Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

The Re-Reading Project: Fahrenheit 451

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

I read Fahrenheit 451 right after I read Lord of the Flies, in 1996 (and I read Animal Farm within the next year). I’m ashamed to say that I remembered little to none of the actual plot, though I remembered liking it best of the three books. I didn’t even remember the cover of the copy I first read, until I did an image search for the various covers and recognized this one:

Fahrenheit 451 cover 1996

Recognizing this, admitting this, seems to go to the very heart of Fahrenheit 451 and this project. Originally, seeing that I read these three classics within a year was part of my impetus for the Re-Reading Project. I remembered having passionate reactions to reading these three books in class, hating Lord of the Flies and loving Fahrenheit 451. But in the intervening years (and decades), the details eroded away and left behind just a residue of the strong feelings, an emotion, for the books.

My memory is a funny thing. It’s not as sharp as it once was, certainly, but there are some instances and moments that I can remember with almost mythic clarity, as if watching a film. I say that I have a visual memory – working at bookstores, I often forget the authors and titles of books, but I can take you straight to the last place on the shelf that I saw it. This kind of memory makes it difficult for me to quote books, t.v. shows and movies, even if I enjoy them. But it helps me to remember faces, textures, gestures.

So for all of these years, whenever someone would mention Fahrenheit 451, I wouldn’t remember the main character (Guy Montag) or the plot (fireman charged with destroying books and the people who hold onto them is awakened to the power of books and literally becomes a book himself). What I would remember is a synesthetic mash of emotion and feeling that couldn’t be separated from who I was in 1996 when I read it and who I had become since. In a way, all of my quarterly “reviews” reflect this inability to write truly objective reviews. I am too aware of my own experience, location and personality as filters for the media that I’m consuming.

I own a copy of Ray Bradbury‘s collected short stories, a massive book since rumor is that he would write a story each and every day. I once made a goal of reading one story per day to honor this spirit and commitment of his and perhaps managed four in a row before I got overwhelmed and distracted. I’ve come to know him more for his risky, bold, playful and strange stories and I use the idea of him writing a story every day to inspire myself and other writers. Imagine the permission he must’ve felt as a writer because every day was a blank slate for a new story. He could write anything and perhaps, this was the reason he wrote so many fabulous stories (more than 600). With that level of production, he couldn’t help it.

So this is what I took into my 2014 re-reading of Fahrenheit 451: foggy, synesthetic ideas from 1996 and Bradbury’s stories and rumored intense diligence as a writer. I was shocked by what I found because my emotional, nostalgic feeling for the book was absolutely correct, but the concrete reality of it, now that I have more of an understanding for the world in which it was created, the world which it was protesting, is stunning.

Since I no longer had a copy of the book, I bought a used copy of the 60th anniversary edition published the year after Bradbury died, with an introduction from Neil Gaiman. The introduction was the perfect way to re-enter this world and I could (and probably will) re-read it several times. This edition also contains supporting materials to provide context for the story.

Fahrenheit 451

And while Fahrenheit 451 is such a 1950s tale, it is both amazing and terrifying that it still serves to caution us about our relationship with technology, each other, independent thought and creativity. The “parlors” with wall-sized tvs and participatory entertainments in the book are basically a reality in our current age. It’s an uncomfortable irony that I finished Fahrenheit 451 on a day when I spent time with my parents, glutting ourselves on t.v. I don’t have a t.v. at home and as I love the medium, I often catch up with shows when I visit them. On commercials, I would reach for Fahrenheit 451 to read about Guy Montag’s increasing frustration with his wife Millie’s inability to tear herself away from the “family” in the parlor.

But Bradbury wrote for t.v. and film, so maybe I can be exonerated. Anyway, the wall-sized t.v.s and “families” in the “parlors” are not the inherent evil in this story. It’s the lack of free and individual thought, which media consumption can certainly contribute to, that is the real problem. As Montag learns in the the book, people gave up reading and books and individual thought long before it was taken away from them officially. That is always the danger.

