Book review: Relevance of ‘1984’ shocking 75 years after publication

Book review: Relevance of ‘1984’ shocking 75 years after publication

It’s scary that a book published 75 years ago is so pertinent today.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I read George Orwell’s 1984 (Penguin Group, 1949) for the first time this year. It’s long been on my books to read list, but never made it to the top.

Perhaps it’s because of the world we live in today—not just the United States—that this book seems more eerily possible. Democracy as we know it seems to be threatened in a way I’ve never experienced in my life time.

I would never want to live in a world like 1984, but believe there are plenty of people who would like it to be a reality. And too many more who are lemmings and refuse to think for themselves and/or lack critical thinking skills

1984 is the most banned book of all time.

“George Orwell’s 1984 has repeatedly been banned and challenged in the past for its social and political themes, as well as for sexual content. Additionally, in 1981, the book was challenged in Jackson County, Florida, for being pro-communism,” according to the University of California Press.

Last year, according to the American Library Association, was a record year for book bans in U.S. schools and libraries with 4,240 titles targeted. This is a 65 percent increase from 2022 when 2,571 titles were threatened.

For those who haven’t read 1984 or if it’s been a while, I suggest picking up a copy—especially before the next U.S. presidential election. It’s about government control in an extremely sinister way that removes all personal freedoms.

If you ever wondered where the term Big Brother came from, Orwell coined it in this book.

According to the website Lexology, these are the Top 10 banned books in 2023:

  • Flamer by Mike Curato
  • Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
  • Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  • The Handmaid’s Tale: The Graphic Novel by Margaret Atwood
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
  • Sold by Patricia McCormick
  • Push by Sapphire
  • This Book Is Gay by Juno Dawson
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur.


Book review: Finding common ground with Liz Cheney

Book review: Finding common ground with Liz Cheney

People have the choice to vote for the Constitution or Trump, but they can’t do both.

That is the message of Liz Cheney’s book Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning (Hachette Book Group, 2023). This is a book everyone should read before voting in November.

Cheney—if you don’t know—is a die-hard conservative Republican. Her dad is Dick Cheney, the former vice president who spent most of his life in politics.

I probably disagree with Cheney on most things. After all, according to FiveThirtyEight, while in Congress she voted nearly 93 percent of the time with Trump’s position.

Two things we agree on are: 1) The Constitution comes before any individual, and 2) Trump should never hold political office again.

Cheney lost her House seat representing Wyoming because she understood the 2020 election was not stolen and for voting to impeach Trump. Her constituents had clearly swallowed the Kool-Aid.

The book makes a compelling case about why Trump should not be president. She presents data from the Jan. 6 committee’s hearings, as well as information gathered since those ended. She encourages people to read the Jan. 6 report. So do I. She gives details about people—like the former and current speakers of the House—and others from an insider’s perspective.

I learned things. I always like when that happens in a book; even if I don’t like what I’m learning. I was captivated by the whole book. She is rational as she lays out the case for why Trump is so dangerous. I can’t imagine there could be another conclusion or how anyone would disagree with her.

One of the best things about listening to Cheney’s book is that recordings of people testifying, giving speeches or some other verbal transmission were used. This gave a greater depth to the book—to hear that person actually say their words instead listening to Cheney quote the people. Cheney reading the book also added to the experience.

Book Review: ‘Hidden Life of Trees’ brings awareness

Book Review: ‘Hidden Life of Trees’ brings awareness

While I obviously know trees are living things, I have never given much thought about their feelings, how they communicate, or what makes some thrive and others shrivel.

I actually winced at trimming branches on a tree after reading The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World (William Collins, 2017). What kind of pain did I inflict all in the name of shaping it for my own pleasure instead of allowing the tree to grow how it wants?

That’s what happens to trees—humans get involved. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, sometimes out of good, sometimes out of selfishness.

Author Peter Wholleben is a forester, so he understands his subject matter well. He manages a beech forest in Germany.

I found the topic of trees as living, breathing entities incredibly interesting. It got me thinking about how I take them for granted for the most part. That’s not to say I don’t understand they are an important part of the ecosystem and environment, it’s just that I never thought about them as something other than an object.

I certainly have a greater appreciation for trees after finishing this book.

The only negative I have about the book is that I listened to it. The person who read it has a voice that was not engaging—I could tune it out. That was not a good thing.

It’s definitely a book that can be a bit much at times because of the subject matter. Still, I wish I would have read it instead of listened to it.

Book Review: Chasing dreams on a bike from Tahoe to Baja Sur

Book Review: Chasing dreams on a bike from Tahoe to Baja Sur

I know what it’s like to drive from Tahoe to Baja. Ride a bike? No way. You couldn’t pay me to do it.

Clearly, I’m not Alenka Vrecek. But I was eager to read her story.

In She Rides: Chasing Dreams Across California and Mexico (She Writes Press, 2023) Vrecek shares her story of riding from her primary home in Carnelian Bay on the North Shore of Tahoe to her second property in Baja California Sur in La Ventana near the Sea of Cortez.

It was more than just a bike ride, though. And that more is in large part what the first part of the book is about, while the ride itself is the second half. Without the personal struggles she was trying to overcome, the book would have been just another cyclist capitalizing on an interesting journey.

Vrecek, though, has a more complex story to share. It’s about growing up in Slovenia, life in Tahoe, husband troubles, finding true love, being a mom, working in the ski industry and wrecking her leg, cancer and Parkinson’s diagnoses in the family, and finally realizing a dream she had for herself for years.

She was 54 when she pedaled 2,524 miles and climbed 158,263 feet in 57 days in fall 2018.

Vrecek took a route through California and Baja that I was not always familiar with. While it was fun to read about her experiences in places I knew, it was the unknown roads that captured me the most. It proved there is a lot of terrain in both regions that I still have to explore.

Once in Mexico, she was mostly riding on the Baja Divide. This 1,700 mile off-pavement route that goes from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo was established in 2015-16 by Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox.

Vrecek had a lot of time to think about her life, why she was pushing her body so hard and what the future might be. That’s why this book is much more than a travelogue. It’s a journey of emotions and strife that had nothing to do with the ride.

While Vrecek had plenty of doubts and second thoughts about what she was doing, the overriding message was one of hope. The good in humanity came through loud and clear. We are introduced to many of the people she met along the way. They were like her unplanned support team.

Book in common brings community together

Book in common brings community together

Reading Chico State’s book in common is the closest I get to being in a book club of any sort these days.

“The book in common is a shared, community read, designed to promote discussion and understanding of important issues facing the broader community. The book in common is chosen each year by a group of university faculty, staff, students and community members,” the university’s website says.

Clint Smith, right, answers questions from faculty members on April 11 at Chico State. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (Back Bay Books, 2021) by Clint Smith was the 2023-24 book “we” all read. The culmination was earlier this month with Smith giving a talk to the community. Earlier in the day he spent time in classrooms.

What I liked about this book is that I learned so much without ever feeling like I was being lectured to. The book is about Smith’s experiences going to various places in the United States and Africa that have a connection to slavery. But it’s not just about him. It’s about the role those places played in our history and the impacts they continue to have.

The chapters cover Monticello, Whitney plantation, Angola prison, Blandford cemetery, Galveston and Juneteenth, New York City, Africa, and his family. I had not heard of all of these locations before.

The talk gave a depth to the book because the faculty asking the questions wanted to know about Smith’s research process, how he picked the places he went to, and so much more.

He also talked about needing to listen to understand why people believe what they believe. And how if certain people’s narrative changes, it changes who they are and how they think of their ancestors.

Smith gave such lengthy answers that not many questions were asked. But that was OK. What he had to say was worth listening to. What he wrote in this book is even more important.

Book review: Untold stories of ‘Founding Mothers’ of the U.S.

Book review: Untold stories of ‘Founding Mothers’ of the U.S.

History seems to have forgotten so many women.

Fortunately, that is changing. More and more books are being written about the roles people other than white men have played throughout the years.

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (William Morrow, 2004) by Cokie Roberts is one of those books.

I learned about women who I had never heard of as well as more details about those whose names that were familiar. The bonus is I now have a better understanding of the United States’ early years.

I was intrigued by how much the women were doing to keep their households and family businesses going while their husbands were either fighting the British and/or forming a new government, or in another country for years.

This was during a time when married women could not own land. As wives they were essentially property of their husband’s.

These realities, though, did not stop many from participating in shaping this new country. They didn’t keep opinions to themselves.

Nearly everyone mentioned in the book could and should have individual books written about them—just like their more famous husbands.

There were parts of the book that bored me a bit. Or maybe it was just that I was having a hard time keeping track of who was who. Still, I’m better off for having listened to this book.

Book Review: The doctor who wanted to cure the world

Book Review: The doctor who wanted to cure the world

Paul Farmer was a man who wanted to change the world—and he did.

No one gets out of this world without being touched by some infectious disease. After all, we just lived through a pandemic.

AIDS and tuberculosis were two of the biggies Farmer dealt with. While he graduated from Harvard and was a professor there as well as chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, it’s his work in poor, rural communities in Haiti, Peru and even Russia that helped set him apart from colleagues doing similar work.

Tracy Kidder in his book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House, 2003) travels with the doctor, witnessing his type of medicine firsthand.

(Farmer died in February 2022 at the age of 62.)

Farmer is no ordinary individual, no ordinary doctor. His was a calling to bring equity to the world through medicine.

While he didn’t do the work alone, in large part, though, it was his vision and his tenacity that changed policy, protocols and how people thought about diseases in rural areas.

I was captivated by learning about someone I did not know. Paul Farmer is a name worth knowing, and this is a book worth reading.

Book Review: ‘The Book of Hope’ delivers inspirational message

Book Review: ‘The Book of Hope’ delivers inspirational message

Hope can seem elusive when life seems so difficult.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times (Celadon Books, 2021) by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams, with Gail Hudson is the perfect balance of reality and hope. It doesn’t sugar coat what’s wrong with the world or offer unrealistic idealism. It’s not preachy.

Instead, the book offers hope. It demonstrates so many instances of hope being realized. Most important, it explains why it’s important to remain hopeful.

I listened to the book, which made the format for how it’s written seem to be even better. It’s like Goodall and Abrams are having a conversation. I felt like I was in the room as they shared their thoughts, making it seem almost intimate.

Goodall’s four reasons for hope are: the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit.

She talks about how she became a messenger of hope, how she maintains hope and why it’s necessary to for us all to embrace this four-letter word.

The book really was uplifting.

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