“Living Like Weasels” and “I Have Been Called a Luddite”

“Living Like Weasels” by Annie Dillard and “I Have Been Called a Luddite” by Kurt Vonnegut, both non-fiction essays, albeit with very different topics, manage to convey the writers’ own beliefs relating to certain facets of society.  “Living Like Weasels” highlights the raw fierceness of the un-remorseful weasel, while “I Have Been Called a Luddite” demonstrates the peaceful alternative to an existence composed around technology.  Dillard and Vonnegut detail their own experiences, that are accompanied by warnings, exhortations, and reprimands directed toward the reader and society as a whole.  Though maintaining several differences throughout their non-fiction essays, Kurt Vonnegut and Annie Dillard present the importance of their unique narrators in order to ensure a more accepting and open minded reader who would be willing to heed their warnings, reprimands, and exhortations.  
Both narrators recount personal experiences in order to illustrate a different way of life, which in turn persuades the reader to welcome their exhortations and mimic their styles of living.  Kurt Vonnegut briefly begins by explaining the term ‘Luddite’, immediately followed by a habitual day in his life.  vonnegut describes his writing process, highlighting the routine by which he sent his manuscript to a typist named Carol.  These activities take place with little fanfare and very limited technology.  Vonnegut introduces (with some sarcasm) a paper clip and a manilla envelope- the only necessary tools to complete his task.  His use of language indicates how fulfilling such a simple routine was in his life.  Similarly, Annie Dillard focuses on intense language and imagery to present various anecdotes detailing the stunning ferocity of the weasels.  She writes of an acquaintance having seen the remains of a weasel’s jaw still attached to the neck of an eagle.  The practically grotesque, warrior-like attitude of the weasels in general recurs throughout each of the anecdotes Dillard includes in her essay to, like Vonnegut, add strength to their cases.  They are exhorting society to embrace life-styles that are, in most cases, the opposites of those we are comfortable with.  However, it is clear that in the lives of Dillard and Vonnegut, these lives can still be enriching.  Their anecdotes and acute language serve to draw the reader to their conduct; not only proving that a life without technology or a life like a weasel can be done, but that one can also thrive.  Their models at minimum are testimonies to their personal successes, and make their exhortations much more attractive in the eyes of the reader and society as a whole.
The authors passively characterize the narrators so the reader will receive their reprimands less defensively.  Vonnegut and Dillard treat their topics very carefully in order to avoid conflict with the reader.  Technology and doctrines prescribing the best way to live your life are sensitive subjects that typically cause a stand-off between the essayist and the reader.  That being said, their reprimands are presented in a passive and resigned manner to avoid argument, which immediately guarantees a more receptive reader.  In Dillard’s case, her motivation for becoming like a weasel seems to be an entirely personal case.  She discusses a very important moment in her life, when she spent a few intimate minutes with a weasel and afterward, how that event represented a catalyst for a new way of living.  She does not condemn readers for living otherwise, though her own fervor for “living like a weasel” suggests to the reader that perhaps they should follow suit.  By the same token, Vonnegut immediately identifies himself as someone who hates technology, but seems more resigned to a life filled with these new devices than bitter toward those who willingly use technology.  An example being when he describes himself as well as his friend Carol as being obsolete though does, in no way, blame society for having caused the near extinction of their old-fashioned habits.  He describes his joys of being able to live without these short-cuts, but does not necessarily argue with those who do.  Vonnegut’s narrator is characterized as an older gentleman, slightly bothered by society’s new trend, but not a spokesman or avid Luddite; in this way he remains passive in his affiliations.  Dillard and Vonnegut reprimand society’s valued lifestyle so discreetly that the reader would hardly notice they were being scolded.  All the more ensuring the readers come to their own conclusions as to the lives they are living, consequently preventing hostility toward the authors.
“Living Like Weasels” and “I Have Been Called a Luddite” utilize other characters in order to further contrast the speaker’s own individuality; warning readers against straying from the styles of life that Vonnegut and Dillard have described.  Vonnegut highlights his wife’s situation as a tech-savvy photographer to demonstrate how polar opposite his own opinions are.  A character so close to the narrator portraying completely different values further suggests how singular Vonnegut’s own values are.  Naming himself a Luddite, a reader would prepare for a cult of some sort to back the narrator’s claims.  Instead however, they encounter a handful of people who are used to a lifestyle that has become unnecessary- so few are those who agree with Vonnegut that his own wife is not among them.  It is in this way that Vonnegut, by pointing out the individuality of Luddites, warns readers not to follow society’s tendencies as his wife has done.  He warns them against this lifestyle through the portrayal of his wife, who does not seem to understand his views.  Dillard personifies the weasel with a shockingly advanced capacity for knowledge, and she is in awe of their lives.  She states her desire to become like them, and professes to have wanted even to fight the weasel, proving how serious her desires are; in her quest for an unabashed fighting instinct, she would even turn on the very creature who introduced this savage lifestyle to her in the first place.  The weasels are held on a pedestal to emphasize Dillard’s desires to be similar, though this way of thinking and living is so rare that it is reserved to an entirely different species.  By praising the weasels, she therefore disapproves of those who live differently; she warns society against passively living their lives.  Vonnegut and Billard compare themselves to others to represent not only how unique their own beliefs are, but to warn readers against the alternative ways of living that are less satisfying in their opinions, ergo influencing the reader’s intrigue toward the authors’ beliefs.
“Living Like Weasels” and “I Have Been Called a Luddite” are two examples of essays that provide warnings, exhortations, and reprimands through a unique narrator’s point of view.