I appreciate the opportunity to re-learn the lesson from this re-reading and I imagine I’ll need refreshers from Fahrenheit 451 and many amazing books, throughout my life. And then there are always these lessons from Bradbury (the first one of which I flunked and which at least one of my friends is taking well to heart). I suppose it’s never too late and I’ll be applying these lessons to the best of my ability during my upcoming residency month.

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Reading in Q3 – September

My reading tapered off a bit this month as my time became more invested in orchestrating Yeah, You Write (among other things), but I read some wonderful books during September.

Best Friends Forever, Jennifer Weiner – At some point, Jennifer Weiner started writing and publishing books faster than I could read them, so this was me beginning to catch up. When I picked it up, I wasn’t terribly excited about the premise of the story. I dreaded reading about a formerly fat woman who’s been a doormat for her more glamorous best friend most of her life. But I quickly became absorbed in Weiner’s humor and the complicated, identifiable characters she presents.

Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver – This one was so lovely and so frustrating. You know right from the beginning that the main character dies in a car accident. She somehow gets stuck in a Groundhog Day loop, reliving her last day several times and approaching each version of the same day with a different mindset and goal, sometimes trying to change her fate and sometimes resigned to it.  Heartbreaking and gorgeous.

The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman – I listened to the audio version of Coraline a few months ago and when I returned it to the library, one of the librarians recommended this one, also read by Gaiman himself. I’m so glad she did because I liked this one even better. Loosely based on The Jungle Book, this story is about Nobody Owens, who is adopted as a baby by a family of ghosts and raised in a graveyard. It fun and sad and adventurous and clever and Neil Gaiman is such a good narrator.

Crossed, Ally Condie – This book was immediately different from the book it follows, Matched. The continuing story of Cassia, her match Xander and Ky, the boy she has fallen in love with against the predetermination of The Society, this follow-up is told in alternating chapters from both Cassia and Ky’s points of view. They are now in the Outer Provinces, Ky exiled to die and Cassia outwitting The Society in order to find him. The environment in Matched was lush, with increasing menace. Crossed starts out menacing, parched, with glimmers of hope like mirages across the desert.

It’s Not Summer Without You, Jenny Han – This is the second book in an addicting trilogy. I’ve had to utilize all of my library cards (3 cities, 2 different states) in order to find all of the books, but it’s been worth it. This second one amps up the melodrama and the emotional stakes in the complicated friendship/relationship of Belly and the two Fisher boys – Conrad and Jeremiah. Jenny Han is an exceptional writer who can make the most stereotypical and melodramatic of plots fascinating and new, filling them with characters it’s impossible not to care about. Smart, funny and romantic.

I Am Number Four, Pittacus Lore – I was intrigued by the movie, which happens more often than I should probably admit. This book was just atrociously written, but there was something compelling about it that not only made me finish it but request the sequel from the library. The story is interesting, even if the writing is dull and heavy-handed. Most of the characters are pretty one-note and flat and several of them could have been collapsed into one, but I was interested by the world that was built.

Knowing Your Value, Mika Brzezinski – A while back, Maurice showed me a clip of Morning Joe and I was disgruntled by Mika Brzezinkski’s on-air persona. Admittedly, I was basing my annoyance on one twenty minute clip, but the men on the show talked over her constantly and when she did speak, it was to say cheerleader-ish things like, “I read your blogs – they’re so awesome!” A few weeks later, Maurice sent me the link to a second clip of Morning Joe where Mika discussed her new book, Knowing Your Value, where she uses her own negotiating mistakes and interviews with other powerful and successful women to illustrate that women are often their own worst enemies in negotiating salaries and benefits. I saw Mika in a new light and knew I had to read her book. It hit home quite a lot and changed my perceptions of situations I have been in and will be in again. Highly recommended – not just for women, but for men, too. Everyone should read it to better understand negotiation and how women and men deal with, and perceive,  each other in business.

