual laborers to pick the fruit, encourage as many applicants as possible, in order to pay them less. It is a disgusting use of the laws of supply and demand. Spread your message of hope wide, so that you don’t have to pay your workers enough to survive on. I’m so glad we have some regulation against these sorts of predatory practices now.

Chapter 17 talks of how all the migrants have built their own community, with unspoken rules, laws and leaders. They all work in unison, helping each other to reach a common goal. It was certainly uplifting to read about the compassion they show one another. I just worry that will be torn asunder when they reach California, based on what we already know is happening there, and it’ll be heart-wrenching.

I’m reading chapters 18 & 19 for next week. There were plenty of interesting questions raised I’d like to hear your thoughts on. How flexible do you think humanity is, and can it deal with any challenge? Is Tom Joad right to focus on the here and now, ignoring the future, or will that just cause more issues? Does looking to the future cause people to become unmoored, like Casy? Do you agree with my view of rehabilitation over punishment in prisons? Why are people going out of their way to hit animals? Will the society the migrants have formed break down and become individualistic in California, if well-paid work is indeed hard to come by.

Weekly Preview 21/2/21

Last Sunday, I set out my intentions for the following week, as usual, and then promptly failed to fulfill them. They were absolutely my plan initially, but as the week drew on, I realized just how much I needed a break, before the coming months of intense study. So I spent the week spending time with my family and friends, as well as playing xcom 2, an extremely cerebral game, and discovering new and diverse music.

However, half term is over now, and so I’ll be resuming my usual amount of content, at least for a few weeks. I got accepted for the census job that I mentioned a few weeks back, and I start in mid-March. So I’m likely to reduce output again then, at least until I adapt to the new circumstances.

The government should also be announcing what’ll happen with the replacement for exams tomorrow, which will be nice. I’ll finally know what’s happening and how to prepare effectively, which will be another weight off my shoulders.

In terms of books, I’ll probably just write the posts I was going to write last week. namely, a review of The Devil And The Dark Water, something about what I learnt from Homo Deus, the next part in my analysis of The Grapes Of Wrath. Not that any of that is new to you probably.

Weekly Preview 14/2/21

I know I’ve been MIA for the last few days. I already was at the usual low point that I often get before a school break, but then I had an old family problem rear its ugly head again, which just threw me off completely. But I made it, and it’s half term, and I’m just going to take it easy (so there might be reduced number of posts again this coming week).

In other news, my application to be a discovery reviewer was accepted, so I’ll be spending some time figuring out exactly what I’m doing with that. I also reviewed both Homo Deus and Instant Karma last week.

This coming week, I’ll have a review for The Devil And The Dark Water, which I thought was an decent blending of murder mystery with fantasy elements. It did have a few issues. but was overall very enjoyable. I’ll also have my second post for Homo Deus, talking about what I learnt, which I promised last week. My breakdown of The Grapes Of Wrath will be resuming as well.

I’m definitely going to be reading Tokyo Mayday over half term, but as I’m off school, I’m hoping to get through some other books too. I’m thinking I might read A Court Of Mist And Fury, but I haven’t fully decided.

Weekly Preview 7/2/21

I’ve been pretty demotivated this past week in general. Not entirely sure why, but I’m hoping I can just push through it for one more week and get to half term and relax. This did mean that I didn’t read that much last week, and I only reviewed Pariah’s Lament. However, my reading has picked back up again in the last few days.

I’m planning on writing two posts about Homo Deus this week, because I think it deserves it. Firstly, an ordinary book review (spoiler alert, I really liked it), and then a post about what I learnt from it. Honestly, this book completely shattered my perspective of the world in a way I don’t think anything ever has before.

I’m currently reading Instant Karma, which is well-written and keeps me coming back for more, but I don’t like the main character. I’ve also just started The Devil And The Dark Water, but I’ve only read a few chapters and don’t have much of a judgement for it yet.

Slow Reads: The Grapes Of Wrath Week 4

The idea for this recurring posts is to read a book over the course of 4-6 weeks, and each week to delve deeply into what has been read the previous week. This will allow for a more interesting analysis of the meaning of the book, and allow me to make predictions, in a way that isn’t possible with book reviews. Reading over a number of weeks also lets you read along at home at the same time, which will hopefully enrich the discussion.

