The Human Narrative Project

I began my Human Narrative Project in the fall of 2009. This brilliant stroke of genius came to me while I was on Facebook. (I must say, though, from my experiences, brilliant strokes of genius are few and far between on Facebook.) I was reading through a list of “the greatest novels of all time” on my friend Aeyn’s Facebook page. He had read a significant number of great works of fiction. I was surprised to realize that out of 100 great novels, I could only count on one hand (or maybe two) how many I had read. At that point, my mind equated novel reading with entertainment, and as such, I couldn’t quite ever find the time and the inner will to read fiction. If I was going to read, I OUGHT to be reading something “substantial” like philosophy, theology, a biblical commentary, or some other such dense tome.

“Here goes for a cool, collective dive at death and destruction, and the devil fetch the hindmost.” – Moby Dick

Having been a bit embarrassed by my lack of familiarity with great literature, I set about the task of creating my very own Top 100 novel list. I created my own list because I discovered that every “greates novels” list highly favored Western white male authors. I wanted a list with a bit more fizzle, rizzle, and bejizzle. I wanted a human narrative project with a wide scope. So, I labored at the tast for weeks on end, looking to include women, non-whites, and international novelists who could expand my horizons a bit. I arrived at a list that excited and intrigued me, filled with both classics and contemporary works, canonical novels as well as works of personal interest to me. The one common factor is that I wanted to read literature whose writing itself—the language, the style, and the prose—would compel and command my imagination and worldview.

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme: No great enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I want to make the most out of my human narrative project. So, rather than just read a novel and say, “Hhm, well, wasn’t that interesting?” I decided to write a review of each novel, sharing my reactions and the elements of the text that were most enriching for me.

I must stress that of all of my blog posts, I am never quite so excited to see comments as when I read a comment on one of my reviews. It is great fun to find someone who has also read the same novel and hear their thoughts. Even if you haven’t read the novel, if a thought strikes you, let’s discuss.

If you would like to take a peak at my list, here it is: The List.

Here are a listing of the novels that I have reviewed, listed in order of which novels I have considered to be “the best,” in my subjective opinion. (Some of them were posted on my prior blog, The Theos Project, but I will receive and interact with comments regardless of where the review was posted.):

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
They’s somepin worse’n the devil got hold a the country, an’ it ain’t gonna let go till it’s chopped loose.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
I decided early on that if I couldn’t dress elegant, I’d dress memorable.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Us didn’t make this world.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. ~Scout

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon an earth that had no maps.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I was weeping again, drunk on the impossible past.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Heaven have mercy on us all–Presbyterians and pagans alike–for we are all cracked about the head and sadly need mending.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Oh dear, what nonsense I’m talking!

Light in August by William Faulkner
The negroes believed that he [“Doc” Hines] was crazy, touched by God, or having once touched Him. They probably did not listen to, could not understand much of, what he said. Perhaps they took him to be God Himself, since God to them was a white man too and His doings also a little inexplicable.

The Great Gatspy by F. Scott Fitzgerald
‘They’re a rotten crowd,’ I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.’ I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him [Gatspy], because I disapproved of him from beginning to end.

1984 by George Orwell
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.

Orlando by Virginia Woolf
At one moment we deplore our birth and state and aspire to an ascetic exaltation. The next, we are overcome by the smell of some old garden path and weep to hear the thrushes sing.

10 thoughts on “The Human Narrative Project”

      1. The Bell Curve is one of the most written about and controversial books published in the last century. Its largely about genetics and intelligence, but there are a lot of details involved within the book. Which is why it is such a long book.


  1. Hi! I’m Elizabeth (AKA-Beth) that you’ve heard about from our mutual friend, Marc. My #1 favorite novel is also “A Thousand Splendid Suns” I also love “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck. “East of Eden” was an unexpected pleasure. I read it during a summer vacation up in Michigan at the beach and could hardly put it down. I was also on a quest to read some classic books and widen my horizons. I share my favorites with Marc and we often read books together. Thanks for being a friend.


  2. This is a rough draft of a paper I am writing about hegemony and control in our digital age. It is related to some of the discussions we have been having and I would be interested to hear your opinion on my paper.