So that’s my September reading, which finishes out the third quarter in my reading report. It’s be interesting to see what books the last quarter of the year brings into my life!

[11.2.11 Update: Interestingly enough, ironically, I accidentally tagged Mika Brzezinski as “Mike Brezezinkski.” Sheesh, subconscious. It’s now fixed.]

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Reading in Q2 – April

Last month, I started a new tradition here on my blog. Quarterly reporting of my reading. I enjoyed doing the post so much AND I “read” so many audio books in April that I decided to go ahead and report on April’s reading.

The interesting thing about this month’s reading and the very reason I was able to “read” so many audio books was I took a job as a film courier. If you follow my Tweets, you might’ve noticed me referring to the “Great Louisiana Tour,” and this job is what I was talking about. What it boiled down to is that I was driving between New Orleans and Shreveport and back every weekday, about 11-12 hours of driving. So I could listen to one or sometimes two audio books each day/trip.

This month’s edition of the reading quarterly report will essentially be a review of audio books. I only actually read two physical books this month, in fact, and all the rest were audio books I listened to while on this epic journey. Epic is the right word because I drove just over 11,000 miles in just over three weeks.

With no further ado, the reviews…

Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz and read by John Bedford Lloyd – I’ve been reading Dean Koontz since I was 10, though I’ve missed out on some of his newer books. Since I’m so familiar with his writing voice, but hadn’t read this book, it seemed like the perfect audio book to start with. And it was. It was really charming, sometimes hokey, and thoroughly listenable.

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks and read by Holter Graham – I’ve never read any Nicholas Sparks before, but this book was recommended to me and I was so desperate for entertainment during my drives that it seemed like a good way to get introduced. I was intrigued that the book is told more from the male character’s perspective since the movie is mainly from the female character’s perspective. However, I really hated the character of Savannah and I don’t think it helped that Holter Graham made her sound like Peggy Hill.

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot and read by Kate Reinders –  This was a cute young adult book and it was perfectly read. I feel like this was one of the best examples of the right reader really bringing a character and a story alive in this format. The premise was ridiculous, of course, but it was hard not to invest anyway.

50 Harbor Street by Debbie Macomber and read by Sandra Burr – I used to read Debbie Macomber books years ago, but haven’t for a long time. I picked this one up at random and quickly realized it’s in the middle of a series. There were so many characters, so I have to give the reader props for bringing them all to life, but it was hard to really care about what was going on. By the time I plugged into a story line (one among many) that interested me, the book was over. None of the rest of the series was available on audio at my library, so I moved on.

My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman and read by Mia Barron – This one is a great example of the perfect reader bringing a great book so completely to life. I was only sorry I couldn’t get more Elinor Lipman books on audio through my library because I would’ve listened to all of her books after finishing this one. I loved the story and characters so much I didn’t want to leave the world of the story.

Which Brings Me to You by Steve Almond and Juliana Baggott read by Kirby Heyborne and Renee Raudman – This is a “novel in confessions,” going back and forth between a male and a female character. I think the audio would have been done a great disservice if it hadn’t been read by both a man and a woman. And they were both good, as were the separate writing styles of Almond and Baggott. I was so entertained and moved by the “confessions,” yet was dying to know what would happen. While I’m not sure the end is quite as strong as I would’ve liked, this is an audio I’m glad I listened to and would read the old-fashioned way: myself and a book.

Big Boned by Meg Cabot and read by Justine Eyre – Pretty quickly, I realized I wasn’t listening to a standalone or the first book in a series. It’s actually the third in a series. But I decided to listen anyway because I was enjoying it so much and if the others were available on audio, I decided I’d listen to them backwards. This one was just great fun. Silly sometimes, but in the best possible way. Heather Wells as portrayed by Justine Eyre was good company on my drive.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick and read by Jeff Woodman – This was one of my favorite audio book experiences during the whole road trip/audio book experiment. It was like an old-fashioned radio play with French flare mixed with the feel of classic fairy tales. There were sound effects and the reader was amazing. Plus, the story was brilliant. This one, too, is a story I want to read for myself – partly because I suspect there were illustrations I was missing out on. I almost cried at the end and immediately started making a list of the kids I know who are getting this audio for Christmas.