Persepolis Literary Commentary

Persepolis, a graphic memoir written by Marjane Satrapi relates her childhood and coming-of-age in Iran, at a time of conflict.  In page 6 of her graphic memoir, the author illustrates her religious affiliations at a young age.  Marjane Satrapi emphasizes the character Marji’s religious beliefs in order to contrast her modern societal views in a climate of radical change.

Satrapi illustrates the choice between religion or modern opinion as a source of conflict in Marji’s life.  In the first panel of the page, Marji is drawn divided through the center of the panel; half of the imagery is religious while half is modern.  Half of the panel illustrates Marji in westernized and modern clothing, with gears, a ruler, and tools in the background, to represent new and developing technology, while the other half depicts floral designs and the veil, traditional to Marji’s religion.  The author clearly contrasts the inner conflict Marji is experiencing by the white background and black veil she is wearing on the right half, and the black background with white, modern apparel on the left.  Right away, the reader’s eye is drawn to the immediate conflict, represented by Marji’s uncertain expression, which is directly in the center of the panel.  These two topics, clearly mutually exclusive, express the breaking of the metaphysical as Marji looks straight out from the panel, as if imploring the reader’s participation in the debate, though the stoic position of her mouth and eyes show no preference for either.  This being the first panel on the page effectively draws the reader into the proceedings, as Satrapi characterizes the protagonist as hopelessly confused, and torn; a feat that many readers would understand.  Asking outright for their aid draws the reader in, demanding that they choose a side that Marji should follow, therefore investing themselves in the story.  Furthermore, Marji is drawn smiling only when depicted as the last prophet, with a ring of “celestial light” around her face- a traditional symbol of deities that reinforces Marji’s desire to fulfill her religious ambition.  That being said, the decision she must make is still complex, what with the modern ideologies she expresses interest in, in the later panels of page 6.  It is these ideologies that prevent Marji’s immediate alliance to her religion, therefore stimulating her inner conflict.

