Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sharp Words for Mr. Bradbury

         I finished Fahrenheit 451 and, experiencing that pleasantly sad, familiar feeling of having finished an excellent book, I was pleased to find an Afterword and a Coda still remained for my reading pleasure. But now instead of praise, I must express my disagreement in regards to Bradbury's Coda. In it Bradbury writes:

“About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But, she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?”

            He continues to give other examples of minority groups asking him to rewrite or drop his works, and then jumps to an entirely different topic, saying:
“Some five years back, the editors of yet another anthology for school readers put together a volume with some 400 (count ‘em) short stories in it. How do you cram 400 short stories by Twain, Irving, Poe, Maupassant and Bierce into one book?

Every story, slenderized, starved, bluepencilled, leeched and bled white, resembled every other story. Twain read like Poe read like Shakespeare read like Dostoevsky read like—in the finale—Edgar Guest. Every word of more than three syllables had been razored. Every image that demanded so much as one instant’s attention—shot dead.
Do you begin to get the damned and incredible picture? … The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”
            And then he tells us that, “Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books first were burned by minorities.” He ends with scolding the outspoken minorities by saying that his work belongs to him, and, “All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It’s my game. I hit, I pitch, I catch. At sunset I’ve won or lost. At sunrise, I’m out again, giving it the old try. And no one can help me. Not even you.”
            This sums up his coda. I feel it was necessary to provide the above text in order to refute it without distorting any of his ideas as they were presented.
            Firstly, the coda addresses two separate issues: Minorities asking him to change his work, and editors watering down books. These issues are often mutually exclusive, but in Bradbury’s mind they appear to be fused.

              He depicts the social activists and the sale-hungry editors as non-thinkers, the same entities with identical goals. And what could be further from the truth! How weary it makes me, this constant assumption that if you care about social justice and equity you must be sensitive, hysterical, petty, foul – an idiot. Someone whose ideas can be discarded. For the social activist is the antitheses of the non-thinker.
            The non-thinkers are the masses, those who passively consume and never stop to consider, “What are the consequences of my actions? How am I molding society by choosing this particular piece of media to digest? How is this book, this movie, this word, these clothes, changing the world? Am I encouraging the spread of an idea that, when I think about it, I don’t support?” Social activists are the ones who think complexly about what is in front of them, analyze it and ruminate on its broader implications.
            I’m disappointed that this revered writer would accept the portrayal of the social activist as the non-thinker. It only gives us all an excuse to not listen when activists speak. We accuse them of destroying Art and Freedom when they are the liberators of society.
            This blog is about me thinking about books. And yet the origins of me thinking cannot be found in books, but rather in feminism. It was feminism that got me thinking critically, and to suggest that I am a non-thinker because I am a feminist is absurd.
            In Fahrenheit 451, Montag says to his wife Mildred: “Let you alone! ... We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
            Ah! Being really bothered about something is an action exulted by Montag, and one of the main points Bradbury addresses in his most famous book. But at the end of the book, he berates those who have become really bothered by him. The zenith of hypocrisy lies between the covers of Fahrenheit 451.
            And now I come to my point. It is okay to read books and think, “This writing is swell! But why are there only white, heterosexual males?” It is always okay to think critically about inequality – yes, even when the inequality is found in art and words. It is okay to wonder why there aren’t any women in the Martian Chronicles.
            Some writers shrink away from the responsibility of representing the world in a complex, diverse manner. And when suggested they leave their comfort zones and, say, change the genitalia or sexual preference of one of their characters, they yell in their coda, “Censorship! My art! No touching!”
            It’s not censorship. It’s critical thinking.
            And is a writer’s work a writer’s work? Which is to say, do Bradbury’s books belong only to Bradbury? I don’t think so, and I don’t think him insisting they do makes it any more true. Once an author agrees to publish and print their work, they’re giving a piece of it to each and every reader. Not legally, obviously, but I speak not of copyright laws. They’re giving the reader permission to analyze and judge the words before them. When I read a novel, its author is granting me the right to think anything I want about that novel.
            So your art is not your art – it’s your art, and also the art of your consumers. Because of this, writers and artists have a responsibility to inject social complexity into their work. When writers are writing only about white, heterosexual males, regardless the quality of their prose, I will raise my eyebrows and, yes – I will say they are not doing their job.
            But some of my favorite books do lack diversity. Fahrenheit 451, for example. Also Sherlock Holmes, many beloved plays of Shakespeare, almost any story I’ve read by Borges, etc. So clearly, the quality of a work does not hinge solely upon its representation of social complexity. But why not?
            Because as a reader, I am highly capable. When put in the hands of a good writer, my levels of empathy soar. This is because none of us, feminists or activists or passive consumers though we may be, identify only as women, or gays, or blacks. Everyone primarily identifies themselves as people. I am a person. Therefore, if I am reading about a person, I see myself in the pages.
            (If you are thinking about books narrated by animals or aliens, then you can argue that they were written by people, or say that we identify primarily as organisms.)
            To restate: Part of a writer’s job is to reflect social complexity in their work. If the writer fails, but his/her words are of quality, the reader can pick up the slack. And finally, it is okay to get really bothered about books, even if those books are by Ray Bradbury.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fahrenheit 451: Clarisse - One of Those People