    Thoughts on Control: Hegemony and Choice in the Digital Age

    Humanity, as a whole, desires to rise above oppression and embrace principles of liberty that enable them to have freedom of expression. In today’s digital world, there are many companies that appear to be vying for control of the information presented on the Internet and also the means by which to access this material. The control manifested by these corporate giants is sometimes assumed to seep into the lives of individual consumers and strip them of their ability to choose what kind of media they consume and create. The mode by which these corporations seem to control consumers is by creating ideological hegemonies as opposed to using coercive means. Although many believe that the world of digital media is being controlled by these hegemonic systems created by companies such as Google, Facebook, and Apple, this control is mostly imagined because consumers of digital media are able choose which media they consume and create freely.

    In George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, the subject of governmental control and the perpetuation of a coercive and ideological hegemonic system are examined using the totalitarian regime of the Party with “Big Brother” at its head. Orwell plays with different theories of how totalitarian regimes control their subjects: through mass presence, control of the media, social interaction, and compliant dependency. These ideas apply to any type of ideological or coercive hegemony and are applicable to our digital world today. Massive companies such as Google, Facebook, and Apple are accused to use similar means of control as described in Orwell’s book to influence a society of consumers to place trust in their products.

    Even with these supposed controls placed on consumers, this does not mean that these companies actually control individuals. While I was reading through 1984, I was impressed by the main protagonist’s resistance to the Party’s ideological controls, such as the Two Minutes Hate and other propaganda of the Party, through his act of keeping a journal (Orwell 14). In the story, Winston purchases an illegal journal and begins to record his thoughts and feelings about his life and the negative influence of the Party. In reaction to the Party’s mode of oppression, Winston pens repeatedly the phrase, “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” (Orwell 19). In this act of creation, Winston reveals that he is not completely controlled by the domineering eye of Big Brother. The whole of act of journal writing in the novel represents humanities ability to have freedom of will no matter what modes of hegemony are used to control them. Not only does this form of creativity allow Winston to not be controlled, it gives him a voice to call known and unknown others to embrace their unalienable freedom of choice. Winston writes to these others by saying:

    To the future or the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone—to a time when truth exists and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age of solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of double think—greetings! (Orwell 26-27)

    This statement is a symbol of how hegemony, both ideological and coercive, can be resisted and an individuals freedom be maintained.

    Fiction is not the only realm where writing has been symbolic of resistance to hegemony. While in prison, Antonio Gramsci wrote volumes of criticism against the fascist regime of Mussolini through the guise of literary and cultural criticism. Just like Winston, Gramsci was able to maintain his impregnable freedom of will and thought until his death in 1937 after 11 years in prison (Burke). Gramsci’s criticism presented in his Prison Notebooks contains theories of hegemony describing how hegemonies can be enforced through two distinct ways: coercive means, usually by the “political society,” or “spontaneous” consent given by the masses in reaction to the ideology of the “dominant fundamental group” (Gramsci 145). Forms of this second kind of hegemony, or ideological hegemony, are being employed by the mega-technology companies of today to convince people to use their products. Examining the methods of the Party in Orwell’s novel in comparison to the methods employed by companies will help explicate this form of hegemony used by these companies, and also help reveal why these methods do not actually control individuals.

    In 1984, one method used by the Party’s hegemonic system to keep party members in line is through the use of mass presence. In the book, every Party member’s home has a piece of technology known as a telescreen. These screens provide a way for Party members to constantly be fed propaganda by the Party and also constantly be observed. This constant observation keeps the subjugated citizens of Airstrip One mostly in submission to the decrees of the government.

    Winston, the protagonist, only finds ways to rise against the hegemonic system by being able to get away from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. He does this by finding places that are out of sight of the telescreen, such as the small alcove in his room where he writes in his journal (Orwell 9) or the room he rents above Mr. Charrington’s shop in run-down London where he rendezvous with Julia for their sexual escapades (113-116).

    This idea of control by constant observation, or presence, translates to the digital world. Google, by amassing rights to be the default search engine on many Internet browsers, has been able to create a vast presence on the Web that has even led to the addition of “google” as a verb in the dictionary (Merriam Webster Online). Tim Wu, in a webinar about his book, The Master Switch, explained that the reason people use Google so much is because of this presence. Google being accessible almost everywhere makes it convenient to use and logically people would ask themselves, “Why not use Google” (Wu Webinar). Though this convenience makes it seem that Google is monopolizing the market as an Internet browser, their overwhelming presence does not mean they directly control which mode of consumption consumers use. The existence of competition between other search engines such as Yahoo and MSN with Google adds evidence that convenience does not equate to control (SEJ). Google may remain as one of the top grossing Internet companies, but that does not show it controls individuals ability to create and branch out from Google because there are no restrictions to the contrary.