      

The author expresses Marji’s controversial opinions of societal norms through her desire to change societal norms through her desire to change society as a prophet.  The main character is illustrated in the 5th panel next to the prophets who had come before her.  As Marji explains to them that she is the last prophet, they all bear the same expressions of scorn and anger with the words “a woman?” written above their heads.  It is here that Satrapi characterizes the naivety of the protagonist, as society and, in this case, her religion (personified by the prophets) already have in place roles for the woman in their societies.  As we see in these panels, the religious men are outraged by Marji’s proclamations, a reaction to be expected in this historical context.  Marji on the other hand is still smiling- not reacting to the juxtaposition of a woman as a prophet.  Additionally, the young girl associates religion with the solution to social classes and poverty; another instance highlighting her naivety as a child.  She draws her father in his cadillac while she hides in the backseat, as a problem, though we may reason that wealth is instead an asset.  Were it a problem (as Marji believes it to be) it would not take religious intervention to solve it.  Satrapi highlights that her maid did not eat with them- something negative from her perspective.  She again emphasizes the gap in wealth as the maid is drawn smaller in the background, while she and her family are drawn in the forefront.  The elimination of social classes, as Marji hopes to see to in her future as prophet, would result in communism, a style of life Marji shows her approval of later in the book.  Communism is hated by those promoting the Revolution; the same people who proclaim their religious fidelity.  This is ironic as Marji believes the same religion of the fundamentalist leaders, though her morals in other respects directly oppose theirs.  Her governmental doctrines in in addition to her views on equality for women (demonstrated by her desire to be a prophet, though not accepted by the other religious men) contradict some of her religious beliefs, creating a disjointed combination of religion and modernity.

 

Satrapi foreshadows the protagonist’s eventual change of views in relation to the revolution.  The continual use of the past tense to describe her religious sentiments: “didn’t know”, “was”, “wanted”, foreshadow a change in those beliefs.  Marji discusses her confusion toward the veil, stating that at the time she did not know what to believe.  Her statement later on however, places all these events “before the revolution” reiterating that the revolution was a turning point which decided her stance on religion.  She recounts her tale as a childhood fantasy, accompanied by a tone that firmly positions those ambitions in the past, which would imply that Marji turned away from religion to follow her “avant-garde” family.  These indications are proven by her already controversial opinions of religion (support of feminism and communism) that did not coincide with reality.  

The author alludes to Marji’s own values, which contradict those of her family.  As a baby, Marji states that she was “born with religion” though makes no mention of her parents having anything to do with instilling those morals in her.  Her family was modern and so, seemingly disconnected to any religion their daughter practiced.  On page 6, her parents are only illustrated in the last panel- and even then they are critiqued for their high social class: the possession of a cadillac and physical separation from the maid.  Her parents are drawn with content facial expressions, seemingly unaware of their daughter’s frustrations.  In the 6th panel, Marji is the only one who is unhappy- even the maid smiles from her seat in the kitchen.  This would suggest that these luxuries in life do not perturb Marji’s parents, nor do they notice that those same luxuries bother Marji.  Her values, stemming from her desire to right the world as a prophet do not bother her parents, so proved by the fact that she is religious and her parents are not.  This is significant in contrasting Marji’s two beliefs.  Her parents, who are not interested in religion, clearly side with the modern lifestyle.  To choose religion would be going against her parents’ affiliation, something which young Marji is hesitant to do, which serves to prolong her inner conflict.  Her situation is even more difficult in that she must choose her family, or God.    
Though Marji is extremely religious, her moral codes stray from tradition dictated by her religion and conservative society.  The conflict between choosing to ally herself with God or her family continues throughout the memoir as the Islamic Revolution continues to change the society in which she lives.  It is only in emphasizing her personal religion that the reader can also deduce her opinions on society.    

11 Book Reading List

Beginning this March as I look forward to two fabulous trips to Rome, Italy and Strasbourg, France (Yes, I know, I’m spoiled), I’ve decided to resemble a reading list (books and lists happen to be my two favorite things), of what I hope to accomplish in the next two months.

1. Great Expectations- a famous book that I will take with me across the pond and to Italy!

2. Moby Dick- A monstrous book about a monstrous whale, that I am going to endeavor to read finally!

3. Mansfield Park- I’m embarrassed to call myself an Austenite when I haven’t read it yet!

4. Unbroken- A gift from last Christmas (thank you Mary!) that I have heard great things about!

5. Fountain Head- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

6. On the Road- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

7. A Separate Piece- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

8. This Side of Paradise- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

9. The Stranger- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

10. Walden- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

11. Naked Lunch- See my “Chbosky’s Challenge” page!

Have you read any of these books?  Or do you have a good reading list of your own?  Comment below and let me hear about it!

