This week’s theme: Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don’t have to be books you’ve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.
The lion’s share of the novels that I’ve read throughout my life have dealt in large part with one or both of these subjects, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a theme that is used as often as conformity or alienation. The reason authors focus on how it feels to be on the outside (or scrabbling to stay on the inside) so often is because it is sometimes the major focus of our lives, especially when we are young. How many of us, both male and female, have secretly wept because we were picked last in gym class? How many of us were devastated because some neanderthal bully told us we were ugly or fat or stupid or geeky or one of a myriad number of other silly put-downs that shouldn’t have mattered a damn but somehow meant more than anything in the world to us?
Everyone wants to be admired, or at least accepted. Even as adults, we can be crushed by an unkind word (yeah, Care, quit it already!) or an obvious snubbing by our families, friends or coworkers. Some people want so desperately to belong to the “in-crowd” that they will sacrifice their morality and integrity and practically everything in between just to fit in.
Here are a few of my favorite novels, some of them science fiction, that deal with either conformity or alienation or both because they often go hand-in-hand.
The Chocolate War
I mentioned this in my post about favorite kids books. This really had an impact on me, and it is the “conformiest” novel I can think of. The mob mentality totally rules here, and anyone who refuses to conform is ripped to shreds.
I’ve been waiting to mention John Wyndham because I want to devote an entire post to him, but The Chrysalids absolutely has to be part of this list. The novel is set in a post-holocaust future. There are mutations due to radiation, and anyone who deviates from the norm is cast out into “The Fringes,” a wasteland where one’s prospects of survival are almost non-existent.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang
One of the best novels ever written about human cloning. Kate Wilhelm’s thoughtful portrait of clones wanting to become their own individual selves is a classic, and I need to read it again.
The Handmaid’s Tale
This novel about “breeders” totally creeped me out, but it was an excellent read.
Never Let Me Go
The kids in this novel blindly accept their fate without question. I’m currently listening to this on cd and loving it.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The novel is much better than the movies (but then, I adore Jack Finney). You learn more about the aliens and their motivations in the novel, plus Finney is a suberb writer.
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
One of the saddest novels I’ve ever read, and also one of the very best. Mr. Singer — God how I miss Mr. Singer!
Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon
This novel is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful, thank goodness!
In This Sign
Can there be anything more isolating than deafness? This is a beautifully plotted and thoughtful examination of a deaf couple and their hearing daughter.
This novel belongs in a class by itself. The only thing that may be more isolating than deafness is to be a carnival freak, although these freaks were raised to appreciate themselves and each other. Great, great story.
Read my review here. I’m anxiously awaiting Dave King’s next novel. Where are you, Mr. King? I miss you!
The Catcher in the Rye
Of course, of course, of course.
That’s it, at least for now. I’ll think of a dozen others that I’ll wish I included before I go to bed tonight. I’ll probably have nightmares about the poor neglected novels I didn’t mention. I’ll be chased in tonight’s dreams by Camus and Dostoyevsky wielding copies of The Stranger and Crime and Punishment and screeching in their respective tongues that they’ve been robbed, closely followed by Victor Hugo bemoaning the fact that all of his novels are about alieniation. How can I snub him so? I will then be enveloped by The Hunchback of Notre Dame in my one of my dreams. He will wrap me in his arms, weeping and sniveling, and I’ll wake up drenched in tears and saliva with my ears ringing stentoriously.
Maybe I’ll just take some no-doz and stay awake all night long.