Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Title:  Fahrenheit 451

Author:  Ray Bradbury

Paperback:  191 pages

Date published:  1953

Publisher:  Del Rey (div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780345342966

Miscellaneous:  This book was first published in 1953, and has since won the National Book Award and the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award.  The copy I have is a 50th anniversary edition, and has an interview with Bradbury in the back of the book.

“With schools 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.  You always dread the unfamiliar.  Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him.  And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours?  Of course it was.  We must all be alike.  Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.  Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.  So!  A book is a loaded gun in the house next door.  Burn it.  Take the shot from the weapon.  Breach man’s mind.  Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?  Me?  I won’t stomach them for a minute.  And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world… there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes.  They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior:  official censors, judges, and executors.  That’s you, Montag, and that’s me….  You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can’t have our minorities upset and stirred.  Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all?  People want to be happy, isn’t that right?  Haven’t you heard it all your life?  I want to be happy, people say.  Well, aren’t they?  Don’t we keep them moving, don’t we give them fun?  That’s all we live for, isn’t it?  For pleasure, for titillation?  And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these….  Colored people don’t like Little Black Sambo.  Burn it.  White people don’t feel good about Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Burn it.  Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs?  The cigarette people are weeping?  Burn the book.  Serenity, Montag.  Peace, Montag.  Take your fight outside….  Burn all, burn everything.  Fire is bright and fire is clean.”

-Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, pages 58-60 (emphasis added)

In the first line of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury,  Guy Montag tells us, “It was a pleasure to burn.”  Guy is a fireman who loves setting fires and watching things undergo change via the flames.  He aims his firehose and sprays the kerosene over the contents of a house and lights the match.  A permanent smile is plastered to his face from the hundreds and hundreds of fires he’s set over the ten years he has spent in service to his city.  Life for Montag is good and makes sense.

Then a series of events occur that rocks his world.  He meets Clarisse McClellen, who is “seventeen and crazy” as she says.  She’s been labeled “anti-social” for asking “why?” instead of “how?” and for wanting to connect to people instead of merely co-existing with them.  She likes to go on hikes and collect butterflies, and is forced to see a psychiatrist for such odd behaviours.  Clarisse’s innocent questions and simple, romantic views on life awakens some long-comotosed awareness in Montag’ssoul.  With the question, “Are you happy?” Guy is forced to re-evaluate himself and the world around him.  His wife attempts suicide, then goes on pretending it had happened and, in fact, refusing to believe Guy. 

The crisis moment for Montag happens when he’s at a house to burn and the older woman chooses to set herself on fire with her books, rather than leaving them.  He is forced to question whether it is morally right to destroy something of such value that people are willing to die for them.  And if such an act is wrong, what can he, MUST he, do about it?

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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradburywill have to go on my top 10 list… just not sure which book to bump for it.  First off, I love dystopic books, it’s probably my favorite genre.  My definition of Dytopia is:  Someone’s Utopia is another’s HELL.  Second, Fahrenheit 451 speaks to the time it was written, but also has something to say to future generations of readers.  It’s a cautionary tale of a possible future, barely imaginable when he wrote it nearly 60 years ago, and frighteningly close to life today.  And as I read this, I couldn’t help but feel we did not listen to the warning.

For instance, when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, wallscreen and battery operated televisions weren’t around.  Black and white television itself was in its infancy, but the love of Mrs. Montag’s life is her parlor wallscreens that allow her to be surrounded by her “family”, virtually live and in color.  A device allows the people on the shows to insert her name and even look like they’re saying it.  A device called a Seashell is worn in the ear, and allows a person to hear music, without disturbing those around them, and Mildred Montagwears hers so often that she’s become a proficient lip-reader.  I immediately thought of MP3 players… Sam wears hers so much that she had a meltdown the other day when I told her she couldn’t take it to church with her.

Truly, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury was prophetic.  The society found in within the pages of the book bear a lot of similarities with our culture today.  Disconnected from one another, they/we go about with our devices in our ears (Seashell, MP3 player, cell phone, etc) and no longer take the time for conversations with our neighbors and others we meet in passing, and if we do happen to “chat,” it’s shallower than a pie pan. 

They/we are so afraid of offending others that the thought police (Firemen or Political Correctness) have made it socially unacceptable, and in some cases  criminal, to express ourselves, even monitoring our own self-talk.  Free speech?  HA!  Congress is doing everything they can to eliminate that little inconvenience.

They/we are so obsessed with instant gratification that they/we no longer want to take the time to think about what they/we read, to let it distill in our souls.  So books are flatter and more “pastepudding,” as Bradbury calls it, and the average person is no longer able to read and comprehend a newspaper article… not that they actually have the patience to read a whole one, just the headline and first paragraph, then onto the funnies (and even they are getting too long).  Supermarket tabloids, Harlequin romance novels, car and sports magazines are the only books found in some homes, and to be “intelligent” is to be reviled.