 One of the major shortcomings of many dystopian novels is that the hero is seldom given a good reason to be as strange and insightful and revolutionary as they are. Why, in a society of conformists, would this person decide to stand out? And why do they often do so when they're middle-aged, while there are no reports of them having challenged the system during their crucial teenage years? I've read excellent dystopian novels that have left me with a hollow sense of dissatisfaction, and the unanswered question of Why?

Fahrenheit 451 is different. Fahrenheit 451 has Clarisse McClellan.

I was surprised by how little 'stage time' Clarisse was given in the novel. She pops in, has her say, and then leaves forever. Her only purpose in the story was to wake Guy Montag up and say, "Hey! You're wrong! Look at my shocking ideals!" And it worked. It worked wonderfully. She was so poignantly eccentric, so endearingly odd. Even for me, in my non-dystopian society, she was refreshing. I understand why her words resonated with Montag.

There are certain people in this world - this world, not just Bradbury's - that touch us. We meet them briefly, know them barely, and yet their words or quirks or smiles stay with us forever. Sometimes they present an idea to us that is so foreign, so different from anything we've ever considered, that the mere shock value of their thoughts is enough to make the memory of them stick.

In real life, of course, these wonderful people have families and friends and occupations and lives of their own, that are just as complex and important as yours, and their sole purpose is not to change you in some essential way. And yet that's the role they fill, for you, and for you that's more than enough. So cheers to Clarisse, and every person like Clarisse.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bad English Classes Make You Sick

^This is a book that is Good and Nice.

A recent quirk of mine is that I love books that have notes in the margins. Steph Bowe, a YA author, has this to say about margin notes:

"I love it when you borrow a book from the library for school and all the relevant passages have already been underlined, all the pages you’re meant to read are dog-eared, and there are notes in the margins that match the questions you’re meant to answer.

It’s like someone knew you were going to pick it up. It’s like we’re all connected a little bit, if it’s only through notes in the margins of library books, notes and lines that shouldn’t be there, that librarians forbid, but are." (from
this post.)

I bought a used copy of Fahrenheit 451. It was definitely owned by another high school student, once. And, when I look at the aimless, highly annoying pencil scribbles on the front cover, I sense that this high school student didn't want to read Fahrenheit 451.

There are notes in the margins, though. As strange as it is to say, they are the wrong notes. These margin notes make me angry.

There are specific paragraphs with specific words underlined, and in the margins it says things like, "alliteration" and "parallel structure" and "the phoenix is an analogy for man" and I can just imagine this bored, straight-A student reading and hating this wonderful novel, and scribbling her English teacher's words verbatim onto its pages, and opening the book in the evenings to get to her notes, and trying to memorize key words and important bits so that she can regurgitate them on a test. And then she gets an A, and I hate that, I hate that A more than anything, and I hate my copy of Fahrenheit 451.

I don't hate her. The girl, I mean, or maybe it was a boy. I understand why Bradbury's poesy did not touch her. The pressure to regurgitate words verbatim tends to stress people, and stress makes us immune to beauty.

It's not always like this, in English class. English class is the reason why I love Shakespeare and Harper Lee and Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. It's specific teachers, teachers I've had, who insist upon making students not learn and appreciate, but rather vomit all over lined sheets of paper.

