Book Nook: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: On “Burning” Books

2c8fbe5e4422715ae29c6caef51be045“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

FAHRENHEIT 451 (1952) opens with this frightening line. Ray Bradbury writes of a dystopian future where books are burned along with the homes where they are hidden. Here, the firemen’s job is to start fires instead of putting them out. The masses are addicted to watching and discussing TV shows flashing from their “four-walled televisors” and are oblivious or indifferent regarding the imminent genesis of a nuclear war—about their world being “swept with confused alarms and struggle and flight / where ignorant armies clash by night” (Arnold, Dover Beach).

Hitherto, Bradbury’s prophetic legacy remains resonant—even almost solid and identical—in its unnerving resemblances and implications to this modern era of rapid technological progress but with the most of humanity still mindless of its repercussions. Take for example the irony of their ignorance: with tons of information bombarded and crammed into people’s heads, only a little time is now left for quiet introspection and skepticism. People are “[rushed] quickly to conclusions [their] minds [haven’t] time to protest” and thus learning only a little, which is “a dangerous thing” (Pope, An Essay on Criticism).

Due to the ubiquity of the Internet, the endless blabber flooding the social media, and the online articles abominably compressed for quick, shallow reading, elements essential to critical thinking—such as “the quality of information,” the patience and “the leisure to digest it,” and “the [carrying] out [of] actions based on the interaction of the previous two”—are inanely abandoned.

History does not lack but rather possess an almost plethoric memory that bears the perversities of obliterating books, libraries, and whole nations. During the Nazi regime, a bonfire for thousands of books was set in the streets of Berlin, Germany. “Where one burns books, one will soon burn people” (Heine). The first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang also commanded the rigorous abolition of the all chronicles written before his reign and the burying of their scholars because he wanted history to begin with him. The ancient library of Alexandria, a house of incalculable scrolls, suffered from fires throughout the centuries.

Destroying books is the prime symbol of censorship and oppression of thought. But “you don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture,” says Bradbury. “Just get people to stop reading them.” In Fahrenheit 451, we must note that before the government decreed the burning of books, it was the public who first turned away from reading.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: January 18, 2016)

On Constant Book Circulation


We should read to give our souls a chance to luxuriate.
Henry Miller

 

THE ARGENTINE WRITER Jorge Luis Borges, who is also a hedonistic reader, has “always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” (In his short story “The Library of Babel,” Borges conceives the universe as an infinite Library.)

According to Henry Miller, an expatriate American writer whose libertine spirit broke literary conventions, “a book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation… When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Russian novelist immortalized for his unflinching analysis of the human psyche, “[viewed reading as] an important occupation.”

For someone like me who doesn’t own an “infinite library” and who has been unfortunately traumatized after listing the unreturned books my friends borrowed for too long a time that it’s almost a Herculean task to borrow them back, the idea of “my books spending leisure time with [other people]” has become repulsive. Well, that’s an obvious exaggeration; however, it gets my point across clearly.

So in lieu of my neurosis and contempt for the business of lending books, I figured that the occupation of writing succinct book reviews and recommendations suffices as a practice of constant book circulation:

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Borges’s Ficciones (1962) is an erudite collection of short fictions written by gargantuan hands of imagination: a literal endless labyrinth of books, an obscure group of geniuses conceiving a whole universe, an author who attempts to “rewrite” Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote word for word, a dreamer who was dreamt in return, a paraplegic whose perfect memory was a “long metaphor for insomnia,” an imaginary argument posing that history imitates literature, a scholarly commentary on an nonexistent book, and more stories that blur the distinction between fact and fiction.

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Tropic of Cancer (1934), Miller’s notorious autobiographical novel, was banned for thirty years following its publication due to its explicit language and themes—thus immediately emerging as a cult figure. Miller, a penniless and starving young writer, recounts the joy, freedom, and misery of his Bohemian life in the seedy depths of Paris. His surrealistic prose sketches, existential reflections, social criticisms, and unrestrained stream of digressions and free associations introduced a new form of genre where memoir and fiction were intertwined into one rope. Miller fought against censorship and defended the freedom to read. Tropic of Cancer is one of the books responsible for the “free speech that we now take for granted in literature.”