If I Stay: What Would You Do if You Had to Choose?

Inspired by the new movie, directed by R.J. Cutler and starring Chloë Grace Moretz (have you guessed it yet?!), I am reviewing If I Stay, a young adult novel written by Gayle Forman and one that really should make us all a little more thankful for all that we have in life.

 

If I Stay, tells the tragic tale of Mia Hall, a 17 year-old girl who loses her family in a violent car accident.  When she wakes up after impact, she is aghast to find that she is in a coma.  Mia truly has an out-of-body experience, while watching her best friend, family, and boyfriend, attempting to deal with the loss of Mia’s parents and younger brother, Teddy as well as her own pending death.  This book focuses on the idea of controlling one’s own destiny; what would you do if you could decide whether to live or die?  Would you live a life with no family?  Or die and leave the boy you love behind?

 

The most interesting feature of Gayle Forman’s style of writing and overall theme would be how much it absorbs readers who can truly identify with various aspects of the book; a quirky girl who isn’t the most confident, the heartthrob boyfriend who provides a classic love story, but also- and most important- the ease with which readers can swap places with the heroine.  I applaud Forman for her fluidity and storytelling technique, paired with a fascinating ability to keep Mia abstract enough so that any teenager could fill her shoes and take on her uphill battle.

 

That being said, there were some issues I had with the structure of Mia’s ghostlike state.  The most obvious of these flaws was that Mia couldn’t feel anything while in between life and death.  Obviously eliminating the physical pain while she wasn’t inside her body was a no-brainer, but I didn’t understand why the author chose to make her heroine void of any emotions at all.  I think it would have greatly added to the story to have her process the accident along with the reader, but instead I just felt like Mia was cold and one dimensional, as out of the two of us, I was the only one who felt the loss of her family.

This novel ended with a cliffhanger that I found myself anxious over.  When I found out that there was a second book in the series, I was thrilled!  Though this book wasn’t one of my favorite recent-reads, it is definitely a novel that I would recommend to any reader out there who enjoys a love story, intriguing main character, and plotline that asks deep questions.

THIS IS THE THIRD INSTALLMENT FROM MY MONTHLY COLUMN IN INSPIRED KIDS MAGAZINE.  FOLLOW THE LINK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLE MAGAZINE WRITTEN FOR, AND BY KIDS!  

After Party!

Four days ago, I celebrated my 16th birthday!  Super exciting, I know!  Before going further, I would like to thank my family for making this special birthday exactly that!  To celebrate with my fantastic (and loyal) followers, I’ve decided to include pictures of the great day I had, and a list my favorite 16 books  (because what would this blog be without books?)

Mady’s 16 Favorite Books as of 10/24/2014

  1. Dracula
  2. Kite Runner
  3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  4. I am the Messenger
  5. The Fault in Our Stars 
  6. Book Thief
  7. The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy
  8. Flowers for Algernon
  9. The Raven Boys
  10. Hamlet
  11. The Picture of Dorian Gray
  12. The Great Gatsby
  13. The Secret Life of Bees
  14. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  15. The Hobbit
  16. Paper Towns

Comment below and tell me which of these books were you’re favorites!  

Things That Go Bump In the Night

Happy Halloween! Why not get in the mood for one of the best holidays ever with the perfect read for a spooky night? I’m talking about the most iconic horror story of all time…Dracula; Count of Transylvania, the first vampire in existence, much more terrifying and far less sparkly than others who have earned fanged fame!

This novel begins with the journal of Jonathon Harker, a real estate agent who is traveling all the way to Transylvania from his home in London, to finalize a business transaction with a very strange client.  He meets Count Dracula at a secluded palace and quickly realizes that Dracula’s interest in relocating to London is not as innocent as it seems.  It isn’t long before Harker learns the true identity of the Count and is forced to attempt a daring escape or be drained of his blood!  A few months later, Harker is back home with his loved ones- though with a curious state of amnesia from what happened during his escape, and soon the vampire fiend makes his first appearance in London.  It is up to Harker and his friends to stop the blood-sucking spook before he finds his next victim or worse- creates another vampire!