Notes in the margins are nice, but not if they've been written by fatigued, careless, sloppy readers whose souls are withering due to the constant need to burp out, "Alliteration!"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Invitation to a Beheading: Nabokov's Negation of Time

          I’m currently reading Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov. The summary, from Amazon:

Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude." an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail … “

          When I was a kid I always envisioned writing novels like this one. I loved making short stories in which characters thought and said and did absurd things. I delighted in the strange, and not much has changed.
       Nabokov is the ideal writer for dreamlike stories. His characters (I’ve read The Defense and Lolita) have never felt real to me – they’re the fictional characters fictional characters would write about. I never take time to try and relate to them; I spend most of my time being envious of his prose, and the rest appreciating it.
On page 52 of my Vintage International copy:
          “Once, when I was a child, on a distant school excursion, when I had got separated from the others – although I may have dreamt it – I found myself, under the sultry sun of midday, in a drowsy little town, so drowsy that when a man who had been dozing on a beach beneath a bright white-washed wall at last got up to help me find my way, his blue shadow on the wall did not immediately follow him. Oh, I know, I know, there must have been some oversight, on my part, and the shadow did not linger at all, but simply, shall we say, it caught on the wall’s unevenness…but here is what I want to express: between his movement and the movement of the laggard shadow – that second, that syncope – that is the rare kind of time in which I live – the pause, the hiatus, when the heart is like a feather…”
          This is, for me, exemplary of the dreamlike tone of the book.

          I can nearly guarantee Nabokov had a lot of fun while writing. He seems so eager, so singularly devoted to the particular bit of prose currently under my attention. His enthusiasm seeps through the ink on the page and, perhaps as a result, his writing does not pause to consider practicalities. 

          I write every day, and I know my style, whether it’s good or bad. If I were Nabokov in the above paragraph, I would feel compelled to give the reader a short “intro paragraph” when I jumped into that flashback. I would describe a definitive point in time, a clearly-depicted geographical location, and then delve into the main point of the flashback (being the shadow on the wall, and how it relates to the narrator’s “rare kind of time”). Nabokov does both things at once. The details are given precisely when they are needed, and it results in a bizarre negation of time. 

          Most authors present a series of facts that grow from one another, connected ideas, facets that make up a scene, the novel’s first sentence being their common ancestor. Nabokov spouts out myriad contingencies, which exuberantly dance along the page, not obligated by any filial connection with previous ideas. Not to say he is random. It’s more like he’s discarded the most basic rules of English composition, or more likely he never absorbed them, since English was his second language (…Amazingly. Yes. I am jealous.).

          This negation of time results in what I’m going to call the “Slideshow Effect.” Reading is often described as watching a movie in one’s head, but with Nabokov it’s more like observing a slideshow of urbane photographs – big pictures are presented and make up a story in the long run, but they don’t exactly flow into one another. They pop out.

          Images flickering through my head when I read the above paragraph: ‘A child…Oh, now the child’s on a fieldtrip. Oh – now he’s alone. Is he dreaming? Maybe, maybe not. Wait, now there’s a town involved. And now there’s a man – this man is on a beach – this man is on a beach beneath a wall – how is there a wall on a beach?’ There’s usually at least one “photograph” of Nabokov’s that doesn’t fit in my head perfectly, like the wall in this case, but that’s part of his charm. I don’t want to fully understand it. I want the story to skim the tips of my outstretched fingers, leave specific details only partly accessible.

          I hope this makes sense, because I think it’s so wonderful and peculiar. Where one writer would say, “Once I was in a town on a school fieldtrip, and I became lost,” Nabokov gives things in the wrong order. “Pop: Child! Pop! Pop! Fieldtrip! Lost! Oh, a town! No, no – beach! Wall! Bam! Pow!” (What am I doing?)

          All of this, of course, ignores the aesthetic picture of the shadow that pauses on the wall. If this was an actual photograph it would terrify me, and probably make it into one of those Weird New Jersey books. This is what I meant earlier about Nabokov’s characters not seeming real to me. He never tries to convince the reader for a moment that anything in his world is real. It’s all a hyperbolic reflection of our world. I imagine he started by observing our world and stealing the quirks of people and nature, and then he painted them much prettier than they actually were. In this way Nabokov’s work is the truest work, and he is the most honest writer, because there is not a moment where even a bit of me is going to think his work is real. If writers are liars, Nabokov is the exception.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Essays in Love: The Emotional Spectrum

            A friend suggested I read Alain de Botton’s Essays in Love, and I’m in the process of doing so now. When I began reading, I assumed it was nonfiction, but Essays in Love is actually a mix of nonfiction and fiction. It spans over the course of a single affair and moves between a philosophical perspective on love and the actual act, and progression, of being in love.

            Obviously, it has me thinking about love.

