Matilda’s 2017 Reading List

“What sort of a book would you like to read next?” Mrs. Phelps asked.

Matilda said, “I would like a really good one that grownups read, a famous one. I don’t know any names.”

Mrs. Phelps looked along the shelves, taking her time. She didn’t quite know what to bring out. “How,” She asked herself. “Does one choose a famous grownup book for a four year old girl?” Her first thought was to pick a volume by Charles Dickens or some other really good book that grownups read, but for some reason she found herself instinctively walking past that particular section. “Try this.” She said at last. “It’s very famous and very good. If it’s too long for you just let me know and I will find you something a bit shorter and a bit easier.”

“The Road to Wigan Pier,” Matilda read. “By George Orwell. I’d love to try it.”

“I must be mad.” Mrs. Phelps told herself, but to Matilda she said, “Of course you may try it.”

Over the next year, under Mrs. Phelp’s watchful and compassionate eye, Matilda read he following books:

The Road to Wigan Pier, by George Orwell
Politics and the English Language, by George Orwell
Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James Loewen
Candide, by Francois Arouet
Tale of a Tub, by Jonathan Swift
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
There is Life After College, by Jeffrey Selingo
LinkedIn Profile Optimization for Dummies, by Donna Serdula
Getting From College to Career, by Lindsay Pollack
Job U, by Nicholas Wynman
What is the Color of Your Parachute?, by Richard Bolles
Juliette, by Donatien Sade
Milton: A Poem in Two Books, by William Blake
Jerusalem! The Real Life of William Blake, by Tobias Churton
Who Rules the World?, by Noam Chomsky
A Grief Observed, by Clive Lewis
Endgame, by Derrick Jensen
Contesting Nietzsche, by Christa Acampora
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
A Critique of Atlas Shrugged, by Adam Lee
Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, by Leo Damrosch
All Art is Propaganda, by George Orwell
The Screwtape Letters, by Clive Lewis
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
Women & Power, by Mary Beard
The Conference of the Birds, by Farid Attar

It was formidable list and by now Mrs. Phelps was filled with wonder and excitement, but it was probably a good thing she did not allow herself to be completely carried away by it all.

“I learned from reading all these books that the world is a horrible place ruled by slavedrivers who have been perfecting the art of governing over thousands of years.” Matilda said. “To govern all civilizations, you must master the skills of manipulating the people through lies and coercion; there are no exceptions to this rule.”

Is all that true, Mrs. Phelps?”

Mrs. Phelps nodded grimly. “Almost everything in politics we regard as ‘common sense’ or ‘common knowledge’ are lies. The beastly slavedrivers either give us myths their rule is just or sell us a marketing scam to get more money. It is rather difficult to tell the difference between the two these days.”

Matilda admitted the truth, “All is lost. Mr. George Orwell states how even the very language I speak has been so corrupted it rots my very consciousness. Mr. Jonathan Swift reveals our human nature makes us nothing more than Yahoos who use our shoddy wits to be as beastly as possible. Yet our beastly natures make us living beings and give life meaning to us. The rational Houyhnhnms are practically zombies.

“The writers of the career self-help books mean well, but they only reveal my doomed future. As soon as I begin school, my parents will force me into college by lying to me, promising me that you must have a college degree to get a good job or amount to anything in life. In truth, I will fall into deep debts, all to learn very little about how I could ‘get a good job’ or ‘amount to anything’. That is if I was born lucky.

“My father is a used car salesman and my mother is a ditz who plays bingo. I snobbishly sneered at my trashy parents at first, but now I have a more nuanced knowledge of their lot in life. My father grew up with no schooling or job training, so he could not go to college or get a decent job. Instead, he became a crook to make ends meet, using whatever talents he has the best way he can. My mother went to school but could not pay to college. She could work in fast food, work in the sex trade, or mooch off a man who can support her. She chose the best option she had, and she now plays bingo every day so she won’t think of how horrible her life is, something she is all too aware of.