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Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866)—a masterpiece and antecedent of psychologically driven novels—is about a delirious, intelligent young man whose logic concluded into the cold-blooded murder of an old, abusive landlady, with him vindicating that he is obligated and permitted to transgress from human laws for the greater good.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page: January 3, 2016)

 

Book Nook: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

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“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

J. D. SALINGER’S magnum opus, The Catcher in the Rye (1951), was a landmark novel in the 20th-century American literature and was listed as one of the best English-language novels of the century. Hailed as that “rare miracle of fiction…[where] a human being has been created out of ink, paper, and the imagination,” this mock-autobiographical story—narrated by a cynical, sardonic, cuss-tongued, yet sensitive and grieving seventeen-year-old Holden Caulfield as he spends his days in a mental asylum—has captivated the imagination of many and sold more than 60 million copies, and continues to sell 250 thousand copies a year.

In the vernacular of his time (the 1940s), which Salinger delivered in an incredible capture of language, Holden tells us “about this madman stuff that happened to [him] around last Christmas just before [he] got pretty run-down” when he went to New York the night following his expulsion from Pency Prep.

The Catcher in the Rye is the mouthpiece of Holden’s rebellion—the launch of his antipathies toward the “phoniness” of adulthood. In the character of Holden, Salinger molded an archetype of “teenage angst and alienation,” almost like a younger-sibling incarnate of the disturbed unnamed narrator in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground.

(Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, said, “Because Lennon was a phony.” His response letter composed only of one line: “Read The Catcher in the Rye.”)

World War II created Salinger: the soldier was “the ghost in the machine of all the stories.” Salinger carried chapters of The Catcher in the Rye to help him survive and wrote amid the war. The pages landed on the shores of D-Day, hid in the trenches, and witnessed the atrocities of the concentration camps, all of which were funneled into the novel.

Due to unwanted fame, Salinger went reclusive, and the public invaded him throughout his life.

Though remaining unpublished from 1965 until his death in 2010, he wrote prolifically. In the bunker where he installed himself was a safe full of manuscripts; this was said to contain the complete chronicles of the Caulfield and Glass families, other novels, short stories, and a Vedanta manual. Claims hold that Salinger “left instructions authorizing a specific timetable” that these works be published between 2015 and 2020.

Despite having only a few visible works in his oeuvre, Salinger was a literary giant as The Catcher in the Rye resonates through generations of teenagers caught between childhood and adulthood.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: December 13, 2015)

Book Nook: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

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I wanted to destroy something beautiful I’d never have. Burn the Amazon rain forests. Pump chlorofluorocarbons straight up to gobble the ozone. Open the dump valves on supertankers and uncap offshore oil wells. I wanted to kill all the fish I couldn’t afford to eat, and smother the French beaches I’d never see.

I wanted the whole world to hit bottom.

Pounding that kid, I really wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every whale or dolphin that gave up and ran itself aground.

UPON WINNING the Oregon Book Award for best novel and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, Chuck Palahniuk’s visionary debut novel, Fight Club, was shot to the veins of mainstream fiction. Following the success of its 1999 film adaptation directed by David Fincher, Fight Club gained cult classic status and has become a disturbingly accurate interpretation of our modern world.

The unnamed male narrator, suffering from a long streak of insomnia, finds cure by attending cancer support groups. But when Marla Singer—a sallow, heavy-smoking nihilist—enters the evening meetings and mirrors his own fraud, his insomnia returns, so he confronts Singer to split schedules with him.

On the night when his condominium mysteriously blows up, he calls Tyler Durden, whom he had previously met—under strange circumstances—on a beach. They agree to meet at a bar, where, after drinking, Durden asks him a favor, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

The narrator swings the punch that cradled Fight Club into the world. Shortly, a multitude of men with white-collar jobs join them. Every weekend, in the parking lots and basements of bars, they hold these late-hour no-holds-barred-and-barefisted fights that “go on as long as they have to.”

These one-on-one melees curiously evoke psychotherapeutic effects—resembling that of enlightenment—within the men: they are reborn from their entombed lives.

Fight Club soon evolves into Project Mayhem, an anarchic army led by Durden, who seeks to fulfill his visions of global enlightenment through organized chaos, public unrest, and demolition.

Fight Club is a social satire on the dehumanizing effects of consumerism: alienation brought by chronic materialism, illusory comforts, overindulgence, and career and lifestyle obsessions fueled by advertising. “The modern world is for business—not for the people,” as what the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung said.

“It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” Skillfully fusing Zen elements with Durden’s extremist ideologies, Palahniuk has written a provocative expression of metaphysical rebellion. The collective revolt against the existential vacuum is Durden’s nucleus and what draws men toward him.

Fight Club’s noir ambience and the solid economy of its prose are reminiscent of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, but with the sharp nonlinear narration executing its plot; also inheriting Kurt Vonnegut’s dark humor, Chuck Palahniuk is among today’s distinct and intriguing voices.

(Published on Sunstar Cebu ’ZUP Page Book Nook: December 27, 2015)