Spoiler warning obviously

I’ve decided I’m a little bit annoyed by Steinbeck this week. Overall, I’ve been really enjoying his writing, and its beautiful, flowing prosaic style, which breaks up the tough subject content. However, I think one of the chapters this week crossed a line, and ended up as tedious and hard to follow. Would it kill him to use a verb once in a while? As far as I understand it, they are pretty important. Nevertheless, the subject content has plenty to dive into, and since that’s the main aim of the post, I’ll get to it now.

One of the first significant incidents is the death of a dog that the Joad family brought with them. He runs into the road and is killed by a passing car. This bring back the themes of nature vs technology, and here implies that nature is just a casualty of technological advancement, since it cannot adapt as fast as tech changes. However, the more scary part of this is the nonchalance that everyone reacts with. How can they save nature if they cannot even save themselves? This is very relevant today as it can be applied to climate change. If the working classes are worrying about how to put food on the table, how can they realistically be expected to worry about the (mostly) abstract threat of the climate emergency?

When the family pull up to a service station, the owner repeatedly remarks, ‘what’s the country comin’ to’. Casy’s response is that people move and change. His argument seems to boil down to humanity will adapt to survive, and we’ll make it though this somehow. I find this to be a dangerous sentiment personally, that there is some preternatural power that will ensure society’s survival. It just feels too complacent for me. On the other hand, Tom’s thoughts are much more cynical. He says that the owner doesn’t really want to know, as that would require him to actually try to change things (and maybe even himself). This argument implies that humanity is naturally lazy, and prefers blissful ignorance. Again, this rubs me the wrong way, because I like to think the best of people. Nevertheless, this train of thought has manifested itself somewhat in places like current day America, where a large portion of people believe what is convenient, rather than truly examining things.

Another observation I’ve made is that the full weight of situation doesn’t seem to have fallen on the younger generation, specifically Connie and Rose of Sharon, who can still laugh and mess about. I unfortunately believe this will be crushed out of them by the end. However, this is one message where the novel doesn’t actually feel relevant to today. At most times in history, the naive youth stereotype would be pretty acurate. However, when the youth are predominantly leading the charge on tackling the climate emergency, rising inequality and intolerance, it couldn’t feel father from the truth. Then again, maybe the book will once again be strangely prophetic, and its message will be about the youth having to grow up too quickly to help solve crises they didn’t create.

A further scene of merit is the death and burial of Granpa. He is the first (or second if you count Muley) casualty of having to move, but I’m sure he won’t be the last. In a situation of adapt or die, he chose death. I guess the point is that you can’t force progress upon everyone. To me, his burial was more interesting. While the family wanted to continue with their traditional burial rituals, they were unable to due to cost. This struck me as antithetical to conservative family values, yet it was the republican governments that facilitated these events with deregulation.

The Joad family also meet the Wilsons, who are not in a good way financially. The Joads suggest travelling together, and initially the Wilsons are reluctant to accept the offer, even though it would be hugely beneficial, because they don’t want to be a burden. This is just the latest example of how those with the least don’t try to exploit the system, despite the tails spun about them. They want only what is fair. A stark contrast to the greed of the banks and corporations.

Broadly, the message is that money makes mercenaries of us. There is a waitress, Mae, who is stern with some down-on-their-luck travelers, who simply want to have a little water and buy a little bread. She becomes cold-hearted when she sees them, and only changes because the cook, Al, tells her to. When she realizes just how harsh she is being, she, unprompted, sells the travelers sweets at a greatly reduced price, which brings unmeasurable joy to the little children. At this point, the jubilant truck drivers get angry, feeling hard done by. The point is, where money is concerned, people can be extremely ungenerous, despite the fact that those who receive the generosity almost always would rather not be in that situation. Again, still relevant today, with a resurgence in villainizing people on benefits.

The chapters for next week will be 16-17. Once again, I’m surprised at just how relevant the themes of the book still are today. I’m fairly sure every paragraph I wrote today was easily linked to a current issue. Again, let me know what you think of my interpretation of any of these events. I know I have quite a left leaning perspective, so I’m curious to hear if you though anything different, or if you agree with me.