Returning to the Printed Media

Because there's more than just films, music and games
February 14, 2011
The crowds here at Retrojunk seem to have a wide array of interests. There's a Films and Cinema forum, a Comic Book forum (albeit zombified), the Fox Kids forum and even one for some twat named Devvo. And yet at the low score of -22 on page 4 rests the most retro forum of all: the Books & Literature forum. Now I know what most of you are thinking: books are boring and yawn-inducing. I used to think the same thing, until I realized I had been reading the wrong books all this time. There are scores of old-school novels who stand the test of time and remain relevant, even downright brilliant, today. So in an effort to try and make classic literature a point of interest on this website again I'd like to present:

WinegumZero's selection of favorite novels

and why they still kick ass today

George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm

'It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.'

'The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.'

Although two separate books I decided to add them together due to thematic similarities. 1984 tells the story of a totalitarian society which completely controls every aspect of human life, including what you think. Considered the cornerstone of the Dystopian novel, 1984 tells the harrowing tale of party member Winston Smith as he seeks to rebel against his government, INGSOC (and acronym for English Socialism). Throughout the story he learns not only the true nature of rebellion, but also the true nature of humanity. For Winston, the price of freedom becomes betrayal. Whereas 1984 tells of a totalitarian society, Animal Farm, through a meticulously crafted fairy tale allegory, tells us how such totalitarian parties come to power. The story begins on Manor Farm where, after suffering constant abuse and neglect by the owner, the animals decide to start an animal revolution, kicking out the owner and gaining independence. Inspired by the teachings of an elder pig two pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, decide to spearhead a new animal society in which all animals are equal and all is controlled by the state. By now it should be obvious what Animal Farm is really about, and if not grab a history book.

Nudge nudge, wink wink eh?

It's amazing to see how well these two novels stand the test of time. Both novels were first published in the 1940s, and yet they remain socially relevant today. After a long hiatus of reading, I decided that these two books sounded interesting enough to give it a try again, and sure enough I was blown away by the complexity and even the sheer clairvoyance of history this author has. Both novels provide wonderful insight in world history and the psychology of oppression so if that's your cup of tea, I really suggest checking these two novels out.

Why do 1984 and Animal Farm still kick ass today?

Aside from the aforementioned reasons, these two novels remain classic because of the mark they left on society. Although often not knowing where it's from, almost everybody knows the phrase BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU. Plus the two novels have been made into films which were moderately successful. I'd suggest sticking to the original material though.

J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

'The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.'

Whereas Orwell helped rekindle my interest in reading, this novel made sure I would remain hooked forever. J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye remains one of the more controversial novels of modern literature, due to profane language, sexual references and whatnot. The story is basically a 'coming-of-age' story about Holden Caulfield set in the late 1940s. The novel revolves around his experiences in school and in the city and eventually ends on an ambiguous note. What makes this novel so interesting is the psychological profile of Holden Caulfield. He is, like most kids his age, a conflicted young man with serious doubts about the sincerity of mankind.

I might just as well man up and say it: this novel left me in tears. I was going through a particularly rough patch of my life while reading this and the last part with the teacher's speech (although it ended rather weird) spoke to me in a way no friendly advice could have done. Even though the language feels a bit dated and out of place in the modern era, its subject matter is handled extremely well and recognizable for anyone, regardless of the outdated vernacular.

Why does Catcher in the Rye still kick ass today?

And that brings me to the biggest tragedy of this book: the assassination of John Lennon. I for the life of me cannot understand how anyone could find any inspiration to kill people in this novel. For those who don't know: The man that killed John Lennon, Mark David Chapman, was supposedly inspired by Catcher in the Rye to kill the 'phonies' of his time, which led him to end the life of John Lennon, famous member of The Beatles. How he got to this conclusion from reading Catcher in the Rye escapes me, but his actions did help to ban the book at schools.

Rest in peace Mr. Lennon

This alone should make Catcher in the Rye an interesting read, but recently it has received some other attention as well, be it good or bad. The creators of South Park decided to honor the book in their own little way, and so episode 2 of season 14 features Catcher in the Rye as a school assignment, only to have it discarded by the main characters for being too outdated. They decide to write their own version, which eventually leads to the death of Kim Kardashian, mimicking what happened with Catcher in the Rye. Truth be told, I actually bought the book after seeing this episode.

The sickest book ever, apparently.

Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X

'If you're not ready to die for it, put the word 'freedom' out of your vocabulary.'

This is the one novel that changed my life. Although not a fictional novel, it truly deserves to be on this list just because of the sheer impact the philosophy of this man has had on my way of thinking. Brutally honest at times, The Autobiography of Malcolm X captures the life of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, more commonly known as Malcolm X, from his humble beginnings as a hustler right down to the very end of his life as he was assassinated in 1965. Malcolm X was a trailblazer in the movement for African-American equality, and was considered an extremist by most white men, initially advocating black supremacy and separatism. The story of his life is more than just a race issue though, for it is also about redemption, unity and the willpower to stand up for what you believe is right.