            I rarely think of love as it relates to myself. More often I am mentally critiquing the entire world for their childish idealization of a single emotion, and questioning why love is so overrated while other emotional experiences –  such as depression, grief, and whatever you would call that feeling you get when you’re in the middle of laughing –  are so rarely discussed in the positive, celebratory light that they deserve.

            I have recently experienced a new emotion. Allow me to explain:

            Three years ago, my grandmother died. She was very old, the cause of her death was very common, and we had been very close. Directly after her death, I was somewhat surprised to find that I regarded her new lack of life with little more than apathy. I stood by strictly as an observer when my family grieved her loss. During this time, I solaced myself by deciding that I was simply more rational than most people. Death is inevitable, she lived a great life – why grieve something when you knew it was going to happen, and when it happened in the most ideal way possible?

            In short, I thought I had skipped the stages of grief and dashed right to ‘acceptance.’

            Roughly two weeks ago, I was in bed, thinking whatever thoughts one thinks before sleep, when a wave of emotion overwhelmed me. I cannot recall why I had the initial thought of my grandmother, or what had stirred this thought to emergence – only that for three years I had not missed her, and suddenly I was a sobbing mess, alone in a dark room, panicking because I could not bring a clear image of her face into my mind. A realization so obvious it surely cannot be accurately coined a realization, and yet that’s what it was, dawned on me:

            She is never coming back. No matter how much time passes, or how often I think of her, she will not come back.

            I had been in denial, unable to grieve because my subconscious hadn’t accepted that she was gone, for three years.

            One part of me was experiencing the act of mourning for the first time. This part was consumed in the inescapable grief, a prisoner shackled to the moment. Another part of me, however, watched as an intrigued observer, more interested in this previously-unfelt emotion than anything else. So this is grief, the part thought excitedly, and took note.

            Afterwards, I pondered over the dual-emotional state that new experiences induce. There is the new emotion one experiences, and also the excitement felt simply because one is feeling something new. Sometimes, but not always, the excitement is contradictory to the new emotion, and yet both can lurk simultaneously in the same vessel. Fascinating.

            It made me think of the usefulness of all emotions. With experience (which comes with time/age), one’s emotional spectrum broadens. This is something for all of us to look forward to, namely for two reasons: 1. Experiencing new things is neat and fun. 2. Feeling new emotions allows us to connect with more people, almost in the way learning a new language does. For example, I have now felt grief, so I can relate to grievers in a way I previously could not.

            Perhaps this explains the egocentrism of children: Their emotional spectrums are more limited than ours, so they are unable to be empathetic. For example, they do not know what it feels like to be late for work, or to fail a test, or to hold the hand of a romantic partner, so they are unable to fully connect with a person who does.

            Now let’s go back to love.

            I have never experienced romantic love – the act of being in love, as it has been described to me. I cannot decide if this is because people have idealized love so much that it is impossible to obtain, because that which has been described to me does not actually exist. There’s also the fact that there’s no one around to fall in love with, really, and the fact that I find so many other things vastly more interesting and worthy of my time. Why settle for love when you can hungrily pursue the entirety of the emotional spectrum?

            And yet, there is obviously some part of me that is curious, or else I would not be writing this. I am not interested in being in love, and yet whenever ‘love’ is mentioned I am filled with yearning. Yearning for what, precisely?

            There was a scene in Essays in Love in which the narrator and the woman he loves go out to dinner, and talk. This is what filled me with yearning.

            I once read about a study in which it was found that people enjoy talking to strangers more than they do with their long time lovers, and it was decided that this is because people put more effort into talking with strangers than they do with those they are familiar and comfortable with. In other words, good conversations are produced by people who are in a state of arousal, or “on edge.”

            So I would like to meet a new person and speak to them. But why should we be in love? Because when you are in love, the oddities of the other person seem endlessly seductive (also mentioned in Essays in Love). You “find perfection in everything [they] utter.” This sounds like a great way to have a conversation! I love the thought of loving someone else, and having them love me, and consequently we find everything the other person is saying infinitely interesting, and we are sitting opposite each other in a restaurant, and we a discussing Life and Death and God and Beauty, and we are leaning towards each other because we wish to suck the words right from the other’s lips, because we feel uncannily connected, because we are experiencing something utterly transcendental in nature…

            I am not sure if I want to be in love, or if I just want to converse, and I am not sure if these two things are the same, or if the latter is not an intrinsic facet of the former. But with new experiences I will find out. And my emotional spectrum with broaden because of it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On Enjoying Walden Two

       I read a couple of blog reviews on Walden Two, because I’m afraid I’m a horrible blogger and thought they might steer me in the right direction. To my surprise, all of the reviews I found were negative.

