In the Required Reading Revisited Book Club we focus on books considered “Required Reading” by most educational institutions, i.e. books you read (or were supposed to read) in school – either high school or university.
On Sunday, April 10th we discussed T.H. White’s interpretation of the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. White took liberties with a number of aspects of the legend, most notably portraying Sir Lancelot as ugly and having Merlyn live backwards through time. It was the latter that allowed White to use a number of anachronisms to make comparisons between present day and the time of the story, and through which much of the humor in the book appeared.
There are four books contained within The Once and Future King, all originally published individually. Most famous, of course, is The Sword in the Stone, which tells of young Arthur’s mentorship with Merlyn as he learns the many lessons he will require as king. This is the most whimsical of the books, and includes Arthur being turned into various animals and going on an adventure with Robin Hood to rescue his friends from an evil Fae. But after this the books get much darker, going into the history of Sir Gawain of Orkney and his brothers, their horrible mother Morgause, and the origin of Arthur’s illegitimate son, Mordred – the cause of all the trouble in book four, The Candle in the Wind. It’s all very dramatic, but within all the drama are long sections of philosophy, as Arthur grapples with the idea of “might is right”, and how to change civilization to one that is more just. My favorite passage was right at the end, as Arthur reflects on all that has happened and tries to figure out the true causes of war. He doesn’t come up with any easy answers.
White drew heavily on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485), which is currently available in our Classics section.
And after reading this, and doing a bit of research on both White and the influence of Arthurian legend, I’ve decided I must read The Mists of Avalon (1983) by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which is a retelling of the same time period from the perspective of the women, Morgan le Fey, Morgause, and Igrain – the feminist/pagan counterpoint to White’s story.
Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
On Sunday, May 8th we’ll be discussing a book I’ve been waiting to reread since high school – George Orwell’s 1984! This was possibly my favorite required reading in all my school years, and it most definitely had a heavy influence on my world view, especially regarding the topics of nationalism, collectivism, censorship and state surveillance.
Published in 1949, Orwell was well into his time writing against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. At the end of the war, Orwell doubted British democracy would survive as it had existed before the war, and much of his writing from this point on explored his views from this perspective. Without a doubt, 1984 has had far reaching influence, especially in our use of language as relates to authoritarian regimes (or regimes using such techniques). Big Brother, thought police, doublethink, newspeak, Orwellian – just to name a few, not to mention the dozens of movies, books, songs, TV shows, and commercials that have made reference to the book, both directly and indirectly.
The Required Reading Revisited Book Club, hosted by Consuelo Hacker and Sarah Holdgrafer, meets on the 2nd Sunday of every month at 4pm at Book People (the next meeting is Sunday, May 8th). We typically meet on the 3rd floor. Just stop by the 1st floor information desk when you arrive if you are unsure where to go. The Once and Future King & 1984 are available online at Bookpeople.com. Use the code BOOK CLUB when purchasing online, or if you come in to the store, mention it’s for Book Club at the registers and you’ll receive 10% off! Join our Facebook page to get all the latest information on what we’re reading! We look forward to talking with you on May 8th!