While Catcher in the Rye helped me get through some tough times, this was the novel that would help shape my new-found philosophy. The novel, and the man himself, changed the way I viewed the world and still continues to guide me today. For anyone who hasn't read it, I sincerely recommend giving it a try. It hasn't aged one bit, and it remains as relevant today as it did when it was first published.

Why does The Autobiography of Malcolm X still kick ass today?

If anything I think Malcolm X deserves more attention than he is given in these times. Maybe it's because I'm not from America, but I had no idea who he was prior to reading his autobiography (which I bought on a whim by the way). The parts of history concerning the Civil Rights Movement always seem to mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (who, granted, deserves as much praise as he can get) but always seem to forget about Malcolm X, or maybe I've just been reading the wrong history books. He does still pop up in modern culture though: the excellent film version of his autobiography directed by Spike Lee comes to mind, which was released in 1992. But more recently he occasionally appears in the animated show The Boondocks. One of the main characters, Huey Freeman, is a big fan of Malcolm X, and even has a (very noticeable) poster of him in his bedroom. In the last episode of season 1 Huey also tries desperately to save a convict wrongly accused of murder. His name: Shabazz K. Milton Berle, which is a combination of different celebrity names, including Malcolm X's Muslim name.

The Complete Illustrated Works of Edgar Allan Poe

'In my death, see by this image, which is thine own, how utterly thou has murdered thyself.'

Considered the master of the macabre and the inventor of the detective genre, Edgar Allan Poe is one of the 'must-knows' in the literary field. He is one of my favorite writers, and this collection contains all of his best works including The Pit and The Pendulum, William Wilson, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and of course The Raven. While the different stories are often diverse in scene and setting, they all feature common elements and themes widely recognized with Poe himself. These themes include: death, terror, famine, the spirits, darkness and even science fiction. Poe is an absolute master of mystery, and anyone who's even remotely interested in this genre should check out the stories of the man who started it all.

Edgar Allen Poe is simply a master at what he does, and even now it still shows. I am not easily spooked by any means, but after reading The Pit and the Pendulum for the first time even I felt somewhat flustered. His stories radiate a certain ambiance, indescribable yet incredibly consuming. My personal favorite out of them all remains William Wilson, the story of the man who could not overcome his dark side. It's left so much of an impression that whenever I find myself hanging out with English or American people I never introduce myself with my real name anymore. It is now and has always been William Wilson.

Why does Edgar Allen Poe still kick ass today?

It took some time to find some worthwhile examples of how the other novels appear in modern culture, but for Edgar Allan Poe there are examples aplenty. He invented a whole new genre after all, and in many modern works of fiction, be they novels or TV series, examples and Poe cameos are easy to find. So I'll just stick to my two favorite ones. One is fairly subtle, the other hilariously blatant.

It's been said before and I'll say it again: Super Mario 64 is one of the greatest games out there. Imagine my surprise then when during my last playthrough I stumbled upon a little surprise in the Tick Tock Clock level. One of the levels is actually called 'The Pit and the Pendulums', named after the Poe story. To my disappointment it didn't feature any harrowing death scenes like the story itself though.

Maybe Miyamoto is a fan?

The second Poe cameo is a lot more obvious. During one of the Treehouse of Horror episodes Lisa Simpson decides to educate Bart by reading him one of her favorite poems, which happens to be The Raven. Not only is it narrated wonderfully by James Earl Jones (Darth Vader, for those who don't know) but it's also an almost spot-on version, except probably more funny than Poe intended.

The quality is rubbish, but it's the best I could find.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever... his count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.'

The last on this list, The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the Great American Novels on the Roaring Twenties, effectively capturing the zeitgeist of the era. The Great Gatsby tells the story of, surprise, Jay Gatsby as narrated and experienced by Nick Carraway. Gatsby is a self-made millionaire who hosts extravagant parties in an attempt to impress his former love, but his naive attitude only leads to further complications.

Truth be told, this book was actually part of the reading list for an American Literature class I took a while back, but it quickly became one of my favorites. The story essentially tells of the early stereotypical rock star, decadent yet incomplete in some ways. It's not as intense as some of the books mentioned earlier, but it captures the mood of a post-war generation really well. In a sense, these characters share a certain indifferent kind of attitude with the characters of Hemingway's Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, a character trait that appears out of a certain hopelessness, something that has always appealed to me.

Why does The Great Gatsby still kick ass today?

The Great Gatsby has been made into a film numerous times, with a new one apparently coming starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but the characters themselves have a tendency to reappear occasionally as well. One particular example can be found in the show Californication. In season 2 the character Lew Ashby (subtle hint) is basically a modern version of Jay Gatsby, albeit with a bit more tragic ending.

it's quite blatant. Actually, the entire show is.

And that's it for this short list of favorite classic novels. Of course a few classics have been left out (like Fiesta:The Sun Also Rises or How to Kill a Mockingbird) but that's only because I did not want this article to become too long. I hope I have enticed some of you to start reading some of these classics, or perhaps come up with your own lists. After all, what is more retro than classic literature?
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