Julie + Julia  written and read by Julie Powell – This was a book I was curious about, especially after seeing the movie, but wasn’t sure I wanted to invest my time reading. So, the audio seemed perfect because I was desperate for entertainment. But the audio ended up being perfect because Julie Powell does an amazing job narrating her experience. It was so vivid! I went through everything with her. There was even a little interview segment at the end, which I enjoyed.

True Grit by Charles Portis – This was one of the two books I read this month the old-fashioned way. It’s a slim, fast read but I took my time with it since I didn’t have a ton of time to read and I was already inundated with story. The character of Mattie Ross is so compelling. Annoying and amusing, charming and heartbreaking. I loved her. I wanted to be her. I never wanted to be her, ever. I quoted her and talked about her. And this was a revelation after growing up with the John Wayne movie version and liking the more recent one when I saw it with my parents. But the book… oh, the book… In the midst of my phenomenal audio story experience, I’m glad this was the one I held in my hands and curled up around.

Eat, Pray, Love written and read by Elizabeth Gilbert – I could almost duplicate my review of Julie + Julia here, except I was really just as reluctant to read this one as I was intrigued. It seemed so shallow and self-absorbed from the hooplah around it and yes, from the movie, which I liked alright. But nothing can compare to Elizabeth Gilbert reading her own story, consciously investigating selfishness and self. I think I might’ve misunderstood her or disliked her if I’d read the book myself. But it was impossible for me not to identify with her when she was telling me her own story in her own voice. The depths and the heights. The colors and the foods. This book was much more of a spiritual study than I’d expected, or maybe that’s what I took from it. I think about it all the time since I’ve finished listening to the story.

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer by John Grisham and read by Richard Thomas – I loved Encyclopedia Brown and suspected this would be in the same vein. It was, a little bit. It was charming in it’s complete old-fashioned and unrealistic quality, but it was also a bit hopeless. I found a disturbing casual sexism – the family eats out a lot because the mother (who is also a lawyer, like the father) can’t be bothered to cook – and racial stereotypes. I think the cover look far darker and more exciting than the book was, especially read by wholesome John-Boy Walton. This is Perry Mason for the Hannah Montana set and could be far more interesting.

Coraline written and read by Neil Gaiman – I liked this audio better than the movie, which was good. But far and away the best thing was listening to Neil Gaiman read his own work. He sounded a bit like David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth. A little. I think he’s the only fiction writer in my experiment who reads his own work.

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and read by Cherry Jones – It is an ok story. I think the best thing about it is the voice of the character, India Opal and Cherry Jones really brought her to life. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Cherry Jones reads Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Size Fourteen is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot and read by Kristen Kairos – It was weird to read this after having read the third. I knew what would happen in the next book, yet I was still surprised by a thing or two. Only, I didn’t like Kristen Kairos’s version of Heather Wells as much as the woman who reads her for Big Boned.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames written and read by David Sedaris – I’ve read a lot of David Sedaris. Some parts of this were boring, some parts I’d heard before. And as always, there was a gorgeous nugget I hadn’t ever heard or read. But there were some parts scattered throughout, especially the audio from live performances, complete with audience reactions, that are just brilliant.

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz and read by David Aaron Baker – I didn’t consciously start or end the experiment with Dean Koontz, but he somehow bookended my experience. He was my favorite writer for a long time, but I got woefully behind on his books. I’ve listened to all the Odd Thomas books on audio and I think they’re all read by David Aaron Baker, so it’s nice to have a consistent voice for the character. It was reassuring, in a way, to come back around to the voices I know so well.

Besides the people I saw everyday, what I miss most now that I’ve switched to a new gig is the opportunity to listen to so many fabulous books. My numbers are probably going to be a lot lower this month! I hope you enjoy reading these mini reviews of the audio books that made my epic journey survivable.

