Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fahrenheit 451: We Need to Be Really Bothered

            I saw that some unlucky fellow stumbled on my blog by typing into Google, “What does Montag mean when he tells Mildred ‘We need to be really bothered once in a while.’” I thought I would write about what that means.

            Dystopias are hyperbolic versions of our world, intended to make a point. The author will take a contemporary issue they’re concerned about – in Bradbury’s case, the rise of TV and the decline of American readers – and make the issue much more obvious than it is in real life.

            In Bradbury’s world, individuals have become desensitized due to television. Nothing matters except for the petty arguing of the people on their TV screens. However, outside of their homes wars are raging and television-less people are dying. Soldiers are going to war and their wives are too busy peering into their TV screens to notice. Children are growing up parentless for the same reason. And, above all, everybody is apathetic to these issues. No one cares.

            Actually, not true. Montag cares. That’s why he’s our protagonist. Montag gets “really bothered once in a while.” Quite often, actually. And I think Bradbury would like it if we got really bothered once in a while, too.

            However, Bradbury also makes the point that perhaps the world isn’t as apathetic as it seems. Maybe it’s just hopeless, and feels too defeated to face its fears. So it tries self-medicating its problems away, and as a result it turns to TV. TV is a nasty medicine, though – it doesn’t do anything to stop Mildred from attempting suicide. Montag remembers her suicide attempt shortly after telling her to be bothered, and the memory quiets him.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: The Best Book

Imagine going home one day to find an extra door in your house. Perhaps, on your second floor, there were two doors. Now there are three. What are you to do?

Imagine you are speaking to someone when a strange man erupts out of your living room mirror.

Imagine that magic is real, but has fallen into disuse. Now only "theoretical magicians" exist - men who gather in clubs to endlessly argue, but never practice, various branches of magic.

Imagine you leave a store one day and a man runs out to you with a silver diadem in his hands, saying that you left it behind. "But this is not mine!" you say. He assumes you are joking. "Oh, as if I have not seen it on your head a hundred times!" But you have never seen the crown before.

You are picturing a very small chunk of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Susanna Clarke spent ten years writing her massive, 800-page tome. In it is a story of two magicians living in an alternative Victorian England, where magic is real and socially accepted; but woven into that story is an entire false history of English magic. Clarke's book is riddled with footnotes describing a very convincing history that does not exist, outlining the rise, decline, and eventual revival of English magic. In it magic is made so historically convincing that, by page 200, you feel it must be real.

I keep trying to convey to people how amazing this book is, and I end up scaring them with my desperation. Or else I bore them with long rants about Clarke's clever methods. I'm like the first practicing magician of Victorian England, fretful Mr. Norrell:

"He hardly ever spoke of magic, and when he did it was like a history lesson and no one could bear to listen to him."

Last night I was carrying on and on about this book to a friend, and once I stopped to catch my breath she said, "As wonderful of a synopsis as that was...could you tell me the book's title?" ...Oh. Yes. Yes, of course.

At some point I was reading this book and it suddenly dawned on me that this is my favorite book. That concept has always sounded very silly to me, but I feel confident in saying that the thousand-or-so books I've read in my life have not compared to this one, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

This is the best book. I don't know what else to say. More posts on this soon.