I chose this classic not only because it is one of my personal favorites (classics are so underrated these days), but also because of the unique writing style that in my opinion, is yet to be matched- bravo Bram Stoker!  Each chapter is comprised uniquely of diary entries and letters from our band of heroes; who each have a very unique viewpoint of the action.  I admire the fact that Stoker managed to write from the perspectives of 7 different characters in a way that was so clear and distinct that I never got confused- a near impossible feat for any author who dares to have more than one main character.

I have to admit that in the beginning, I was a little worried about where the plots would take me; I just couldn’t see how each persona’s story would intertwine.  I was pleasantly surprised at the expertise with which Stoker spun his web of action, drama, and things that go bump in the night.

As I continued to read, I grew extremely fond of one particular character: the dashing American suitor, Quincey.  Not only was he witty and clever, but he portrayed such a sense of loyalty and willingness to help.  I could definitely use a friend like him!

There are some critiques for this nearly flawless piece of literature- though they in no way lessen my adoration of this novel.  The biggest frustration of mine would be the pace.  I feel like at times the details that Stoker needed to pull the story together took much too long to develop.  I found myself a bit exasperated that it took weeks for our motley crew to put their heads together and realize what the Count would do next.  I was surprised at Van Helsing’s lack of communication with his colleagues: even when he knew essential information that would help them in their pursuit of the Count, he often neglected to share.

I know that classics aren’t exactly at the top of the teen reading list, but I would highly recommend this mystery, to anyone who would dare to read one of the most celebrated horror stories of all time.  If you do decide to give it a try- please let me know what you think!  Email me at mady@readinspiredmag.org to tell me if you take my challenge!  Before I go, I would like to say that this is a horror novel and may not be suitable for some younger readers- or older readers for that matter- but don’t feel too badly; I still have nightmares from the first and only scary movie I have ever seen!  And if you do get scared, just remember the words of Bram Stoker himself:  “(…) the sun grew so high this morning that (…) my fear fell from me as if it had been a vaporous garment which dissolved in the warmth (Stoker.  Dracula. Page 74).”  Goodnight (sleep tight, don’t let the vampires bite!) and a Happy Hallows Eve to you all!

 

THIS IS THE SECOND INSTALLMENT FROM MY MONTHLY COLUMN IN INSPIRED KIDS MAGAZINE.  FOLLOW THE LINK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLE MAGAZINE WRITTEN FOR, AND BY KIDS!  

 

A John Green Review

I don’t think I have ever read a book that can make me laugh so hard I cry, and cry so hard I laugh in the space of a couple chapters.  If anyone out there has read “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, then you must understand what I mean.  However, I would like to focus on two other books by Green; a little less famous, but equally witty and overall brilliant!  The books I’m talking about are Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines.

 

Though it seems like John Green uses a similar format in most of his books- two incredibly philosophical teenagers become friends because of an odd set of circumstances and soon end up falling in love- it clearly doesn’t bother the majority of teen readers in the world.  Obviously he is very successful with this formula, because it is done so subtly that it is very hard even to notice it is being done.

 

Quentin Jacobsen and Margo Spiegelman are an epitome of unrequited love.  This book starts out with the strange flashback of a younger Quentin and Margo discovering the body of a man behind a tree- from that moment on, Quentin was in love.  I know what you’re thinking- it’s creepy that a dead guy made him realize he liked her, but I think his attachment sprung from the fact that they had been through something horrible together.  Quentin was sure that their friendship would blossom (I too had infinite hope for their relationship to become boy-next-door-esque) but, sadly, John Green had something else in mind.  I didn’t really see where this plot was going, until Margo showed up at Q’s house with revenge in mind.  After one hilarious night spent righting wrongs against cheaters, faux friends, and bullies, Quentin’s life is changed forever.  As a reader, I assumed that afterwards, they would begin to build the relationship that I craved and then…she disappeared.  Margo Spiegelman vanished into thin air, leaving a heartbroken Quentin with only a couple clues in her wake.

