Book Recommendations from Daria Morgendorffer’s Reading List

Image result for Daria Morgendorffer reading

My two favourite tv bookworms would probably be, Daria Morgendorffer from Daria and Mark Corrigan from Peep Show. Everyone’s favourite, Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, shits me for one reason: I don’t think it’s realistic (regardless of her being gifted) that a teenager whose life is interesting enough that she’s in a quirky jam every week with her mother, has time to read 339 bulky and often dry as fuck classics on top of her schoolwork (give me a break, she’s just holding at least some of them to look like a boffin. I’m calling bullshit! No one under 20 is reading Ulysses unless someone’s holding a gun to their head for several months). 

Daria ran for five seasons, during which 62 books are either read, or referenced, by the brooding misfit – that’s a believable number (and I want only realistic standards for bookish types dammit! unless it’s Lisa Simpson; she’s been eight for 30 years, she can go read Gore Vidal and it not be weird that she’s in primary school).

The Simpsons Episode 25 GIF

The Simpsons Episode 25 GIF

Anyway the reason I’m bringing up every cynical teen’s hero is because I read a surprising bit of trivia recently; only seven of the 62 books Daria reads over the course of the show, are by women. 

Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with the character, this was unexpected because Daria is considered a bit of a 1990s feminist icon – and while she’s fictional, the writers/artists of the show would’ve thought carefully about what books to draw her with to best represent her personality and intellect. 

This got me thinking about my own reading habits and how I too could definitely stand to branch out and read more from different perspectives. 

It’s certainly not been an intentional choice, and this isn’t to say I don’t think the books I read aren’t varied: it’s more something I’ve noticed I could improve, especially when it comes to fiction – because in the fiction department I tend to go for old books or books regarded traditionally as classics and with that there’s a risk of complacence as well as not proactively searching for voices that were/are marginalised but are equally as worthy (or I could just read more fiction brought out in this millennia with an author who’s still alive).  

And I know out the four books I’m about to talk about from Daria’s reading list, only one is by a woman but I promise that with future blogposts I am going to make a better effort to read more diversely and have slightly less dead white guys. Anyway here are four of my favourites that the sarcastic legend is spotted reading! [Of the seven books from the list written by women, I’ve only read two and I’ve already written about Frankenstein in a previous blogpost so I didn’t want to double up] 

The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath, 1963)

A bell jar traps whatever’s displayed inside – and while transparent, the glass warps the perception of what’s outside the bell jar. This is how The Bell Jar’s protagonist, Esther Greenwood, describes the growing isolation she feels as her mental health descends – ‘under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air’. 

Told from Esther’s perspective, The Bell Jar begins with the aspiring poet (and recent college graduate) completing a summer internship in New York City for Ladies’ Day magazine. She applies for a writing program which commences immediately after the internship finishes; but following her rejection, Esther moves back to her mothers for the rest of the summer and attempts to start a novel.

However, feeling as though she has no life experience to write something meaningful, teaming with the daunting realisation that college is over and none of the limited paths she has to choose from appeal to her, Esther feels the descent of the bell jar hovering above her head and must eventually undergo electric shock therapy and analysis at the mental asylum.

This is one of those books where I feel like you’re not really going to get a lot out of reading it until life’s thrown you around a little, or you’ve at least feared that your life is directionless.

It’s embarrassing but nineteen was too young for me, and my first impression of The Bell Jar was that it was average. I couldn’t understand what had spurred Esther’s breakdown: myself being a little too immature to get that that’s part of the point – as well as failing to read it with the historical context that opportunities for women were a lot more limited then, or truly appreciate that it was written by a poet who did end her own life less than a month after it was published. In other words I’m very glad I revisited it last year.

Nausea (Jean Paul Sartre, 1938)

You know how in Rocket Man, where it’s a Saturday night and they’re at a rowdy venue and you get the sneaky suspicion that a fight is about to break out so Elton can conveniently play ‘Saturday Night’s Alright’ (oh so subtle); Nausea is kind of like that, in that Sartre’s philosophical ideas are what he wanted to primarily discuss and the story fits around those discussions.

For the French existentialist/campus legend (apparently he once turned up naked at a university event, what a mad dog), “existence precedes essence”, in other words life is all about creating meaning through action.

Like The Bell Jar, Nausea’s main fellow is a writer, called Antoine Roquentin, who is having a ponder –not just about the point of his existence, but human existence in general.

Roquentin documents every thought and sensation he has in order to fully comprehend his own existence (sounding like a writer who’s got a wee bit too much time to kill) and comes to the conclusion that there’s no reason for any of us to exist, the past is meaningless and what he’s going to do with his newfound free will is to write a novel.

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck, 1939)

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In 1948, Stalin allowed the film adaption of The Grapes of Wrath to be released in the USSR because it depicts destitute Americans and it heavily criticises capitalism. This backfired however as Soviet citizens turned out to be impressed that even the poorest Americans owned cars.

The first time I read The Grapes of Wrath I was also nineteen (the uni library had a stellar American classics section) and I reread it again this year because 2020 hadn’t made me cry enough on its own. 