I don’t say this often, if I’ve ever said it at all, but Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a MUST READ.  It should be taught in schools and read every year.  Oddly enough, this book was actually challenged as part of a school curriculum… A parent wanted to ban a book that is a warning against book banning!  How ironic.  

Obviously, I give Fahrenheit 451 5 out of 5 stars.  READ IT!

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Tan Lines by J. J. Salem

Title: Tan Lines
Author: J. J. Salem
Hardcover: 306 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publish Date: July 8, 2008
ISBN: 9780312374150

Normally, I like to start my reviews with a quote from the book. However, I think you’ll enjoy this video of Tan Lines’ first line the good people of St. Martins press has posted over at YouTube.

So with a first line like that, you’d think this book would definitely be a fun and steamy summer read, right?

Well, it’s definitely steamy. If you took all the sex out of it, Tan Lineswould probably be whittled down from the 306 pages to 220. AND, if you took out the drinking and doping, you’d be further reduced to about 190 pages (it would have been even less, but some of the drinking and doping is mixed in with the sex). Then, if you took out all the who’s wearing what designers clothes, shoes and undies… Undies, for cry-yi-yi! One line says Kellyanne stripped down to her La Perlas, I thought it was some new slang for being naked. Turns out La Perla is designer underwear… So taking out all fashion apparel text, it’s down to about 165 pages. Now, take out the name dropping, the “Kelly Ripa was at the table next to them” and “Mathew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker was leaving as they were going in”, and the book would be cut down to about 158 pages.

With almost half of the original text cut, what is left? One hell of a story, to be honest. It could almost be a joke, or a Reality TV series: What happens when you take Hillary Clinton, Courtney Love, and Elizabeth Hasselbeck to the Hamptons to share the same house for the summer? That is kinda-sorta the premise of Tan Lines.

Of course that’s not enough to make a book, J. J. Salem (who is a guy by-the-by) adds Liza’s stalker, Kellyanne’s cruelly possessive sugar daddy, a closet party-guy neocon who’s hanging from the chandeliers on coked out benders with Billie while being engaged to a frosty-queen old money deb, Liza’s shiftless leach of a fireman husband who Liza believes is cheating (what’s really going on with his is a complete blindside), and several other characters hear and there that wouldn’t be a stretch to see killing one, or all, of the three.

Revealing that one, or all, of the characters will die is not a spoiler, by the way, because the prologue says: “…the way those girls had been in the beginning, before everything had gone so wrong.” and that the condo owner is remodelling because “she could not look at those ghastly bloodstains one more day.

Reviewing Tan Lines, for me, is an exercise in schitzoprhenic writing. On the one hand, I could seriously done without all the sex. Really. I learned things reading this book I had never heard of before, and I scored 36.6% on the purity test! Booty bumps and bleached bungholes were completely new concepts to me. After a while, Tan Lines’ sexual content had the same effect as the nude tribesmen in the National Geographic specials -after 20 minutes, you stop seeing their nakedness. Also, I really could have lived without all the drinking and drugs. AND I don’t care that much about fashion and designers.

But, on the other hand, I thought Salem’s writing is quite effective, his plot development compelling, and the twists and turns he throws in completely disarming. He is an exceptional storyteller, and his characters are very human -even if most are the dregs of society.

The ending was quite a surprise. For one, it was beautifully happy and fair. Second, it was inevitable. and Third, it was all of a sudden and shocking… and I just didn’t get why it couldn’t have been the rock star! It sucks, and it wasn’t fair.

There are some really wonderfully sweet scenes, as well. Liza’s blossoming relationship with her arch nemesis and Kellyanne’s realization that she’s more valuable than being some nasty old man’s sperm receptacle. When it comes to Billie, unfortunately the only epiphanies had are those of the people around her deciding she’s a lost cause and they’re better off exorcising her from their lives.

I would definitely say this book is an X rated book, but not erotica. It’s graphic and explicit, full of foul language, alcohol, and drugs… even forced sex on a couple occasions. It is NOT the book for the Christian Women’s book club. I probably wouldn’t even recommend Tan Lines to me. But I would have to say it’s a great read, very compelling, and sticks with you for a while… for better or worse.

Overall, I’m giving Tan Lines 4/5 stars.