    The hegemony of 1984 is also continued by the Party’s ability to modify the past and control the information that is consumed by individuals. Winston describes this constant flux of truth by using the Newspeak word “doublethink,” which means, according to Winston, “[t]o know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them…” (Orwell 23). The idea of changing or controlling what information people are privy to is part of the reality of the digital world. Google, for example, has certain algorithms that modify searches to personalize them for each of their individual customers based on their search history and perceived interests (Levy). This in effect censors the kind of information you are able to view when surfing the Internet. Though this algorithm can in theory limit the kinds of search results given according to individual’s preferences, Google does not have the ability to control how this information is used by each consumer. Google is unable to dominate the potential for creation of individuals who use its product, and therefore the company does not maintain complete control.

    Another aspect of control that is part of the hegemony in Orwell’s book is the Party’s attempt to control individuals through social interaction. As a way to imprint their ideology on party members, the Party organized certain club organizations for youth, like the Spies. The Spies organization was specifically organized to instill principles of loyalty to the Party in youth by teaching them how to recognize potential dissension from party policies by others. They Spies were even known to turn their own parents into the Thought Police for crimes against Big Brother (Orwell 24). These clubs went on group hikes and other communal activities to create bonds of familiarity with its members that would grow into a feeling of being part of something greater than each individual alone. This social interaction breeds brotherhood that not only bonds the Spies together, but also binds them in commitment to following the party. This social interaction used by the Party is also a method that is used to invite consumers to willingly consent to use a product.

    In the digital world, Facebook embodies a company that has used social interaction as one of their products and also as a way to promote their product. Facebook is a social networking site that allows individuals to create individualized profiles and share information with friends for free. This product was made popular because of the ability to easily connect with those that you know and communicate with them freely about almost anything. The popularity of Mark Zuckerberg’s product was bred on the “club” mentality of social interaction, as described with the Spies previously. This mode to establish ideological hegemony has appeared to be successful and has brought millions of users under the umbrella of Facebook, but that does not mean that Facebook is able to control these consumers’ decisions. Facebook’s lack of control has recently been revealed with the company’s decision to go public. Many investors have tried to jump ship as the price of shares fell below the estimated $38 per share (Bloomberg). These consumers with investments in Facebook were not tethered to the company just because of the opportunity for social networking. They had personal interests in the company that were not met, and they chose to act on these interests for their personal welfare. This shows that Facebook did not have enough control over investors and consumers of its product to stop them from losing faith in the company’s direction.

    One last aspect of ideological hegemonic control used in 1984 that is applicable to digital media is the process of how the Party made its members dependent upon their services for basic necessities and wants. Throughout the text, Winston Smith uses products controlled and distributed by the party. Products like cigarettes, razors, gin, and even chocolate are produced and controlled by the direct influence of the regime and competition is nonexistent. This form of Communism creates a narrowed society where each individual’s options of consumption are limited. This compliant dependency that Party members have with the regime of Big Brother is similar to the “walled-garden” that Apple has created for hardware users (Burton). The world of Apple products includes iMacs, iPads, iPhones, iPods, and MacBooks. These products each have the capacity to sink with one another and have software that can only be used between Apple devices. Many products like iTunes limits users to how audio media can be played and shared due to copyright and certain restrictions Apple places on the sold content. Further, Apple’s apps can only be purchased from the Apple store and are not freely open to users of Apple products. These forms of product control create a niche for consumers that invites them to become compliant with their dependency on the company for their products.


  3. I just wanted to say thank you for discussing some of my ideas about Facebook and other large technology companies. I learned a lot from our discussion and it helped me write my paper. You have some really great ideas and I love the different topics you discuss on your blog.

    Because of the influence that some of your ideas had on my paper, I would love to invite you to a free webinar that my English 295 class is hosting. It will be tomorrow night from 7-9pm. You can join the discussion any time. Each member of the class has done research on how the way we view literature is changing in our digital age. Here is the link for the webinar invitation:

    I would feel honored if you were able to attend. Hope that you have a wonderful evening.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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