                There seemed to be three main reasons for not liking it.

1.       The book was just a medium through which B.F. Skinner expressed his views on behavioral psychology. It was too technical, and should have been an academic paper.

                I understand this point of view, but here is my issue with academic papers: They stay within academia. Had B.F. Skinner made Walden Two a paper instead of a novel, it probably would have been buried under a pile of other, more recent papers on behavioral psychology - forgotten to the world. And more importantly, it would have never reached the general public.

                All of the reviewers agreed that even if they thought Walden Two sucked, Skinner’s views were still interesting. Becoming aware of interesting ideas is an excellent reason to read a book.

                And aren’t most books mediums through which writers express their views? Skinner was certainly more direct than most writers, but this unashamed candidness was new, not unlikable.

                2. Creating an actual Walden Two isn’t possible because X, Y, and Z.

                Walden Two isn’t possible. Neither is the complete totalitarianism in 1984, or Hogwarts in Harry Potter. It’s fiction. This argument probably comes up with Walden Two, and not with my examples, because Skinner’s novel did sound so much like a debate in which his ideas ultimately triumphed. Some readers may be peeved by the unfairness of this - it's like playing a chess game with yourself and celebrating when you win. But does it matter? Even if Walden Two isn’t possible, the book is still useful for pointing out flaws in our society and providing a refreshing point of view.
                Reason 3: Too much bantering.
                Okay. This one I must agree with.

                I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable. Certain lines made me crack up, and I developed a particularly odd crush on the haughty protagonist and creator of Walden Two, Frazier. Because some 90% of the text was dedicated to discussing the community in minute detail, it seemed unusually realistic; I felt very much a part of it. Also, it's triggered an interest in political philosophy. More on this later.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walden Two: Art of the Plotless Novel

             Walden Two has become one of my favorite books. It’s pretty much a long conversation, mainly between three charming people, and it describes days where they do nothing but eat breakfast and look at art and argue incessantly and wash windows. It’s excessively pleasant. I like this “plotless novel” thing. I bet Harry Potter would have been more fun if there was no Voldemort, and it was just about a boy hanging out in a castle with his friends.

                It’s a very stress-free experience. I’m not reading to get to an ultimate “point.” I’m reading because it’s nice. I wish life was as plotless and pleasant as Walden Two. In fact, I wish the entire world had more things in common with Walden Two. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Walden Two: First Thoughts

                I’m reading Walden Two. I wasn’t planning to compare Walden Two to Brave New World, but that was before I came across this snippet:

                “… Once in a while we manipulate a preference, if some job seems to be avoided without cause.”
              “I suppose you put phonographs in your dormitories which repeat ‘I like to work in sewers. Sewers are lots of fun,’” said Castle.
                “No, Walden Two isn’t that kind of brave new world,” said Frazier.

                So yeah. Skinner obviously intended that to be a sign.
                When I read Brave New World, I praised Huxley for being so creative in his introduction of a foreign society. He showed us a new world by giving us a tour of it. Skinner does the same with Walden Two.
                 Frazier, the creator of the utopia, is showing the narrator and his companions around the community, and has been for about 50 pages. I would not doubt that Skinner was inspired by Huxley’s tactics; literature is a cyclic creature. Inspired things become inspirations, ideas are recycled over millenniums and centuries and decades.
               Ah, literature. Muses inspired by muses.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Horror and Consent

Last night I clicked on a random Youtube link that I thought was going to be a music video. All was well until – halfway through the video – my laptop speakers emitted a scream and a gruesome picture popped up on my screen. I jumped out of my seat like the coward I am.

Har har har. Very funny prank.
After a few minutes, though, I was left feeling …sad. I had been all snug in a sweater and earmuffs, and that video robbed me of my serenity. It killed the Zen.
It got me thinking about different types of horror. Why is it I like reading H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe and R.L. Stine, etc., but I can’t stand when things pop out and give me a cheap scare? I realized that it’s a matter of consent.

Before I start Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Lovecraft’s short story The Nameless City each Halloween, I am preparing myself for something spooky. My mind dips in and out of the words at will, embracing the mood the stories induce. I control how far I’m willing to submerge myself, how much of my emotions I’m willing to invest. If a horror story ever goes too far – like some of Edogawa Rampo’s stuff, for me – then I can stop. Close the book. For as long as I am reading, the writer has my full consent to scare me.  I actively choose to mull over their words and conjure dark images in my mind; with the aid of those words, I create my own demons.

