For those of you new to the nest, you’ll need to know that I usually have a neurotic reading process. Each month I read at least part of a non-fiction book, a book about reading/writing/editing/language, and as many books from my color stacks as I can (my books are organized by spine color and I’m going through each color stack, reading every book I haven’t yet read).
I’m forgetting all of that and sticking with just my last few green books though, because on the 19th of April I started the Shakespeare/Poe/Frost Challenge. Jake bet me that I couldn’t read the complete works of each in a month. And he won. I calculated that I’d have to read two hours each day to be able to read all of that in a month. And I don’t have two hours a day to read. But I’m going to abandon my normal reading pattern until I read it all, just to see how long it will take me. So expect to be hearing about this until September or something.
I’m done with the Frost, and cheated a little bit by adding in an extra book this month, but I’m chuggin’ along, folks.
Here’s what I read in June:
I took a break from the Shakespeare and the Poe to honer author Ray Bradbury’s death by reading my favorite of his books, Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury died June 2, 2012 and I started re-reading Fahrenheit the next day.
I read Fahrenheit for the first time when I was twelve or thirteen: it was one of the first dystopian soicety books I read and it, along with 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and the Giver by Louis Lowry, not only made me fall in love with the genre of literature, but also helped to shape me into a more caring, cautious, and outspoken citizen. My love of books came first, my interest in society and politics came second. Authors like Bradbury had and have a huge influence on who I am as a person and who I want to become as a writer. I’m glad I took a chance in June to reflect on that.
The book serves as a warning of what a life without books would become: meaningless and controlled. The protagonist, Guy Montag, was a fireman whose job it was to burn books, a possession outlawed in the futuristic society portrayed in the novel. The book follows Montag’s awakening to the possibility of a different future.
Even more than the plot of the book, I love the way that it is written. It has a sense of urgency throughout the entire work, which is partially because Bradbury wrote the first draft in a library, paying ten cents an hour to rent a typewriter. He did this because he had no office away from his children and because he needed to write stories to put food on the table. The pacing of the book makes the reader feel as if they must keep moving throughout the story: it gives you the rush and anxiety of being on the lamb.
The language of the book is simple, but the imagery is strong and beautiful. There were several times when I was reading this before bed that I stopped to read a passage to Jake because I was overtaken by the beauty of the words (he didn’t get it). I’m floored by simple strings of sentences like, “The house fell in the red coals and black ash. It bedded itself down in sleepy pink-gray cinders and a smoke plume blew over it, rising and waving slowly back and forth in the sky. It was three-thirty in the morning.”
As much as I love Bradbury’s writing, I don’t agree with him about everything. In Fahrenheit 451, it is not the government that began burning the books: it was the people. More specifically, groups of minorities. Minorities who took issue with specific things in books that took offense and burned until there was nothing left. From a sociological perspective, I think that this is reactionary to the Civl Rights and Women’s Movements, which made Bradbury, a member of the majority and by no means a feminist or anti-racist, feel threatened. It bothers me that he felt threatened by literary criticism asking for equality and harder work by writers to work to learn enough about minorities to be able to not only represent them in a stereotypical way. Bradbury took the stance at the time that if minorities wanted to be well represented, they could write their own books. But he missed the point: minorities were writing their own books, but no one would buy them or sell them because of the oppressive systems in place. And writing takes time and privilege: privilege of education, availability of writing materials, ability to network with agents and publishers, and cultural support of an artistic career as a viable option. Instead of looking deeply into these issues, Bradbury just bristled up like a hedgehog that feels attacked.
This doesn’t make me love Bradbury’s work any less, just as the prevalence of racism and sexism in Shakespeare’s work doesn’t make me love it any less. But I’m always reading with three hats: the beanie of a modern person enjoying the work, the fedora of a writer dissecting literary techniques used, and the baret of a sociologist. That was a silly metaphor. I’m leaving it anyway.
Now for a quote from Fahrenheit 451:
“Give people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs of the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damed full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with informatoin. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with.”
I made a bit of progress with the Poe this month, but I’m still having trouble really getting into it. It’s slow going (much slower than the Shakespeare).
Here’s the Poe I read in June:
The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) is a horror story–the type of Poe’s work I like best. Poe’s favorite horror themes come into play: a narrator with mental illness, anxiety, and sensory overload and a pretty lady coming back from the dead. That about sums up pretty much all of his horror stories, actually.
William Wilson (1839) is a horror story in which the protagonist is plagued throughout life by a doppelganger double, only to find that the double was himself personified. The theme of the conflict with the self really reminded me of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (which I wrote about in this post).
The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion (1839) was science fiction and weird. I’m going to have to read it again to gain a full understanding, but it’s basically two dead dudes talking about the apocalypse. In the past tense.
Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling (1840) is a humorous tale written in phonetical Irish brogue. I love writing using broken English, dialects, or heavy slang, so I had a lot of fun reading this (but if you can’t get through Clockwork Orange or Pygmy, you might want to stay away from this one). It’s basically a story about homophobia, really. The protagonist thinks he’s holding a girl’s hand, but she stands up and his hand is still held… by the French guy. Which is why the Frenchman now has is hand in a sling. The build up is funny, though.
The Business Man (1840) is another funny story. As it starts, you think that the story is going to be about a businessman pompously giving legitimate advice. But it turns out that the “business man” is doing some pretty un-reputable work and is only making money by swindling people. I’m assuming that this is a satire for business people in general.
Here’s a quote from Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling:
“The truth of the houl matter is jist simple enough; for the very first day that I come’d from Connaught, and showd my swate little silf in the strait to the widdy, who was looking through the windy, it was a gone case althegither wid the heart o’ the purty Misthress Tracle. I percaved it, ye see, all at once, and no mistake, and that’s God’s thruth.”
*You can read all of Poe’s work online (legally) for free. Check out this Wikipedia article for all of the links.
I’m feelin’ pretty proud of myself, because I finished off the last of the Shakespeare comedies in June. You should be golf clapping right now.
Here are the Shakespeare plays I read in June, packed full of spoilers (YOU’VE BEEN WARNED):
As You Like It (1599–1600) Banishment, love, cross-dressing, mistaken identity, and a group wedding. Typical Shakespeare comedy. Bonus: there’s a touch of Robin Hood goin’ on with a band of men in exile in the forest.
All’s Well that Ends Well (1601–1608) A girl, Helena, is in love with Bertram, a man above her station that she can never hope to marry. But then she saves the life of the King, who gives her the hand of any man in the realm. She chooses Bertram, who is a jerk and won’t stoop to actually be her husband. So, naturally, he runs off and tries to bed a virgin. Helena plays dead, then she and the virgin trick Bertram into sleeping with Helena when he think’s he’s sleeping with the virgin. He then has to begrudgingly accepting Helena as his wife. Basically.
The Taming of the Shrew (1590-1591) has a special place in my reading heart, because I played Katharina in the performance put on by my Shakespeare camp in high school. (Yes, I went to Shakespeare camp. And Jake went to band camp. We’re REALLY not lying about the nerd thing, guys.) The director of the camp was amazing and the stage direction was HILARIOUS, so I can visualize the jokes with stage movement really well. That makes the play a lot funnier. The play focuses on a father who won’t marry off his younger daughter, who is desired by many, until he can marry off his older daughter, Katharina, who is a shrew… i.e. has a mind of her own. I love Katharina’s fiery temper and no-nonsense attitude. Though, of course, I don’t like that she’s subservient to the man who forcibly married her in the end. I’ll just pretend that the whole play is Act 2, Scene 1. (Also, in case you didn’t know, the movie 10 Things I Hate About You is based on this play.)
The Winter’s Tale (1594–1611) A King goes a bit crazy thinking that his queen is sleeping with his childhood friend (another king). He goes really really crazy and tells men to abandon his queen’s baby daughter to the wolves, assuming the baby illegitimate. A bunch of time passes, and there’s a prophecy that the king can’t have an heir until his daughter is found. The daughter, raised by shephards, ends up falling in love with the other king’s son. Who then becomes the crazy jealous king’s heir. And everyone’s happy in the end, except the queen, because she’s dead. Oh wait, never mind, she’s a statue that comes back to life in the end. It’s all very Greek.
A Comedy of Errors (1592–1594) This play was funny, but had the least likely plot ever. Two sets of identical twins get separated at birth. And they have the same names. There’s Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio of Syracuse, and then there’s Antipholus of Ephesus and his servant, Dromino of Ephesus. So when one twin set shows up in the other twin set’s city, crazy shenanigans due to mistaken identity occur. It’s all just pretty silly.
Here’s a quote from Taming of the Shrew, all about penises:
Pet. Nay, come, Kate, come; you must not look so sour.
Katharina. It is my fashion, when I see a crab.
Petruchio. Why, here’s no crab; and therefore look not sour.
Keth. There is, there is.
Pet. Show me.
Kath. Had I a glass I would.
Pet. What, you mean my face?
Kath. Well aim’d of such a young one.
Pet. Now, by Saint George, I am too young for you.
Kath. Yet you are wither’d.
Pet. ‘Tis with cares.
Kath. I care not.
Pet. Nay, here you, Kate: in sooth, you ‘scape not so.
Kath. I chafe you, if I tarry; let me go.
You can see all of my other reads posts here.
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Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you reading lately?