Banned Book Club reads Fahrenheit 451

June 21, 2016

I got tricked into thinking it was a longer book; the 60th Anniversary Edition I snagged from the library is 2/3 story and 1/3 commentary and essays about the book and author, Ray Bradbury.

Montag lives in a future where the purpose of his job as fireman has less to do with saving lives and more about saving people from the ideas in books. After a chance meeting with a young girl who questions his purpose, Montag starts to consider the possibility that Clarisse was right. She knows pieces of their cultural history that she could have only gotten from books and she’s a stark contrast to his wife, Mildred, who spends every waking moment either hooked up at the ears to what passes for the internet in this dystopia, or watching the reality tv programs on every wall of the house. Clarisse vanishes and Montag steals a book he’s supposed to burn. This helps set off a domino effect of problems for himself and those he knows. He winds up escaping into the woods before bombs obliterate his hometown, finding a possible future among men who’ve also committed the crime of wanting to learn from the past and agrees to devote his life to memorizing the book he read, which turns out to be a piece of the Bible — Ecclesiastes.

Full of irony, that bit he remembers — here’s part of Chapter 1, bits bolded by me:

1 The words of the Teacher,[a] son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one can say,
“Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.


The book is filled with allusions and quotes to literary history – most of which went over my head on reading. I’ll quote this one from Heliweb:

First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), statesman and philosopher, is said to be one of the fathers of the American Dream and famous for his Autobiography . At the same time he is the founder of America’s first fire brigade, which came into being in Boston in 1736.

— at which point I simply must point to The Dollop podcast, which did an excellent rundown of the history of firefighting in the States. Amazing, crazy shit and totally worth a listen.

More from Heliweb:

Bradbury was obviously haunted by the idea of an atomic war: when he wrote his novel it was a few years ago only that the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, the novelist is somewhat optimistic, if not naive, concerning the possibility for mankind to survive such a catastrophe: this seems to be possible for the so-called book people in the end, who live just a few miles away from the city which is destroyed by atomic bombing: however, they do not care about their being exposed to nuclear radiation.

And I never got the sense at the end of the story that it was atomic bombing that went on; I just thought whatever enemy blew the crap out of the town did so for no particular reason beyond there being a war going on. Which reminds me, wasn’t it Nagasaki that wasn’t even the intended target, but it was too cloudy for the first choice hit? (“Lucky” Kokura.)

I felt like I had read it before, but most of it still took me by surprise. What I did remember reading was a piece by Bradbury from the Coda about schools wanting to include the book in the reading syllabus but also wanting it heavily censored. From Villanova University:

Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953 by Ballantine Books, immediately captured the reading public’s imagination. A shorter version in novella form, “The Fireman,” had appeared in 1951 in Galaxy, a science fiction magazine. The novel takes place in a society that bans books which, if discovered, are then burned by firemen. The protagonist, Montag, a fireman, progressively becomes a believer in the value of books.

Ironically, Fahrenheit 451, an indictment of censorship, was itself censored by its publisher for thirteen years before Bradbury himself became aware of that. In 1967, Ballantine published an expurgated version of the novel to be used in high schools. Such words as “hell,” “damn” and “abortion” were eliminated.

In a novel of approximately one hundred and fifty pages, seventy-five passages were modified. Two episodes were actually changed. In one episode, a drunken man is changed to a sick man. In another, cleaning fluff out of a human naval becomes, in the expurgated version, cleaning ears.

Thus, part of the reason we include it in our banned book reading lists. Also, for content in general and the idea that the ideas in a book may be dangerous to read and share with others and may cause mass hysteria or confusion or trouble.

Makes me want to re-read Margaret Atwood’s classic, A Handmaid’s Tale, which we did as a banned book title some years ago. That was similar, at least in terms of creating a world where people were actively discouraged from learning anything. Same I suppose for 1984 and Brave New World, though in different ways, all books we’ve previously tackled as a group, which is why those links lead to previous posts of mine. Plug plug plug…


Today’s Facebook Find – the Devil’s bible

May 30, 2016

I feel too lazy to find things to write about sometimes so I think I’ll be grabbing from my Facebook feed once in a while so at least I can post content here more often.

This one from The Beast:

While the technical name for the manuscript is Codex Gigas (literally “giant book” in Latin), it is better known as the ‘Devil’s Bible.’ It is currently housed in the National Library in Stockholm, but it was created in the twelfth century in Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic), possibly at the Benedictine monastery of Podlažice. It was transported to Sweden as part of the booty seized at the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ war in 1648. It would have taken two men to steal it, as the book is around a meter tall and weighs almost 165 pounds.

It got its devilish moniker thanks to a half-meter tall illustration of the devil within it.

According to legend, the enormous book was the work of a single monk who had been sentenced to death by inclusion (being walled up alive). In an effort to delay or forestall his execution, the monk promised to produce in a single night a manuscript that would bring glory to the monastery. The task, it is said, was too enormous, and he turned to Satan for help.

The article reports on further study of the bookmaking itself which suggested a single writer and likely a life’s work put into it — 25 years of penmanship, at least, if the Devil really didn’t help the monk finish it.

Onto other books —

Good Omens is a joint effort written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and in it is an angel character named Aziraphale who’s supposed to be on the lookout for the anti-Christ but sine nobody knows exactly when the apocalypse is going down (he thinks) he bides his time as a rare book collector and has an assortment of Infamous Bibles, handwritten works with transcribing errors that render the original verse meaningless or misunderstood. Some included in the book really exist, but the authors added a couple other ones to Aziraphale’s collection for the sake of levity (pg 50-51 in my paperback copy) including this one:

The book was commonly known as the Buggre Alle This Bible. The lengthy compositor’s error, if such it may be called, occurs in the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 48, verse 5…

5. Buggre Alle this for a Larke. I amme sick to mye Hart of typefettinge. Master Biltonn if no Gentelmann, and Master Scagges noe more than a tight fisted Southwark Knobbefticke. I telle you, onne day laike thif Ennywone withe half an oz. of Sense shoulde bee oute in the Sunneshaine, ande nott Stucke here alle the liuelong dai inn thif mowldey olde By-Our-Lady Workefhoppe.

Aziraphale winds up with a book of prophecy by accident and is stunned once he realizes he’s now in possession of the very rare, one of a kind accurate prediction for when the end of days is due.. turns out to be that weekend…

It’s a funny twist on The Omen. Not being into horror, I didn’t know that until recently and have never seen the film. I highly recommend the book.

Lois Lowry’s Giver series is a good read

May 26, 2016

I haven’t started Son yet, but I’ve read the first three.

Giver tells the story of Jonas, who lives in a dystopian future:

a futuristic society that has eliminated all pain, fear, war, and hatred. There is no prejudice, since everyone looks and acts basically the same, and there is very little competition. Everyone is unfailingly polite. The society has also eliminated choice: at age twelve every member of the community is assigned a job based on his or her abilities and interests.

To be their job for life. Jonas seemingly gets passed over during the sorting process however (no hat involved), but soon discovers that he’s to be given to the Giver to learn all he knows. It turns out the Giver can see memories of all the past givers (and then some) and transfers them to Jonas to help him learn the history his his people and a lot of other things, including glimpses into the future. Jonas turns out to be a gifted Giver, also, and can transfer these ideas to a toddler baby that his family has taken in while waiting to find out if another family will have room for the child. When Jonas finds out that his father plans to euthanize the toddler instead, Jonas runs away with him.

Which brings us to Gathering Blue, which doesn’t reference the first book at all but is still linked to it. In this one, Kyra has a bad leg but a gift for embroidery and is tasked with the job of fixing and adding to a beautifully embroidered robe that tells the history and future of her people, through a Singer who’ll wear it. A young friend of hers, Matt, finds out that she’d love to learn the secret of blue dye and knows where to find the plants that can create it. He brings both the blue cloth and her father home, a man she’d long thought was dead. Her father can’t stay, though, and she can’t go back to Village with him because she needs to use her embroidery gift to improve the future of her people.

Which brings us to Messenger, which I just finished. Matt has grown, now called Matty, and living with Kyra’s father, a blind man just known as Seer because he’s good as seeing more than what his eyes could have anyway. Leader appears to be the young toddler boy from the first book, as an indication that time has passed. Village had been a warm and welcoming place for so long but these days the people are less kind and willing to let newcomers in. Matt discovers he has a healing touch, which comes in handy later as he’s helping Kyra come live there with her father before the villagers block the village completely to newcomers. No spoilers as to how that goes.

And then Son, which I’ll have to report back on, as I haven’t started it yet so maybe things will get tied together a little more neatly.

It’s not all young adult books but I’ve noticed with some of them that they’re big on ideas but short on explanation and so far there’s no explanation given for why there are people with these amazing gifts and talents and what it is that makes it possible and how they can find each other over such distances. At least Star Wars has the Force and Harry Potter has the wizarding world of Hogwarts and the Hunger Games has a political system created to keep people downtrodden but hopeful.

I much prefer the Chrysalids in terms of an entire story getting told. We took the book in grade 8 in 1988 and it’s been a favourite of mine ever since. In John Wyndham’s book, also a dystopia, some of the kids have the ability to read minds, some of them at great distance, and soon realize that their weird religious society would kill them/banish them as mutants if they’re found out so they plan their escape. The youngest is the strongest and manages to reach out to people across the world in Sealand who put together a rescue mission. Again, low on details on the Sealand side of things, but since we just have to know they’re on their way, we don’t need much else. Also, we’ve seen the prophetic dreams of David who’s been dreaming of the wondrous place for years. We know it’s awesome.

I recall we had to write a conclusion/an extra chapter or two as a book project. I have dim recollections of writing 8 long chapters, but didn’t save any of it for posterity, alas. I sure loved writing as a kid. Don’t know why it didn’t grow into a career.

I thought someone later did a sequel to the book, but can’t recall more detail, nor find reference online. Perhaps I imagined it.

Can’t your god make a better miracle than poop stains in a diaper?

May 25, 2016

It was making headlines recently, a poop smear in the shape of a cross in a newborn baby’s diaper. Big poopie whoopie. Wonkette reports via Patheos that the mother, Katy Vasquez, took to Facebook to show the world this miraculous discovery.

This sign came in the oddest form. My babies poop. I went to change his diaper, and he pooped a cross. It might not be the prettiest sign, but he put it where he knew I’d see it. In my babies diaper. Lol. Hard to miss what’s right there in front of you.

If you can, or want to, feel free to share the message. That God is with us. And he gives us signs to let us know that things will be OK. It’s not always the prettiest sign, but he puts it where he knows we’ll see it. We’re good most of the time, but God is good all the time.

I’m sharing, all right — not because of gods, but because of belief in gods and how far gods appear to have fallen in terms of making themselves known to their believers. A poopy diaper? Really? Is that the best trick he’s got? Taking advantage of fabric and natural wrinkles and bodily functions?

While looking for this particular news story, my search also highlighted Yahoo Answers where the question is asked, Did Jesus poop on the cross? The “best” answer comes from someone going by the handle of Non-Believers are Dead Inside (spelling errors kept as found):

Well first of all the crucifixes are actaully censored they have Jesus wearing a loin cloth but actually He was naked as a form of public embarisment for the crucified prisoners. And yes they went to the bathroom hanging upon their crosses. In fact when a person is dying it’s not uncommon for that person to wet and soil themselves.
You make fun of things like this now but one day when you get old or when your dying your going to have accidents yourself. There is a reason why companies make diapers for adults.

No sources cited to verify any little factoids here regarding loincloths but I did find an abstract at the National Library of Medicine:

Death, usually after 6 hours–4 days, was due to multifactorial pathology: after-effects of compulsory scourging and maiming, haemorrhage and dehydration causing hypovolaemic shock and pain, but the most important factor was progressive asphyxia caused by impairment of respiratory movement. Resultant anoxaemia exaggerated hypovolaemic shock. Death was probably commonly precipitated by cardiac arrest, caused by vasovagal reflexes, initiated inter alia by severe anoxaemia, severe pain, body blows and breaking of the large bones. The attending Roman guards could only leave the site after the victim had died, and were known to precipitate death by means of deliberate fracturing of the tibia and/or fibula, spear stab wounds into the heart, sharp blows to the front of the chest, or a smoking fire built at the foot of the cross to asphyxiate the victim.

So, really, pooping yourself would have been the least of your worries.

Back to gods and miracles, though. I’ll have to invoke The Great God Om now. As a Terry Pratchett fan from way, way, way back, I highly recommend his book Small Gods.

The one true god of Omnia has gone through a bad time. Om transformed himself into a tortoise at some point in the past but, due to the lack of true believers now, he’s stuck in this low form. The loudest, most obnoxious religious folk don’t believe in him as much as they pretend they do so they don’t hear him call for help, or writhe in agony as he curses them. In fact, the only real believer he has left is Brutha, a pathetic novice at the temple who can barely hoe the lettuce but knows the books of Om upside down and sideways and Believes in him completely. Om must take Brutha on the path to becoming the next prophet, no matter how difficult a task it may be.

The Turtle Moves. And it should move into your bookshelves immediately.

All Hallows Read sounds like a fun idea

October 16, 2014

Give someone a scary book for Halloween is how this is being plugged. From the FAQ page:

All Hallow’s Read is a Hallowe’en tradition. It’s simply that in the week of Hallowe’en, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book.

Scholars have traced its origins as far back as this blog post.

Is this instead of Trick or Treat? Because I don’t want to get egged, and the kids around here are mean.

Not at all. Trick or Treat is Trick or Treat. This is All Hallow’s Read, a great excuse to give someone a book.

You can give out scary books or comics to trick or treaters on Hallowe’en if you want to, obviously. (We recommend looking the child in the eye and saying, “Take it. Read it. Trust me… around here… a book can be… safer than candy.” Then chuckling to yourself, as if remembering something unfortunate that happened to some of the local children only last year.)

I had a book as a kid called the Three Investigators and the Mystery of the Green Ghost. The cover itself spooked me so terribly that I not only stored the book in my closet, but stored it face down.

Eventually I read the story itself and discovered it was pretty good. I think I read most of the series in my youth.

I might have to check out a used bookstore in the area and see if I can find a few bucks worth of spooky tales to offer to kids who come by. Maybe they’ll wind up fearing the cover of one of them like I did…

Dear parents, your grade 9 kid should already know about sex

October 9, 2014

Another older article, but this time about books, censorship and schools. A common story.

Upset parents demanded this week that the Kings Canyon Unified School District remove a book intended for freshmen English classes that one father said is “inappropriate, amoral and disgusting.”

“All parents send their children to school with the expectation of trust, that they will be safe and protected from all forms of harm,” Jeff Claxton told school board members at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 23. “If you allow this title to be taught to our children, you will have failed.”

The only harm that comes from reading a book is the risk of a paper cut. Oh, right. Books are full of ideas, though, and these parents would rather their kids only get their ideas from parent approved sources, not bestselling fiction about adolescence. Were theirs so titillating they wouldn’t want their kids to know about those either? I offer a quote from the book, although I’m not given a page number.

“Secrets affect you more than you’d think. You lie to keep them hidden. You steer talk away from them. You worry someone’ll discover yours and tell the world. You think you are in charge of the secret, but isn’t it the secret who’s actually using you?”

Back to the article.

A crowd of about 50 people packed the small board room, and a majority of them came to protest the use of “Black Swan Green” at Reedley High.

The 2006 novel is the story of 13 months in the life of a 13-year-old boy in England in the early 1980s. In one passage of the 294-page book, the boy watches a couple have sex and describes what he sees.

I suppose they flipped through the book specifically to look for the word SEX so they could complain about it; they didn’t bother to read it. It’s won several awards. I’ve never heard of it, but I just work at a library; I don’t have time to read everything that’s in there. (Maybe I can suggest it to my Banned Book Club peeps when we finish Candide, though.)

The school district’s position has been that ninth- graders would read only two excerpts, not the entire book, and that neither of the excerpts deals with sex.

But, a parent has filed a complaint with the district about the book, which some say is pornographic in its depiction of the sex scene, blasphemous in several references to Jesus and profane because it contains the f-word and other vulgar language.

Like I said, probably flipped through to cherry pick the “naughty” bits.

The thing is, kids learn about sex and will learn it from their friends and all manner of media and internet and FSM knows what else. They’ll be swearing, they’ll be vulgar, they’ll be teenagers circa 2014 and just as idiotic and horny as kids in the 1980s were.

Another book, another place, another time: parents call police to stop free giving of challenged book in Meridian, Idaho. The publishers provided free copies of Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian after it was learned that the schools removed it from the reading list.

“There’s a paragraph right here where it has some sexual content,” Kissel said. “But if you look at it it’s a paragraph this big in a 230 page book.” That page reads ‘If God hadn’t wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn’t have given us thumbs.”

After about an hour of Kissel passing out books to teenagers, Meridian police showed up. They said they had been called out by someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.

Are you fucking kidding me? Why would teenagers need parental permission to read a book? I read The Devil’s Cat at mealtimes and my parents never batted an eye. Of course, they never even opened it up to see what kind of book it was but it had a cool hologram of a cat’s head turning into the devil on the cover. And lots of sex, death and demonic violence. Perfect for a 13 year old… I can’t say it corrupted me in any way. It was just a book I read a few times.

At my library, parents can have access to their childrens’ library cards to check what they’re borrowing, but only up to the age of 14 or so. Beyond that, the teens have the right to borrow whatever the hell they want on their cards and snoopy parents can’t do a thing to stop them but I’m sure they’ve tried over the years. (The only limits put on them have to do with movie and video game ratings, viewer laws the library has to uphold.)

I don’t think anyone spoke up about books we were assigned in school when I was a kid. Our teachers seemed to go out of their way to pick challenged materials. To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies, The Outsiders, The Chyrsalids.. that’s all I can think of off the top of my head but I think there were others.

That’s all I got. Thoughts?

Harry Potter never turned anyone into a witch

September 26, 2014

At least, not any kind that could works spells as described in the books. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s called “fiction”. Not good enough for this woman, Grace Ann, who’s taking it upon herself to eliminate all wizardry from the series and make Harry and company students at Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles for a fan fiction project.

“My little ones have been asking to read the Harry Potter books; and of course I’m happy for them to be reading; but I don’t want them turning into witches!” Grace Ann writes. “So I thought… why not make some slight changes so these books are family friendly?”

They were already family friendly with a grandiose Good Vs Evil storyline and good lessons to teach kids about the powers of friends, confidence, the value of working hard in school, the importance of family, and more. What lessons the books don’t teach is how to kill people with magical curses and phoenix feather/unicorn horn wands. Because those are INVENTIONS for a FICTIONAL world where magic like that really works. Not this world.

But, if she wants to waste her time rewriting someone else’s work instead of inventing her own quality Christian characters and launching a real Christ-friendly children’s series that might actually make her a bit of money if she markets it right, go for it. Nobody’s forced to read it, just like nobody is forced to read Harry Potter.

Fan fiction seems like a weird world. I dabbled a little in scribblers when I was a kid, before I knew there was such a thing as a fan fiction genre but never to the point where I’d post the (very tame) stuff I came up with – unlike the zany things people are willing to share from their minds nowadays. I’m actually kind of scared to go looking for any…