When it comes to movies or, with my example, stupid Youtube videos, scariness relies upon shock tactics and visual aids. And with shock tactics, there’s not enough time for consent. Where literature is scary because it puts your own mind in control, and then attempts to inspire the darkest parts of your inner self, this is scary because it makes you feel powerless.

I am not putting down scary movies or anything else. I’m saying that this is why I love horrific literature. It’s more tasteful, to me. And it allows me to feel all Zen in a sweater and earmuffs while also being terrified that misanthropic gods are hiding in my shower or Dracula is climbing up to my bedroom window.

With that said, I will soon be reading The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes, both by Ray Bradbury. The latter was suggested during my giveaway. Happy almost-Halloween!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Running into October

I open my door. My bare arms are exposed to the cool autumn air. It's the coolness, and not the calendar, that makes me aware of the passing of time.

I am struck with a sudden euphoria: It is autumn; the air is clean and crisp; pumpkins abound. The October spirit takes me, and I go for a run.

Running is a form of worship. If it's not, I've made it one. Running is my only form of worship to every god or goddess or kami of nature out there. Thank you, deities! Thank you, thank you, for the wind against my face and the pounding of my soles against the earth and the sky above my head!

In my small town no one is out past 9 and as I walk my ruminations are interrupted by the sounds of televisions and the flickering screens that shine through the shades of the neighborhood windows. It would be okay if my thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of families conversing with one another. My thoughts aren't as important as familial interactions. But it's always television. I feel like I'm Leonard Mead from Bradbury's The Pedestrian*, and I even get that dystopia feeling, where I start to imagine that the government is watching me and thinking me queer.

When I run, I feel rebellious and free. Dogs bark to the clapping sound of my sneakers - I never claimed to be graceful - and I send whole blocks aflutter with the distress of the canines. Porch lights inevitably go on and there's always that one loud, male voice that tells the dog to shut up, or - my favorite - shouts, "WHAT IS IT, SPARKY? WHAT IS IT?" and I think, "It's me! It's me! I'm alive and tangible and you're acknowledging me! and isn't it so good to be alive?" And I feel real sneaky, because no one knows I'm there or that I'm thinking that thought. I run on.

In Japanese Shintoism, shinpu or divine winds mark the comings and goings of kami, gods or forces of nature. When I run, all wind is divine wind and the kami can be felt everywhere.

Happy autumn, everyone. If you haven't, consider reading Bradbury's excellent short story, The Pedestrian. A PDF version of it can be found here:

Ray Bradbury and Concise Writing

So your faithful blogger has not picked up the Inferno or La Vita Nuova since she last wrote about it. She gives you no apologies, because she thinks people apologize too often on the Internet.

And now, on the greatness that is Ray Bradbury:

There's nothing I like more than terse writing. All unnecessary words have been snipped away; none of the sentences are weighed down by excessive verbage. Whole works remain lean and smooth. Precise writing reveals lucid thinking from a writer, and in this way Ray Bradbury is, if I may say so, a most enlightened writer. He must think very lucidly indeed to write an opening sentence like this:

One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets.

One sentence, and about seven stellar images flash across my mind. Whew. And the next sentence:

And then a long wave of warmth crossed the small town.

Taken out of context, that sentence may not seem so nifty. But notice its contrast with the length of the first sentence; consider that Ray Bradbury, despite the opening paragraph only being one sentence, felt compelled to begin a new paragraph; appreciate the 'And then' beginning that immediately gives the sentence a definitive tone. Now the sentence is nifty.

Needless to say, I'm enjoying The Martian Chronicles immensely. I'll have more thoughts later, but I wanted to update. I like placing myself in the shoes of an admirable writer, trying to figure out why they phrased their ideas as they did. I like considering details of written works and acknowledging that each detail is the result of a conscious decision from the writer. Ray Bradbury started that second paragraph so soon for a reason - in this case, to show how significant that sudden warmth was (or, specifically, the cause of the warmth - a rocket's launch).

In short, I like taking things apart and putting them back together. I don't know if anyone will ever want to read a blog that consists largely of this type of word appreciation, but hopefully there is someone.

Until next time, happy reading!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Giveaway Winner Announced and Versatile Blogger Award

It's September 15th. Time to announce the winner!

Thank you so much to everyone who has entered and subscribed. I'm super excited about my plans for this blog. And now...