 

Throughout this novel, I struggled with Margo.  Did I like her, or didn’t I?  Even as I sit here writing this, I’m not sure.  Margo had an element for drama (which I can admire), and was extremely philosophical in nature.  She was the girl who “loved mysteries so much, that she became one (page 16, Paper Towns, John Green) .”  It seemed to me like Margo was the creator of her own demons.  She was openly critical of her life being made of paper and when she realized that she was a little flimsy too, she ran away.  Maybe she didn’t know just how drastically her disappearance would affect Quentin, but maybe she did.  Maybe that’s why she left; to know that someone would be waiting for her.

 

I think that the character development in this novel was stunning, and I loved the minor protagonists as well.  The overall symbolism and the extended metaphor- which John Green loves to use-  of the ‘paper town’ was beautiful to read and Green’s typical humorous style was spot on, as always.  My last remark on this novel would have to be the ending.  Everyone always wants to discuss the ending.  Though I’m not going to release any spoilers, I do want to say that personally, I thought the big revelation at the end was a little bit of a let down.  It seemed to me that the ‘legacy’ that Margo left behind her fell flat, when what truly happened was revealed.

 

Now let’s move from Margo to Katherine.  But not just one Katherine!  This novel tells the story of no less than 18 different Katherines to be exact!  Quite an abundance (hehe, pun intended)!  Colin Singleton is a recently graduated, child prodigy, anagram loving dumpee that is trying to find himself.  After being dumped 18 times, by 18 Katherines, Colin doesn’t quite know what to do with himself.  In his post-breakup slump, he and his crazy friend Hassan decide to take a road trip to…well…they don’t really know, in an attempt to help Colin get over his lost love.   Already this book is beginning on a lighter note.  They find themselves in a small town in the middle of no where, called Gutshot.  Yes, Gutshot.  There they meet Lindsey and her slightly eccentric mother, Hollis.

 

While there, Colin begins to work on a theorem that could detect (before a relationship even begins) who will be the dumpee and who will be the dumper of that relationship.  The math included in this book was a little over my head, but I suppose I shouldn’t feel bad considering the fact that Colin is a prodigy.  But don’t let that deter you from reading!  While at Gutshot, Colin and Hassan find love in unexpected places, go hunting for the first time, stay in a pink mansion, and learn quite a lot of history.

 

Where I’m sure my opinion will differ from a lot of readers is that I think the true meaning of this book lies deeper than a miserable boy who got dumped…again.  I believe that this book was  more the story of a couple average teenagers who take an unexpected ‘journey’ to find themselves.  They just graduated from high-school and were preparing for college- a scary time for most people.  They knew how the world perceived them and they knew what their family expected of them, they were just trying to figure out how they fit into the equation.

 

One of the developing plots (spoiler!) was a little predictable, but in a way that still made you smile along with the characters, and cheer them on as the story progressed.  I also don’t quite understand how a boy like Colin, who had to be coached on his social skills managed to have 18 girlfriends in 18 years- quite an impressive record!  I think this was one of the most out-of-the-box plot lines that John Green has come up with so far, and I loved Hassan most of all, because of the development that his character underwent- something we don’t often see in smaller characters.  This book would get a high review, for it’s overall ease and light tone, giving a general boost to anyone’s day!

 

I would like to say that these two novels were written for a teen audience.  If you would like to read this book, please keep that in mind, as there is some language and content that is too mature for a younger audience.  

THIS BOOK REVIEW (WRITTEN BY YOURS TRULY) IS PUBLISHED ON MY MONTHLY COLUMN IN THE INSPIRED KIDS MAGAZINE.  FOLLOW THE LINK TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLE MAGAZINE WRITTEN FOR, AND BY KIDS!  

Let me know what you have to say about either of these books!  Did you particularly like or dislike one of them?  Do you have an opinion that you would like to share?  Or do you have a good book that you would like me to read and review?  Fill out the contact from on my ‘about’ page so I can hear what you have to say!