The Horse-Tamer by Walter Farley – 4*
While technically a part of The Black Stallion series, this Farley story reads quite well on its own. In the first chapter, Alec and his horse trainer/friend, Henry, are waiting to take off in an airplane with The Black. While they are killing time, Henry recounts a time from when he was growing up and went to live with his older brother, Bill – and this reminiscing is the rest of the book. Originally a carriage-maker, during the course of the story Bill begins to travel around and teach people some of his methods for dealing with recalcitrant horses (during a time period when basically everyone had or worked with horses). The more adventurous part involves a shyster who is doing the same thing as a big, money-making production, but uses cruel and unsafe methods, so Henry’s brother is determined to expose him for the fraud that he is.
This was one of my favorites growing up, and I still have a bit soft spot for it. There are some fun stories about the methods Bill uses to break horses of bad habits, and the final scene (with a vicious zebra!!!!!) is still pretty exciting. It’s geared for younger readers, so you can’t expect too much from it, but it’s a fun and engaging read.
The Time-Traveler’s Guide to Regency Britain by Ian Mortimer – 4*
The PemberLittens read The Jane Austen Project in January, which was a fictional story about two people traveling back in time to meet/befriend/steal from Jane Austen. So when we were choosing our nonfiction read for February, this one seemed to be a natural choice! Apparently Mortimer has done an entire series of these books covering various time periods in Britain, and I may try some more as this one was very readable and engaging. It was a little difficult for me to get into at first. Mortimer is writing as though you, the reader, are a time traveler and are using this book to help you navigate through Regency Britain. Thus, the entire book is written in the second person, with Mortimer telling you things that you shouldn’t miss seeing, or things you are likely to smell, or people you may run into, etc. Even though you’re taking in a lot of legitimate information, it feels somewhat casual and a little silly at first (to me anyway) because of the informal use of “you” throughout. But as I got used to it, it did make the book feel friendly and welcoming.
I didn’t 100% agree with all of his conclusions about society, and felt that he did make sure to emphasize all the negatives of religion at the time without any of the positives. In the same chapter, within a few paragraphs, to claim that “all” Christians at the time were satisfied with the status quo because “it’s God’s will for some people to be poor,” and then turn around and immediately start talking about William Wilberforce with barely any acknowledgement that Wilberforce’s entire driving force were his strong Christian beliefs, was genuinely a bit offensive. He does mention that Quakers were the founders of most of the prison and insane asylum reform at the time, but without acknowledging that it was literally their Christian beliefs in the value of all human life that led them to do so. Yet he somehow manages to mention not infrequently the hypocrisy abundant among members of a society who pretty much all attended church, yet lived lives that involved ignoring what we would consider basic human decency. It’s almost as though many people went to church because it was expected, not because their faith was in any way personal or important to them, but that those who did have a strong, personal faith frequently found the motivation to fight to improve the lives of those around them. Hmm.
Despite Mortimer’s religious prejudices, I still found this to be an engaging, informative, interesting read. It’s friendly and accessible, yet still well-organized and educational. This book did a great job providing an overview of the era that was the right amount of detailed and has given me loads of background information for many of the books I read and love.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 3.5*
This is definitely one of those classics that I have “always” meant to read, so I was rather pleased when it was drawn as my random classic for February. It’s a hard book for me to review. As a story, it was definitely lacking. As a look into human nature – rather more interesting, even if I didn’t agree with the conclusions. Because I so often see this book paired with 1984, I couldn’t help but compare the two of them as I read them. This is probably a great place for a reminder that this is just my opinion, not a educational analysis haha To me, Huxley weirdly comes through as more optimistic than Orwell. In Huxley’s world, the government is working for the good of the people. Those who dissent are allowed to go off and live their own quiet lives on various islands and reservations, separate from the more “forward thinking” population. The government does everything it can to keep everyone happy and contented, but there doesn’t really seem much of a motivation for them to do so, because they don’t really seem to need the “upper class” of people to do much – because they’ve developed ways to create “lower classes” who have been manipulated to want to do what they are needed to do (generally all the jobs no one really wants in real life), it seemed a little odd to me that the government would keep around this “superior” class at all, much less go through so much effort to keep them content. Orwell’s future, where people are controlled by fear, mind games, and the complete lack of privacy/freedom, makes much more sense to me. Part of that is my perspective of human nature: I don’t believe people are inherently good; I believe we are programmed to care for ourselves and our intimate family group/tribe/whatever you want to call them first, which is why systems like communism sound good but never work in the real world. People in power always want more power, so to me Orwell’s version, with the Party doing whatever it took, up to and including elimination of anyone who dissents, seems much more realistic than Huxley’s government that is working, in its own twisted way, to continue to serve the people.
That said, Huxley’s version is still a very interesting conversation about human nature. I didn’t agree with a lot of the conclusions, but there was plenty to think about. I’m quite disappointed in myself because I really thought I took some notes on this when I read it, but I can’t find them so… all you’re getting are my three-months-later vague memories haha In the end, I found this a worthwhile read, but not necessarily one I would revisit, and while 1984 felt like an ominous warning, Huxley’s future felt more like a strange, unlikely mind game.
Running Total: Books that I’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet: 66!!! High/Low: 97/59