I wrote all the entries on this handy list:

Then I put a bunch of numbered slips of paper in a hat (actually, a box), and pulled one out! As you can see, my cell phone takes awful pictures, so I didn't bother taking a picture of that. But the winner is number 30. Which is...

Josh Gallant!

Congratulations, Josh! You've won the $25 Amazon Gift Card. Hopefully you'll use it for books.

Please email me at and give me your email address, so that you may receive the prize.

In other news, SueBE from has awarded me with the Versatile Blogger Award. Wow! Thank you so much, SueBE. You should all go check out her blog. Not just because of the award, but because she has interesting posts like this: Mysterious Book Art in Edinburgh and highly relatable posts like this: Writer's Block.

The rules for accepting the award are as follows:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this Award along to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know about it.

1. I'm horrible at sharing information about myself. Most people have to force stuff out of me with endless questions. Talk about a crappy conversationalist.
2. The World/Inferno Friendship Society has been my favorite band since I was FIVE years-old. Hardly anyone I know has heard of them.
3. My favorite poet is Arthur Rimbaud.
4. I'm currently learning Japanese and Latin.
5. I think everything tastes better with pesto.
6. I've read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban over 20 times.
7. I have three cats, one of which is named Little Poot.

Now for step three!

1. Shanella Reads
2. The Write to Make a Living
3. Maggie's Bookshelf
4. Fresh Pot of Tea
5. AustenProse
6. Fictional Candy
7. Intoxicated by Books
8. Ali's Bookshelf Reviews
9. Ekfamilybooks
10. Pen to Paper
11. Behind the Rows
12. Peace, Love, YA Lit
13. Book Girl
14. Elana Johnson
15. mrsqbookaddict

You should all go check out these blogs. I'm new to the blogging world, but I love these blogs so far!

Happy reading,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Giveaway Info and the Story Without a Hero

Hi guys! The winner to my giveaway will be chosen and announced tomorrow. I just wanted to tell everyone that this day is your last chance to enter. Good luck!

And thank you SO MUCH to the people who have entered and subscribed. You guys are great. :) I’ve been reading all of your book suggestions, and many of them will go on the full 25-book list. The next book I’ll be reading, however, will be The Divine Comedy: Inferno. I’ll also be doing something special with Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova (hence my new banner :) ).

And now, my last post directly related to Brave New World:

Rather than discussing the conclusion of Brave New World, I’m going to discuss its main protagonist, Bernard Marx. Brave New World and 1984 are often compared, as they’re both dystopian novels in which a futuristic government has obtained complete control through technological means. I haven’t read 1984 in a long time, but I do remember that it centered around a man and woman who aimed to escape their totalitarian government.

This is typically what protagonists do. Protagonists tend to be the good guys who, if they don’t start out being moral and idealistic and all the things we admire, are awesome by the end of the story. Or if they’re not awesome, the story centers around their downfall, which is usually intended to teach a lesson. (Like in The Picture of Dorian Gray.) But Brave New World is less personal than that; in many ways, it wasn’t about Bernard. Bernard Marx was neither good nor bad. He just was. He just was in this annoying, petty, jealous kind of way. My first instinct was to dislike him, but his role in the story breaks a cliché about novels – especially dystopian ones – so I’ve tried to overcome my initial feelings.

Brave New World belongs on the canon simply due to its superb originality. It’s a dystopian story without a hero. (You can argue that John the Savage was the hero, but I will disagree.) The novel says, “Here is a society based around consumerism. Look how much it sucks.” And there’s more to be learned from that then, say, many recently-published dystopian stories that involve courageous young heroes who overthrow totalitarian governments and live happily ever after (not that I’m putting any of the dystopian stories with happy endings down). This book tells us that if we keep embracing extreme consumerism, and if we rely on buying, buying, buying to keep our capitalistic economy healthy, then we’re sacrificing our morals.

Capitalism is immoral, says Brave New World, because it relies on immoral strategies to get consumers to buy. Those strategies include Huxley’s fictional hypnopaedia or, as a more relatable example, a real life commercial that uses psychological tricks to exploit human vulnerability. Most advertisements we see exploit our humanity in order to dehumanize us.

Think of the commercial that convinces you that you need to buy clothes from Store X, and this commercial airs all across the country so that millions believe they need to shop at Store X. Store X’s commercial has taken advantage of our innate psychological vulnerabilities as people. We can be convinced we need something, even when we don't. And if humanity is defined by our intrinsic individuality, then millions of people shopping at Store X have allowed themselves to be robbed of a bit of their humanity.  

