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:

2
“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

3
What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
4
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.

5
The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
6
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
ever returning on its course.
7
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.
8
All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

10
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.
11
No one remembers the former generations,
and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
by those who follow them.

Damn..

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…

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Tuesday snark rant – anonymous passive aggressive note leavers can go to hell

June 14, 2016

Random carelessness was all it was, as happens to everyone at some point. “Sent to wrong location” was all the sticky note needed as a .. well, note. But no, not this note. Not from this random ass person who didn’t even bother signing the damned thing.

Sent to wrong location. Watch what you’re doing please

And ended it with a smiley face instead of a name.

What a way to ruin a morning. Seriously.

Fuck you, random anonymous person. Fuck you and your hoity-toity shit don’t stink smiley face. If I were making screw ups every day that caused some real problems, then giving me shit like I’m five might be justified. But it was a whoops. It was a pile of magazines that I put in a bin that I hadn’t realized I hadn’t sorted out yet so one place got copies meant for other places.

Big flippy deal. Send them back with a note that doesn’t drip contempt, why don’t you? I could do the same snarky note to the poor Canada Post dude/dudette filling in for our regular dude this week. S/he has left several envelopes at our address intended for across the street and down the road. But will I? Hell no. I didn’t even steal the pen that was left behind today.

Additional reading (and a book we own): I Lick My Cheese which is a great photo gallery of roommates leaving notes for shitty roommates. Puts me in mind of university every time I read through it… some passive aggressive history on my side of things there.. but I was an only child. Hard to get used to having so many other people around in a dorm scenario..


Question of Atheist Scruples – student atheist edition

June 7, 2016

Nice!

Your 15-year-old refuses to stand and repeat the Lord’s Prayer at school. She says she is an atheist. Do you support her right to refuse?

Fuck yeah.

I’m reminded of a news article from earlier this year here in Saskatchewan regarding this very thing:

Dusti Hennenfent’s children go to Lindale Public Elementary School in Moose Jaw. The school plays the Lord’s Prayer over the PA system every morning.

Under the Education Act, Saskatchewan schools are allowed to have mandatory prayers for students, even in public schools.

Should prayers be included in classroom time in public schools?

“I’m concerned that it really doesn’t have respect for the individual beliefs of the students,” said Hennenfent. “I don’t understand the purpose of having religious worship for one religion at a public school.”

Exactly. If a public school can’t or won’t give equal time to acknowledge the religions of other students, it’s unfair. Better to remove the prayer rather than give preferential treatment to one group of kids over the rest. It’s not like those Christian kids can’t pray on their own without an official prompt. Nobody’s saying kids can’t pray in school. The problem comes when the teachers and principals and other people in authority positions force kids into praying and possibly/likely create an uncomfortable feeling for those of other faiths, or none.

“When I originally called the school and discussed this, at the very initial part of this process, I called the principal and she said that kids did have the option to leave the classroom [during the prayer],” said Hennenfent.

However, she said she was never made aware of that option, nor were her children. She also canvassed parents from seven different classrooms and learned that none of those children had been told that they had the option of leaving the classroom during the prayer.

The school has said that it will continue with the Lord’s Prayer because the majority of parents, about 90 per cent, are in favour of it.

I hate to counter with, “Well, a lot of people were in favour of slavery, too, but it’s still wrong.” It’s true, but it’s trite.

David Arnot, head of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, said Friday that he agrees with Hennenfent.

“What you can’t do is choose one religion over another,” Arnot said. “A dominant religion, like Christianity, doesn’t get preference to other religions.”

He added that, in his opinion, the section of the law that allows for prayers in schools is outdated (it dates to 1995) and would likely be re-written if challenged in court.

There was a similar story in 1999 – “Saskatchewan told to pull prayer from schools” – but since it was a Commission making a recommendation, no one was under any obligation to change anything then. There was an earlier one from 1996 regarding bible readings in public school in 1993 The Board of Education was very pro Bible then, as well as now, apparently.

I haven’t found any updates on the current story, unfortunately. I thought I did, but it turned out to be a different prayer problem – Saskatoon’s public prayers at civic events. “The city has since decided not to adopt a prayer policy at civic events.”

Whatever that winds up meaning.

Now, to throw two book suggestions in – The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide: Helping Secular Students Thrive and The Young Atheist’s Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life without God. Buy copies for your kids if you can or want to and then put in requests for your local library to own copies as well for those families that can’t afford to buy books but can still benefit from the information.


Christian metal band loses singer to atheism

May 28, 2016

I’m snagging this from United Humanists where they’ve posted the story of Shannon Low who’d been in a metalcore band called The Order of Elijah.

In his younger days he’d gone through the drug and sex problems that are common in the music industry. He’d been religiously keen in his youth, though, and soon found himself pulled back into the church life as a way to deal with these personal problems. That’s when the band started. That’s also when he started to think more deeply about what the Bible brings to the table in terms of ideas and themes but questioning Old Testament God’s use of violence was a no-no where his peers were concerned. “Jesus condoned parts of the OT, therefore it’s all okay” seemed to the rationale they were going with. Not Low.

Low credits Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion for helping him figure things out.

It answered so many questions that my Christian friends would literally get furious for me to even address,” Low stated. “Sometimes I would lose Christian friends by simply pondering certain questions. I would see these same Christians publicly calling my other friends ‘abominations’ for being gay.”

Low then asserted that if God’s message was so important, it shouldn’t be filled with “contradictions.”

“Why allow his message to be spread by fallible humans and sit by idly while falsehoods are spread in his name?” Low asked. “Why sentence [two-thirds] of the world to Hell for being born in the wrong culture? I’d think a perfect God would never need to correct His Word if our literal souls depended on it.”

It wasn’t an easy or quick transition from belief to unbelief, but he got there. Well done.


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.


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…


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…