2013: My Books

Unless I do some pretty quick reading over the next two days, I think I’m able to compile a complete list of the books I’ve read over the last year!  I’ve managed to extend my record of 38 books last year to 41!  I’ve also increasingly branched into reading non-fiction, largely around historical or political topics though also some science as well, but I’m making sure to keep up the fiction as well.  Like last year, I’ve compiled the books into two lists: in order by date read and my enjoyment of them.  I’m beginning to wonder whether it might be better to have two separate lists for the fiction and non-fiction, as it’s so difficult to compare the two forms.  I’ll bear that in mind for 2014.  For now, here they are:

Order Read

  1. Twilight (2005) – Stephenie Meyer
  2. New Moon (2006) – Stephenie Meyer
  3. Eclipse (2007) – Stephenie Meyer
  4. The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era (2012) – Liu Noueihed and Alex Warren
  5. Breaking Dawn (2008) – Stephenie Meyer
  6. American Gods (2001) – Neil Gaiman
  7. Brave New World [re-read] (1932) – Aldous Huxley
  8. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (2011) – Owen Jones
  9. Cloud Atlas (2004) – David Mitchell
  10. The Bridge (1986) – Iain Banks
  11. Teach Yourself Islam (2003) – Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
  12. Heart of Darkness (1902) – Joseph Conrad
  13. Death on a Longship – Marsali Taylor (2012)
  14. The Great Powers 1814 – 1914 (1992) – Eric Wilmot
  15. Romeo and Juliet (1597) – William Shakespeare
  16. Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters (1998) – Steve Lyons
  17. The Thief of Time (2000) – John Boyne
  18. Gaia: A New Look At Life on Earth (1979) – James Lovelock
  19. Fight Club (1996) – Chuck Palahniuk
  20. Battle Royale (2000-2005) – Koushun Takami
  21. Hamlet (1603) – William Shakespeare
  22. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) – George Orwell
  23. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) – Mark Haddon
  24. Consider Phlebas (1987) – Iain Banks
  25. Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009) – Bertrand M. Patenaude
  26. Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton
  27. The Great Gatsby (1925) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  28. The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Henry James
  29. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) – Muriel Spark
  30. Oliver Cromwell (1991) – Barry Coward
  31. The Decline of the English Murder and other Essays (1965) – George Orwell
  32. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) – James Hogg
  33. Waiting For Godot (1953) – Samuel Beckett
  34. Cloud 9 (1979) – Caryl Churchill
  35. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – Oscar Wilde
  36. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare
  37. Ishi’s Brain: In Search of the Last “Wild” Indian (2004) – Orin Starn
  38. Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen
  39. The Wasp Factory (1984) – Iain Banks
  40. The Casual Vacancy (2012) [re-read] – J. K. Rowling
  41. Road to Referendum (2013) – Iain Macwhirter

Order of Enjoyment

  1. Cloud Atlas (2004) – David Mitchell
  2. Brave New World [re-read] (1932) – Aldous Huxley
  3. The Bridge (1986) – Iain Banks
  4. The Casual Vacancy (2012) [re-read] – J. K. Rowling
  5. Road to Referendum (2013) – Iain Macwhirter
  6. The Great Powers 1814 – 1914 (1992) – Eric Wilmot
  7. The Great Gatsby (1925) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. Consider Phlebas (1987) – Iain Banks
  9. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) – James Hogg
  10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) – Mark Haddon
  11. Pride and Prejudice (1813) – Jane Austen
  12. Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) – George Orwell
  13. Death on a Longship – Marsali Taylor (2012)
  14. Doctor Who: The Witch Hunters (1998) – Steve Lyons
  15. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) – Muriel Spark
  16. The Battle for the Arab Spring: Revolution, Counter-Revolution and the Making of a New Era (2012) – Liu Noueihed and Alex Warren
  17. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (2011) – Owen Jones
  18. Waiting For Godot (1953) – Samuel Beckett
  19. Gaia: A New Look At Life on Earth (1979) – James Lovelock
  20. The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – Oscar Wilde
  21. The Wasp Factory (1984) – Iain Banks
  22. Ishi’s Brain: In Search of the Last “Wild” Indian (2004) – Orin Starn
  23. The Decline of the English Murder and other Essays (1965) – George Orwell
  24. Battle Royale (2000-2005) – Koushun Takami
  25. Cloud 9 (1979) – Caryl Churchill
  26. Oliver Cromwell (1991) – Barry Coward
  27. Hamlet (1603) – William Shakespeare
  28. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare
  29. Teach Yourself Islam (2003) – Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
  30. Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky (2009) – Bertrand M. Patenaude
  31. American Gods (2001) – Neil Gaiman
  32. Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton
  33. Heart of Darkness (1902) – Joseph Conrad
  34. The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Henry James
  35. Romeo and Juliet (1597) – William Shakespeare
  36. Twilight (2005) – Stephenie Meyer
  37. The Thief of Time (2000) – John Boyne
  38. Breaking Dawn (2008) – Stephenie Meyer
  39. New Moon (2006) – Stephenie Meyer
  40. Eclipse (2007) – Stephenie Meyer
  41. Fight Club (1996) – Chuck Palahniuk

Dorian Gray and Immortality (contains spoilers)

Immortality is a concept humanity has dreamed of for as long as it has existed.  Indeed, most religions are founded around fears of death and ideas of an afterlife.  We’re terrified of death – a throwback to the evolutionary extinct of staying alive, which tends to come in useful from time to time.

But where we differ from animals is our fear of growing old.  This is the theme which The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde tackles.  In the novel, Dorian Gray is the subject of a picture by a painter called Basil Hallward who develops a level of worship for the young man’s beauty.  Corrupted by the ideas of Basil’s friend Lord Henry, Dorian makes the wish:

“If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that… I’d give my soul for that.”

His wish is miraculously granted, and Dorian discovers that he has gained eternal youth while the portrait ages in his place.  But the portrait not only ages, it also shows visible signs of Dorian’s sinful life of corruption and, eventually, murder.

The moral of the story seems to be that a narcissistic obsession with youth and leading a hedonistic lifestyle is a sinful way to be.  However, I would argue that Dorian’s downfall is not his desire to stay young or to be immortal, but his selfish approach to life.  His rejection of sibyl’s love as a result of her bad performance on stage causes the first trace of ugliness to mar the portrait’s face as she consequently commits suicide.  Dorian’s beauty is shielded from this trace of sin.  But this isn’t a result of his gift (or curse) of eternal beauty.  His decision to squander his life in the pursuit of pleasure without ever doing a day’s work, lavishing in luxury surrounded by a city of poverty, is not due to any concept of immortality.  Youth does not cause him to murder Basil, rather, his obsession with his own beauty and hatred of the sinned portrait Basil created.

My point is, Dorian is a very flawed character.  Either due to his own personality or the influence of Lord Henry’s corrupt ideas, Dorian becomes a despicable person as the novel progresses.  And it is this, not his eternal youth, which leads to his downfall.  Imagine Dorian had led a virtuous life, perhaps spending his time in philanthropy or in the pursuit of knowledge, using his beauty, youth and possible immortality to the world’s advantage?  The portrait would still have aged and lost its physical beauty, but would have kept another kind; a wise, kindly beauty, the beauty of a man who’d led a worthwhile life.  Maybe even this would be too hideous for Dorian to have coped with.

I won’t deny it: if offered the chance, I would accept immortality.  How could I not?  I will miss so much by having the misfortune of dying: all the books yet to be written, ideas thought of, paths for our species to take, scientific discoveries to behold… My reasons would be different to Dorian’s.  It is never explicitly stated that Dorian gains immortality, but I believe he did.  One day the man in the portrait would die and become a pile of decaying bones and Dorian would live on, young as the day it was painted.

Dorian’s unwitting suicide is not, I believe, caused by the curse of youth and immortality, but by Dorian’s corrupt and sinful lifestyle it allows him to lead.  Perhaps immortality must inevitably lead to a worldview similar to Dorian’s, but The Picture of Dorian Gray gives no indication that this is the case.  His eternal youth formed as a consequence of his narcissism – not the other way round.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Quote

“If it were I who were to be always young and the picture to grow old… I would give my soul for it.”

A fascinating quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, discussing the themes of age, hedonism and mortality – among others.  I would recommend reading it.