“Mr. Noam Chomsky tells us we are doomed, and rightly so. The slavedrivers will do nothing but gain more power and oppress the people of the world more severely, using any means they can. Every day, they fight us in a gruesome class war, and not only are we ignorant; we have entire sects of people who protect our masters at every turn. All of this occurs while global warming and nuclear war loom nearer each day; Armageddon.

“Mr. Derrick Jensen proposes a radical idea. All civilizations are, by nature, built from slavery, and can only survive by robbing the earth and human beings of more resources than either can return. Civilization can never be stable, and acts like a cancer on the earth; the more it grows, the more it kills its host body until, finally, the land dies, and civilization dies with it. Mr. Jensen wants to destroy all civilizations before they destroy all life on earth.

“Mr. Clive Lewis writes wonderfully, with a deep and compassionate knowledge of the human heart, but the foundations of all religions and moralities are false, and he secretly knows it. Mr. Donatien Sade knows this, and creates a perverse philosophy so he won’t feel bad when he rapes teenage girls. Yet he fails to understand, like all smug atheists, that his philosophy is just as shaky and self-serving as any religion. Or, he purposefully created a parody philosophy to turn morals on their head and reveal the hypocrisy of civilized society. Either way, Mr. Sade secretly feels guilty about raping teenage girls, so he goes out of his way to defend himself in the most tedious manner possible.

“Only Mr. William Blake, Mr. Richard Bach, and Mr. Farid Attar give me a tiny ray of hope. They sincerely believe we can reach a higher existence, where the meaning of life is greater than violently oppressing poor people or raping teenage girls; this is the deepest most desperate desire of all our hearts. Yet they deceive themselves. They know the game is rigged so they call quits. They wish to renounce the world and kill themselves, which is reasonable, but they pretend it is all about reaching Enlightenment, which it really isn’t.

“Why did you let me read so many terrible books, Mrs. Phelps?”

Mrs. Phelps, who knew the truth the whole time, sat by Matilda to comfort her. “At first, I thought it would be better if you read the frivolous twittering writings of Englishmen who write ‘great novels’ and ‘really good books grownups read’. You are a bright child, Matilda, and surely if you read Mr. Dickens or Mr. Thackery you would impress many grown ups. They would point at you and say, ‘Look at this bright child! She reads really good books grownups read unlike the dumb kids who play video games and play outside! She reads all the sanctioned books parents, teachers, and principles want her to read! Surely, she will go to college, become a doctor or lawyer, and live in a big house in the suburbs with a husband, two children, a dog, a cat, and a goldfish!’

“I could no longer lie to a child. I wanted to educate you on what being a grownup is really like. I did not want you suffer through decades of despair, disappointment, and indignation, only to learn the truth too late. This is what real reading, real education, is like.”

“What should I do, Mrs. Phelps!” Matilda cried. “Is there an answer to the darkness?”

Mrs. Phelps put her hand on her chin, thinking for a very long time, considering perhaps there was an answer, a way to truly live a good life. “I believe Mr. William Blake and Mr. Friedrich Nietzsche may point to the way, but the journey will be rough. We will travel through a great black sea of terrible waters. We will have to challenge everything we have ever known to find the other shore. Are you ready, Matilda?”

Matilda nodded, the bravest human being Mrs. Phelps had ever seen. “Yes,” Matilda said. “I am ready.”


Critique on Critics


I enjoy analyzing movies, books, video games, and other art, so you would expect me to like movie critics. But I really dislike many critics because they are pompous people who don’t really analyze the film or movie they criticize. They will complain about how they think the acting is wooden or how the plot makes no sense or how the director failed to convey a message, but they rarely go into details. They don’t describe what specifically makes an actor’s character wooden or what ideas the director failed to convey, and they don’t bring any creative ideas or suggestions of their own to the table. Constructive criticism isn’t about being nice. It’s about studying what makes a work of art tick and how to do art better. Critics don’t know how to critique.

