I love books. I love how they feel in my hands; the weight, the texture of the pages, the sharp corners of the hardcover copies. I love how the words transport me to other places, other peoples’ lives, or how they inform and teach me.
I didn’t always love books though. I don’t remember reading a lot until about 6th grade. It was then I was introduced to Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion series. Being that I was horse crazy from head to toe, these books really spoke to me. The adventures that Alec and The Black went on were the dreams I could only imagine. Then in Junior High School I fell into The Lord of the Rings series. I can remember staying up half the night reading; finishing one book then immediately starting the next. My parents didn’t even scold me for being up late. I hope they thought, “if she’s reading, that’s a good thing.” In High School it was Ernest Hemingway and William Shakespeare. I still feel the christ-like struggles of the old fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea, “Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”, or the raw emotion yet cunning of Marc Antony in Julius Caesar:
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
In college, one course had us read Brave New World and 1984. From that moment I was hooked on dysopian literature. Feeling the fear of seeing what was written decades ago coming to pass in so many ways today is somewhat exhilarating. Think of it like in The Lion King when one hyena says the name “Mufasa” the other one shivers in fear then says “do it again”; that kind of exhilaration.
But hands down, the book that really puts a feeling of fearful exhilaration into me is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. This seminal text truly foresaw what we are going through today. Doesn’t this passage, spoken by Captain Beatty, reek of today’s society?
“School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosophies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts? “
While books themselves haven’t been outlawed, it seems like fewer and fewer people are reading. And if they are, it’s some mindless drivel that is passing as literature today (50 Shades of Gray comes to mind), and it isn’t even in the physical book form but on Kindles and the like. Again, the words of Captain Beatty are quite prophetic:
“The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with. no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happy all the time, you are allowed to read comics, the good old confessions, or trade journals.”
Then of course there are the wall size televisions that are everywhere, along with the “reality programs” that choke all creative thoughts out like blackberry bushes here in the Pacific Northwest. While we don’t have the floor to ceiling screens yet (I feel it is just a matter of a short time), the brain numbing programs, referred to as “the family” by Bradbury, are definitely there.
In the not so distant past, I had a driving need to own the books I read. I have a small but varied collection of books, but they are all boxed up because there is no room in our small cabin to display them. Since Poncho and I have been back in the Pacific Northwest, we have made very good use of our public libraries. Our small town local library doesn’t always have what we want, but it is part of a larger regional library network, which allows us to place on hold a book and it is delivered to our little local library. It has been of great benefit to us and is certainly one of the more important designations our property taxes go towards. Mr. Bradbury was a strong advocate of the public library system, and over the last two years I have become a fan of them too. Whether monetary funds or space restrictions might keep a person from purchasing a particular book, there is always the library there, ready to loan out a variety of texts. All we have to do is ask.
I don’t know if Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, or 1984 are even in any high school or college curriculum. They should be. What these men saw of the world and where it was headed truly boggles my mind. We are living in these worlds right now in many ways. Last year, when I was visiting family, one relative was all a titter about the book, 50 Shades of Gray. When it was disclosed what the book was about I replied that I had been reading BDSM books since I was fifteen. Back then they were called Historical Romances. This book was nothing new, but even a year later it is the talk. In response to the media and consumer frenzy that this book created I went out and bought Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Do the same. Go out and purchase or check out a classic book. Let’s not let the talking walls win.
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.”
I AM AN INTELLECTUAL! Are you?