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Bragging on book, music and film friends

Barb recently won second place for fiction in the most recent Barnes and Noble Discover Awards. If you haven’t already, you really should read her book of stories More of This World or Maybe Another. Phenomenal.

Was at the local Borders recently and unexpectedly saw my friend Lindsay Rae Spurlock‘s cd on the shelves. I had to be silly and snap a picture because I was so proud. She’s been doing pretty well for herself – touring a lot and her song “November” has been featured a few times on MTV’s The Real World.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s newest, Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming: A Memoir, is available. When I interviewed her about Poor Man’s Provence, she told me about this and it sounds hilarious and compulsively readable. Nicest lady ever and incredibly talented, so check it out.

Oh, just as I’m writing this, I got an email from Amy Serrano about her film The Sugar Babies and a screening at Prytania Theater on Thursday. From the website: “The Sugar Babies examines the moral price of sugar –present and past — from the perspective of the conditions surrounding the children of sugar cane cutters of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic, and the continuing denial of their basic human rights.” Purchase the movie and check out the screening schedule.

My friend David Loti’s cd Amalgam is out. Loti is a fascinating, talented guy, who was in the popular Baton Rouge band A Soup Named Stew before going solo and going up to Vancouver for seminary school. It’s a weird thing to say, but I mean it as a compliment – I continually forget that I know Loti as I’m listening to the cd. He sounds both like and unlike himself, to me, as his friend. It’s a great cd. You can listen to several of the songs online, so check it out.

And here’s some fun silliness for you. Terri, of Peauxdunque fame (where I also met Amy), had a back-and-forth with Neil Gaiman via Twitter about the local restaurant Green Goddess. Gourmands may know one of Green Goddess’s chefs Chris DeBarr for his own achievements. But literary folks like me know him as Poppy Z. Brite’s husband. Well, having eaten at Green Goddess with the Peauxdunque gang, I now know him as both chef and literary husband. Yum!

@neilhimself Lunch tomorrow at Green Goddess, NOLA. Jealous? 4:08 PM Mar 2nd

@TerriSusannah very much so. Mention the Mezze of Destruction and something nice might happen. about 1 hours ago in reply to TerriSusannah

 

@neilhimself If I could pronounce it, I would! 4:21 PM Mar 2nd

 

After seeing this back-and-forth, I followed Neil Gaiman on Twitter and was ecstatic when he talked about The Magnetic Fields, one of my favorite bands, and posted pics from behind-the-scenes at their Milwaukee show. I knew that Stephin Merritt (of The Magnetic Fields) was friends with David Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, but didn’t know about the Fields-Gaiman  connection.

@neilhimself: so jealous u’r seeing The Magnetic Fields & having lunch w Claudia! But I had lunch @ Green Goddess yesterday w @TerriSusannah

@emofalltrades jealous back. Did you ask for the mezze of destruction? 3 minutes ago in reply to emofalltrades

@neilhimself: we did! I took a picture – @TerriSusannah will probably post soon. Thank you for the code words. It was a wonderful lunch.

And just so I can end on an incredibly light, sweet (but slightly sour) note, I’d like to announce (from the rooftops, really) that Pinkberry is opening a New Orleans location!! You might remember that I begged Pinkberry to open a New Orleans location in a 2008 post after I visited New York. But Pinkberry, whhhhhhhhhhhhhhy aren’t you open yet?

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Early morning amusement

From the Mirrormask IMDB page:

According to an interview with ‘Neil Gaiman’, the original computers used to do all of the CG were named after the Beatles (John, Paul, Ringo, George). Later a fifth computer was required, so it was named Yoko. Soon after the fifth computer was introduced, the network crashed and could not be restored properly (“the computers refused to talk to each other”). A new server and computers were purchased and named after The Ramones (Joey, Jonny, DeeDee and Tommy). Gaiman said “I wish I knew more about the history of The Ramones; the computers performed brilliantly, vibrantly and died an untimely – and early – death”

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