I love Steinbeck, and I know this book has received contemporary criticism for having historical inaccuracies but it still has merit regardless; you can feel Steinbeck’s raw anger like he’s talking to you and his point has that rare quality of being both of its time and equally politically pertinent now. There’s a reason he received the Nobel Prize of Literature for it and if anyone wants to tell me it wasn’t their cup of tea that’s fine but you have terrible taste and we’re going to have to take this outside!

During the Great Depression over a half a million Americans migrated west in the space of two to three years; The Grapes of Wrath focuses on a fictional Oklahoma family, the Joads, who lose their farm due to draught, recession and the introduction of tractors. Their only option is to make their way to California and try to get work fruit picking. The book follows the Joads’ journey travelling on Route 66 with everything they own in a beat up Hudson, and the disheartening reality that awaits them as migrant workers, when they finally reach California.

Breakfast of Champions (Kurt Vonnegut, 1973)

This one’s a lot more fun compared to the other books on this list – it has many delightful illustrations from Vonnegut himself and a fascinating theory about mirrors being ‘leaks’ to different dimensions – good choice Daria.

So this one splits between two strangers, Kilgore Trout – an elusive and essentially unrecognised science fiction writer, and Dwayne Hoover – a mentally unstable yet respected car dealership owner and local businessman, Dwayne eventually reads a novel by Trout, after a chance meeting at an arts festival, and takes his book literally that he (Dwayne) is the only free-willed being in the universe with dire consequences. As the narrator, Vonnegut also interjects regularly to give his hot take on life.

[Images via Triple M, Bookglow, Scoopnest, and aerogrammestudio]

Books which paint a grim future #we’reallreallfucked

Last year we all had to face the crushing disappoint that it was 2015 and the scum who wrote Back to the Future II had massively over-estimated how far hover-board technology was going to progress (we all still have to use non-hovering type transport like suckers and it leaves a bitter, bitter taste).

But if you want to be glass half full, at least we’re not currently residing in one of these dystopian societies from 20th century literature (*the key-word is ‘currently’ there. If there’s full anarchy by next week I don’t want to look like an idiot).

I’ll try not to give spoilers here:

Handmaids Tale (Margaret Atwood, 1985)

For me out of all these books listed, the state of Gilead sounded like the worst future hypothetical, totalitarian society to live in – specifically if you’re a woman.

It’s ruled by the idea of positive restriction, and the narrator known only as ‘Offred’ is of the first generation of women who is stripped of every freedom and valued solely on her ability to reproduce.

What’s particularly frightening is how Offred has no way of knowing what is happening in the outside world as the media cannot be trusted and she is not permitted to watch the news.

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley, 1932)

[It was quite a few years ago that I read Brave New World so forgive me it isn’t as fresh in my head]

In the World State, humans are mass produced in hatcheries and are conditioned to be the perfect consumer and to instinctively hate books and nature. Family, love and monogamy are now antiquated ideas and ‘everybody belongs to everyone else’ (a quote I’m sure Huxley sometimes bought out if he wanted to initiate a key party).

There is also the Savage Reservation where people from the World State can visit to be reminded of how good progress is.

Cats Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut, 1963)

In Cats Cradle the three grown-up children of an eccentric scientist each have a piece of his final invention ‘Ice-Nine’ which has the power of freezing all the worlds water. Most of it is set on the island of San Lorenzo where everyone follows an odd religion called ‘Bokononism’, which is pretty much a glorified foot fetish club (there’s a lot about the importance of sole-to-sole contact, its a strange book).

A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess, 1962)

This is one of my favourite books, but I do have a bone to pick with it. At the start the main character, Alex Delarge, successfully cracks onto two girls using what it possibly the shittiest pick-up technique in history: the gist of the quote is ‘Come with uncle…you are invited’. What a load of false advertising, you couldn’t score your own hand with that line.

A Clockwork Orange is set in a future where the youths are excessively out of control (a terrifying world where A Current Affair doesn’t need to exaggerate as much). When Alex finally ends up in prison he agrees to undergo a kind of aversion therapy which leaves him feeling ill at the thought of violence and incapable of committing any act of violence.

Seemingly it sounds positive, but who wants to live in a society which can take away your ability to choose?

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury, 1953)

In this future, books are prohibited but few people care, and firemen burn books. Televisions have become so big in this future that they’ve become rooms with four screens as walls and people refer to the television characters as their families.

Plus if you’re one of the few people who decide to piss the firemen off they send a large mechanical dog after you (kinda like a nastier version of Clifford the big red dog).

1984 (George Orwell, 1949)

This is true – there was an incident where Amazon removed all copies of 1984 from its Kindles after realising their version was a pirated text; so readers rebooted their kindles to find that 1984 had disappeared.

It was all a little interesting, and the kind of thing that possibly sparked some great conspiracy theories (it may be a sign of censorship to come, and I bet the lizard people who live underground were somehow behind it).

1984 is set in Oceania and told from Winston Smith’s perspective. Being a book of its time, aspects of Oceania are meant to mirror the Stalinist system. The Party controls everything: it rewrites history through censorship, monitors every action through telescreens, a new type of speech has been created to eliminate certain words, there is no way of knowing if you can trust anybody, and if you commit thought-crime you’re massively in the shit (I hear that sometimes they even force people to watch celebrity Big Brother in Room 101). Also if you’re still not convinced that Oceania isn’t pretty grim, sex is also forbidden.