Sadly, most people who do know how to critique a book or movie are university professors who would never dare dirty themselves with pop culture. This is sad, because pop culture, not fine culture, is where we deal with today’s issues, no matter how frivolous you think pop culture is. So I will give an idea of what I’m talking about. I’ll delve into a few movies I am passionate about, even though they are not the best films, and critique the critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

There are many wonderful movies critics dump on, and while I agree with some of their points, I see many movies as having potential ideas that were not developed. Copying Beethoven is one such film, where a copyist named Anna Holtz stays with the aging Beethoven as he writes his 9th Symphony and Late String Quartets [1]. Many of the critics write at most a paragraph complaining about how Anna Holtz was made up [2], how Ed Harris should not have used brash acting to portray a brash, unstable man [3], how Diane Kruger’s character is poorly developed [4], a lackluster script [5], and so forth.

I agree with some of the critics but they never go past their assertions. If Anna Holtz is so poorly developed, explain why and how you would have better developed her character. I found Anna Holtz fine because we see all the essentials in the movie; she came from a conservatory and wants to become a composer despite the sexist attitudes of her time. The aspirant truly loves music but has yet to gain the deeper understanding of it only experience brings. Her learning of music is important since Beethoven, in writing his Late String Quartets, closes an entire era of music while creating radical new music that is free from centuries of tradition.

How would I improve Anna’s character? I would give her more screen time with Beethoven while having Beethoven teach her more about the nature of his new music. I would also make Anna compose more as she is growing as a composer in a world where classical music is over. It would be fine if the critics at Rotten Tomatoes even mentioned a few of the points I made but they don’t. They didn’t even seem to comprehend the core ideas of the movie; Beethoven leaving classical music behind and what that means to the composers of the future.

The critics’ complaints about Ed Harris’ Beethoven are silly. Again, Beethoven was a man with a hair-trigger temper whose temperament blew hot and cold. The man may have even been bipolar, which would explain a lot about his extreme mood swings. He was garrulous and warm some days, violent and angry at others, cold and aloof at other days, and had periods of deep depression. So it would make sense for Ed Harris to go a little nuts with Beethoven. Again, the critics don’t bother to justify their ideas too much.

I move to another film, Sleeping Beauty. Emily Browning plays Lucy, a college student who becomes an escort girl of sorts to pay for her college. Her unique job is to drink a potion that makes her fall into a deep sleep so rich old clients can do to her what they please [6]. Critics complained about the movie somehow trying to be a feminist parable [7], the movie not elaborating bigger ideas [8], how the movie is somehow an exploitation film [9]. Only one critic bothers to make a decent critique [10].

I agree with the critics more on this film but I will criticize the reviews I have a problem with first. Ms. Schwarzbaum should really specify what “feminist parable” is in the film before accusing it of having it. I myself saw little feminism in the film, at least not the preachy kind. Mr. Nuemaier says the story hints at bigger ideas but fails to develop them. I agree with him but I would appreciate if he explained what those bigger ideas are. Mr. Schwartz accuses the film of being a “sicko exploitation film” though he doesn’t explain who the film exploits and why.

I do agree with most of the critics who complain of Lucy being a poorly developed character. But unlike most critics, I too create drama and stories, so instead of just seeing something bad I see something good but wasted. At least I will offer a description of her character. Lucy is a very passive and aloof person who keeps herself at arms length from people because of her self-hatred and resentment against other people. While she is passive she does resist the world around her in a passive-aggressive way. Lucy degrades herself with bad odd jobs because of her self-hatred but causes trouble so she leaves her jobs to find worse ones. Her life is a downward cycle with her job as a prostitute being rock bottom.

She has one person in her life who truly loves her but she shuts herself out from him because she has shut herself out from the world for so long it has become a habit. Again, her work as a prostitute, as a drugged prostitute, is the final step of shutting herself out. She works as a prostitute for two reasons very common for most prostitutes. One is the need for money (tuition ain’t cheap, kids!), the other is, again, self-hatred, as she feels she is only worthy of being a prostitute.

