Tuesday 18 November 2014

Vegan Reading: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair
On the surface a novel about the starry-eyed migrants who came to the USA in the 19th century in search of a better life, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair has been highlighted as a text that inspired some readers to make the leap to a vegetarian lifestyle.

Published in 1904 by socialist-minded journalist Upton Sinclair, The Jungle follows Lithuanian migrant worker Jurgis Rudkus as he struggles to make a living in 19th century Chicago. The book’s central theme is the way in which those on the bottom rungs of the labour ladder are swallowed by the capitalist machine, drawing instant comparisons with Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists published a decade later.

But it is the brutal realism of the depictions of the Chicago meat industry that have left a profound effect on many readers. Rudkus initially works in the slaughterhouses of Packingtown, helping to operate the machinery that sends cattle en masse irrevocably to their end. The power of the descriptions of these mechanisms – themselves mirroring the callous progress of their capitalist creators – has turned more than a few stomachs over the years, and even turned some towards a complete lifestyle change.

Writing on the Barnes and Noble blog, Lauren Passell describes the impact of the book on her reading group, even a century after it was first published;

“When my book club read The Jungle a few months ago,” Passell writes, “membership dropped drastically. People said they couldn’t handle reading about the nastiness of the meat industry, even though the meat industry in question existed more than 100 years ago.”

Have any other books provoked such a drastic lifestyle change in you? Let me know!

Click here for information on good protein sources for vegetarian diets.

Thursday 6 November 2014

Cliché: Something to Avoid or to Attack?

Writers are told to avoid clichés at all costs, but is such an attitude really necessary? After all, words and phrases become clichés after they are used again and again, which means they must be possessed of some inherent good in the first place.

Of course no great literature ever came out of re-treading tired turns of phrase over and over ad infinitum, and so it is the duty of all writers to find new ways to express their ideas. And if those methods of expression are good enough they might just become the clichés of the future, if the author is lucky!

But this does not mean that writers should simply give up the ground lost to cliché. If something has become passé, it simply means that it requires a new construction. To shun something for being cliché is not good enough; it constitutes a simple adherence to a ‘writer’s rulebook’ – something which does not, and should not, exist.

The best writers have the skill and confidence to tackle clichés head on, without fear of their work becoming mired in what has been said before. These writers can twist a cliché into a new form, reconstructing it and making it their own. Do this and you will be victorious; run away from clichés out of fear and you will have suffered defeat.

Click here for more info on clichés in romance literature, and how to deal with them.