Politcs VERSUS Oprah… the showdown

In today’s Shelf Awareness newsletter, all the way at the bottom… just before clicking delete… a list caught my eye.  I love book lists, I don’t know why, possibly because the idea that all the world’s giant Mt. TBR could be organized and conquered makes the challenge do-able.  This particular list is: 

 

The top 10 bestselling books on AbeBooks.com during June

1. Big Russ and Meby Tim Russert
2. Wisdom of Our Fathers by Tim Russert
3. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life by Daniel Amen
4. Dreams of My Fatherby Barack Obama
5. The Pillars of the Earthby Ken Follett
6. The Red Car by Don Stanford
7. A New Earthby Eckhart Tolle
8. Three Cups of Teaby Greg Mortenson
9. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Culinary and Menu Terms by Rodney Dale
10. Night by Elie Wiesel

 

So I’m looking at this top 10 list.  The first two do not surprise me.  Tim Russert’s death was a shock.  Anyone who has watched MSNBC primary returns this year knows how excited and vibrant he was.  He was in his element, and the look in his eyes made us think he’d be around for a long time to come.  I loved watching Tim Russert on both MSNBC and Meet the Press.  He was lively, at times fierce, and never passed up the hard questions.  I, for one, will miss him very much.  Sunday mornings aren’t the same without him.

What this list tells me is that I’m not alone in my appreciation for Russert.  Though I do not have them now, and can’t get them because of the Ye Olde TBR(e) challenge, I do want to read them someday.   Number 4 on the list doesn’t surprise me, either.  As we are going into a fall election with new candidates (not an incumbent), as responsible citizens (USA), we should take the time to learn about our candidates.  Obama’s Dreams of My Father is an opportunity for us to get to know the man first hand, not just from the FWD: fwd: fwd emails saying he said this or that.  A chance to read the quotes in context.

The thing that did surprise me is that there are three Oprah books on the list, tying with the US politically related books.  And if you figure Oprah’s campaigning for Obama, Dreams of My Father might have to straddle the line.  Three Cups of Tea is also a political book of sorts, but in a humanitarian, geopolitical way, so we’ll throw it on the left side of the ledger. 

That leaves self-help, cooking and a children’s book in the balance.  I’m going to say the brain book will side with Oprah… something tells me it’s in the Oprah-anity vein.  And the cooking book would probably be an O book, too… she likes to eat.  So that leaves The Red Car all alone.  Where is he going to park?

4 books for politics (or 3 1/2 if you think about it) and 3 definitely, 2 1/2 most likely, in the Oprah camp, with a scarlet auto abstaining.  I guess that means Oprah wins.

Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge

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TITLE: Hope’s Boy
AUTHOR: Andrew Bridge
PUBLISHER: Hyperion
PUBLISH DATE: 2008
ISBN: 9781401303228

My mother… wrapped her arms around me tightly, and whispered fircely several times, “You are my boy. Remember, you are my boy.”

-page 164, Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge

 

This is an emotionally difficult book to read. It is the story of a boy who leaves the loving stability of his grandmother’s care in Chicago to fly across country to live with his mother Hope, whom he barely knows. In the two years he lived with her he was beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, was taken on a burglary run by his mom and her best friend, watched Hope be raped and was powerless to stop it, evicted from an apartment and forced to live with strangers who looked at the two of them like something they’d scrape off their shoe, and finally to the motel where he was taken by the county from her. Of all the things she did and didn’t do, she DID give him love and made sure he knew he belonged to her.

Hope’s Boytears back the curtain of the life of a child trapped in a system that does little to help reunite families, explains little to nothing to the child in its care, and abandons him with empty promises of return with a family that is free to go unchecked in their abuse of the intruder in their home. A system that abandons those who age out to the winds, where thirty to fifty percent are homeless within two years. The majority of the nations 500 thousand plus foster children never graduate high school, and possibly as few as 3% graduate college. It is a broken system of hopelessness, in which children are wharehoused instead of cared for. This book is a clarion call to change.

My heart broke for young Andy. He endured helplessly watching his mother’s descent into madness, paranoid schizophrenia the most likely diagnosis. He is ripped from her arms by a social worker as a police officer shoves Hope to the ground and holds her there with his knee in her back. Wharehoused in a huge county orphanage that feels more like a criminal detention facility, he is placed with a family only after he has completely withdrawn into himself. He spends the remaining ten years of his childhood with an abusive, tyrant foster mother, whose rare kindnesses are few and far between.

Throughout it all, he hangs onto the few messages of encouragement like “You are my boy”, “Do not allow the world’s injustices define you”, and “You are my little genius”. Despite all this, and defying all statistics and odds, Andy, now Andrew Bridge, succeeds to become a Harvard Law graduate and Fulbright scholar.

This book is a must-read for anyone working with or within the foster care system. How we treat these children, children who have no control of the events of their lives, is an indicator of our civility as a nation.  Throughout the process, it must be remembered that LOVE is one of the most essential nutrients a child can receive.  Without it he will fail to thrive, slip through the cracks, and become just another statistic.

Love may not be enough to wake a child in the morning, dress him, and get him to school, then to feed him at night, bathe him, and put him to bed.  Still, can any of us imagine a childhood without it?

-page 295, Hope’s Boy by Andrew Bridge

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