This book, as dystopian novels often do, took one quality of our world and brought it to the extreme. Huxley magnified mass consumerism so that he could further inspect it and prove its inevitable immorality. John the Savage, the only moral character in the story, died after coming face-to-face with the World State. Bernard succumbed to immorality once he reached his zenith of fame, and took every woman he wanted. Etc. Because of the World State’s economic system, immorality was intertwined with every facet of life for its citizens.

One time my sister and I were on a walk. Out of the blue, she asked me if a capitalistic society is destined to sacrifice ethics for profit. I thought about it for a block or so. Can a capitalist society remain moral and intact? I couldn’t decide. In the end, I told her I didn’t have enough information on the topic.

One of the reasons why I’ve made this blog is so that I can “prove” reading has a direct impact on peoples’ lives. Brave New World has allowed me to answer my sister’s question as I was unable to before. This certainly counts as a direct impact, but I bet I can take it further.

Aldous Huxley thought warning others about the failings of mass consumerism was so important that he wrote a novel about it. I respect that immensely, and am willing to apply his views in the real world.

Rather than endlessly questioning myself about how consumerism has shaped my identity, I’m going to see how a lack of materialism will reshape my identity and quality of life. Perhaps some of you have heard of the 100 Thing Challenge (if not, go here: Because I've read Brave New World, I will participate in that challenge for the remainder of this blog project. I’ll have to make time to get rid of, give away, and sell my things, but once it happens I’ll certainly blog about it!
Until next time, happy reading!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brave New World: Rocks and Bones and Lonely People

It’s late; too late to be up when school is starting in a few days, but I want to savor my last moments of leisure.

Today I reread a passage I underlined earlier in Brave New World, and I thought I’d write some thoughts on it.
 On page 138 of my edition:
“He was all alone. All alone, outside the pueblo, on the bare plain of the mesa. The rock was like bleached bones in the moonlight. Down in the valley, the coyotes were howling at the moon. The bruises hurt him, the cuts still bleeding; but it was not for pain that he sobbed; it was because he was all alone, because he had been driven out, alone, into this skeleton world of rocks and moonlight.”

Did you read it? Good.  Now read it again. Let the words wrap around your mind, and let your tongue wrap around the words. There’s poetry in this, a genius musicality; strip it of its meaning and the cadence is still there. In the punctuation, the repetition, the sound of syllables.

Did you read it five more times? Did you write it down? Good.
This passage is so achingly sad, every word biting into me with an icy rawness. What’s worse, Huxley writes with an otherworldly, surreal voice, etching eeriness into the mundane. The rock isn’t white or light in color, it’s bleached bones in the moonlight. John’s standing on a skeleton of a world, a world that’s missing all the fleshy parts, the pieces that really matter. A globe of bone. A hollow, skeletal place where people who are different – people like John and Bernard – are left alone on the mesa in the moonlight, sobbing with no one to hear.

And then, half a page later...
Alone, always alone,” the young man was saying.

The words awoke a plaintive echo in Bernard’s mind. Alone, alone… “So am I,” he said. … “Terribly alone. … You see,” he said, mumbling and with averted eyes. “I’m rather different from most people, I suppose. …”

“Yes, that’s just it.” The young man nodded. “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.”
    Writers are infamous for their solitude, but in many ways they reach out more than the most social butterflies. Aldous Huxley’s work has been immortalized, and because of that I’m reading his book, and connecting with his deepest, most profound thoughts on loneliness, 80 years after he recorded them. Some writers are reclusive, but the very act of writing is one of the best ways we have to connect with people. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, a writer or a door-to-door salesperson, you want to form connections with people just as much as…everyone else.
 That's important to keep in mind. Don't push away those who don't seem like you. Because in the end, the otherness is an imagined thing, and it matters little - no, it matters not at all. What matters is that we don't put people on the mesa. When one puts another on the mesa, so to speak, they're no better than the passive citizens of the World State, consuming soma and revolving endlessly around shallow occupations, ignoring the humanity within them, within all of us. It's a primitive, pre-evolutionary, horrible thing to do, and yet we do it all the time. We put ourselves on mesas; we push others there.

  Until next time, happy reading – and if you’d like, leave a comment so that I don’t find myself on a blogspot mesa, sobbing to a virtual moon. :)

     Also: Thank you to everyone who has signed up for my giveaway! I had this fear that no one would, and I’d be left looking like a dweeb on the internet, but I’m very pleased to be getting all of your comments. I’m taking you book suggestions seriously too. Thank you very much, and I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday!