The Darkest Novel

May 6, 2016

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I recently attended Great Books Chicago 2016 to discuss utopias and dystopias. One of our readings for this event was George Orwell's 1984. At the end of the session, someone asked me whether I believed 1984 to be the darkest novel I have ever read. My immediate response was no, but I have been thinking about this question ever since. I typically enjoy 'dark' literature, and so I have read a number of different novels that would fall into this category. After thinking over the question some more, I am going to stick with my previous answer for a few reasons. While 1984 is certainly not shining a ray of sunshine on me, I do not think it is the darkest novel I have ever read. Here are some reasons for my decision. I welcome other ideas and comments on my reasoning or on the novels themselves.

First, Big Brother allows the proles to exist in a semi-catatonic, but also, semi-autonomous state. Since there are so many proles, I have hope that a future resistance is not impossible.

Second, Winston's journal exists only because there was a shred of doubt (hope?) in Winston himself. He mentions that he writes the journal for O'Brien, in fact to O'Brien. Of course, this is before he understands who O'Brien truly is. The gesture can also be interpreted in the sense that at some point Winston may influence O'Brien. If minds can change, I saw no evidence to tell me that O'Brien's mind is not also susceptible to that struggle.

Third, the clearing where Julia and Winston first meet gives me hope. If this green, pristine and edenic spot physically exists, then a chance for someone else to desire Eden also exists. As long as an Eden exists in this world, then the idea of redemption exists.

In my mind, a novel like William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is much darker. The shame, degredation and deprivation of this world is unavoidable. As the Bundren family travels it literally carries death to all the neighbors and towns, even the reader. Not only do they influence minds and opinions, they introduce futility into each characters' life. For example, the shop-keeper clearly does not want to sell cement to Darl as a cheap form of cast for his brother's shattered leg. However, the shop-keeper gives in and from this experience learns of regret, of disgust and helplessness in the face of an uncontrollable force. The family persists in the utterly ridiculous, dark narrative of finding a burial spot for Addie Bundren. Therefore, I would list a novel by William Faulkner or perhaps Cormac McCarthy as the darkest I have read. I am sure, however, that there are many opinions that would disagree with mine and I appreciate any thoughts on the novels listed in today's blog.

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When Traveling....

September 4, 2015

Labor Day weekend offers the chance for a quick weekend getaway before the long haul of fall and winter. It is a good time to plant seeds, enjoy a walk, or to take the day trip that you keep putting off. Since so many of the HMU staff travelledl this summer and fall, we felt that today's article should celebrate travel itself. We are all long time book-lovers who also like to travel and see the places that we read about. Therefore, we thought it might be fun to have some staff members post a few of the items that they always carry with them. Some of the staff even shared their recent/upcoming destinations. It is a really fun celebration of difference to see the way a person packs. It also invites a bit of conversation, which is, of course, one of the things that HMU does best. We hope you enjoy a safe and fun weekend....take that day trip, and don't forget to pack your essentials!

Also, since some folks mentioned music as a necessary travel companion...feel free to read while listening to Willie Nelson sing "On the Road Again".


Deborah Deacon:

Since I went to Vietnam in January, I’m not doing any travelling, other than to the Poconos for a Great Books event in early November. But here’s what I usually take with me on the road:  my rainbow person-shaped pillow, a junk novel or two, Wen conditioner for my hair.

I used to always take my running shoes (26 states and 21 countries) but now that I’ve gotten older I take my bathing suit and goggles (18 states and 11 countries). 


Rebecca Fisher:

open mind, big appetite, historical fiction set in the region I am travelling

Recent travels: The Baltic Sea


Gary Schoepfel:

My most-packed (and highly valued) travel item? Space. In other words, I always try to take as little as possible. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve yet to be somewhere that I could not purchase another shirt, dental floss, the hat I couldn’t live without, etc. Good travellers know that fashion is second to function and ease. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen miserable travellers lugging extra pounds when running to catch a train, walking the 13 blocks to the hotel, paying baggage fees on the plane. And all for that extra pair of red heels. Nope! I take space.


Dominique Wagner:

Must-Haves: My running shoes, Ear buds, Bluetooth Speaker, Phone with my pre-programmed playlists (anything from jazz, 60/70s pop,  classic rock to electronica/dance)

Recent Destinations: Pacific Beach in San Diego, North Shore of Lake Tahoe, Flagstaff, AZ, and (saving the best for last...), Chicago over 4th of July weekend for the Grateful Dead 50th Anniversary shows @ Soldier Field


Margaret Metcalf:

layered clothing, 3 pairs of shoes - casual slip on shoes like Tom's, athletic shoes, simple dress flats; go-to little black traveller dress/slacks, sun visor, windbreaker, cell phone & iPad, 2 credit cards, driver license and car insurance info, sunscreen, medical insurance cards, cash.


Alissa Simon:

Regardless of destination, I always take: swimsuit, chapstick, Tazo Awake tea, sturdy walking shoes, fleece (or warm layer), empty journal and pens.

I recently travelled to Pensacola and Nashville.


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