Again, the movie could have done a much better job with Lucy’s character but at least I understand what her character is beyond the most basic level. To do this, I suggest replacing her “everyday at life” scenes with more “important events in her life” scenes that shows how she resists human intimacy and destroys the people around her. And I would use her character to develop a “big idea”; how a normal, boring woman – who isn’t addicted to drugs and didn’t come from a broken home – can spiral down into sex slavery because of all sorts of patriarchal factors.

I would also develop the characters of the old men who sleep with her. Yes, they are privileged scumbags who exploit women, but they are also old, sad, and pathetic people. An almost dead woman is the only person they can relate to anymore. We do catch subtle glimpses of the old men’s characters by the way they use Lucy’s body. One man wistfully sleeps next to her as if she was his long lost spouse. Another man bites and batters her while calling her a dirty slut. Another man carries her like some kind of strongman or protective lover. These scenes are fascinating and I wish the movie made the scenes longer to better develop the characters of these strange, shady old men.

My final critique is about Red Letter Media’s review of the Rogue One Star Wars movie [11]. Red Letter Media shows what a good critic is like and what a bad critic is like. They did a thorough breakdown of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy that is amazing. They went in detail over every single reason why the Prequels was bad, from bad plot to poor character development, but they also understood why the Prequels had those faults to begin with. They lacked an artist’s vision and George Lucas used them as a cash grab. Now George Lucas is embarrassed Disney made one prequel story better than an entire trilogy.

This brings me to Red Letter Media’s review of Rogue One. While I did agree with some of their ideas they complained about a lot of things for new reason. I agree that Jyn’s character could have been developed better while reducing the cast to only three or so key people rather than having many poorly developed characters.

I really liked Jyn’s character arc even when it could have been explored more. She comes across to me as a hardened and scarred person, almost like someone with PTSD. At the start of the movie she is a wayward criminal and terrorist who lost her parents and was abandoned by her godfather. Rotting in a labor camp, she has no hope and can only see darkness in the galaxy. By joining the Rebel Alliance, Jyn gains hope, symbolizing the new hope the Alliance gains as they battle against the mountainous odds against them. Soon after Jyn and comrades die for the Rebel cause, ending a tragic character arc.

I think Jyn’s tragic story arc should have been developed better and given a strong focus as the driving point of the film. A well done, character driven story arc around Jyn would have been amazing. I appreciated how the rebels were not space wizards but ordinary people fighting against the huge odds against them. Again, such a focus would have really helped the film. I at least know writer James Luceno did her backstory justice in Star Wars Catalyst, as Mr. Luceno is an excellent writer who fleshed out many great Star Wars characters such as Darth Plagueis, Palpatine, and Tarkin. The Star Wars comics and novels tend to be better than the films and are, ironically, the real forces keeping the franchise alive.

But Mr. Plinkett and other critics at Red Letter Media also made silly complaints, like the appearances of TIE fighters and AT-AT walkers, even though they are the Empire’s military technology. But the most telling complaint was when one critic said new Star Wars movies would have to stay in a narrow mold to be good, but even then he wouldn’t like the new movies for being rehashes of older films. He admitted, in essence, there was no pleasing him.

That moment hit me. I realized the guys at Red Letter Media were the ultimate bitter Star Wars nerds. No new Star Wars movie will ever be good for them because they are so hung up over the Original Trilogy, or rather their nostalgic hype over it. Here is a dirty secret: the Original Trilogy was never great. Had Red Letter Media existed in the 70s I guarantee they would have complained about how awful Star Wars was and stupid people were for liking it. Critics are odd and pompous creatures.

And they are older than radio. Voltaire even mocked a man of letters in his novel Candide who might as well have been a movie critic. The learned man owned a vast library of the world’s greatest writings but didn’t like any of them, complaining about the faults of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Paradise Lost. The naïve Candide concludes the learned man to be profound and wise as no great author satisfied him. Again, critics are odd and pompous creatures. Their reviews are useful to a point but are often blinkered by their narrow range of tastes and prejudices. They demand great art, then get angry when the muse does not throw herself on the laps of such inept yet arrogant mortals.

“Remember, a statue has never been set up in honor of a critic.” –Sibelius