Tag Archives: 5 Star Books

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

farenheit

Political ignorance. Emotional disconnect. Reality television craze. No wonder butthurt educational administrators have tried to ban and censor ‘Fahrenheit 451’ in schools. This book predicted the 21st Century!

Guy Montag is a regular joe, occasionally prone to  sporadic bouts of philosophizing, who happens to live in an appallingly dumbed-down futuristic America where books are confiscated and burned. He should know; he’s a ‘fireman,’ whose job is not to stop fires but to start them. Guy has very rarely questioned his place in the world, his role being to destroy literature and condemn errant readers to death by the lethal injection of the deadly robot dog ‘the hound.’

One day Guy meets free-spirited teen Clarisse McClellan, and their burgeoning friendship is the beginning of an eye-opening but dangerous transformative experience for Guy. He sees what a shitty façade the so-called comfort and prosperity he lives in entails. In Bradbury’s America, people (including Guy’s brainwashed, reality-TV addicted wife Mildred) sit glued to their interactive, inane programs, people are spoonfed political rhetoric and propaganda like blind, deaf infants, and teens and adults alike express their rage and ennui by getting in a car and running over anything- man or animal- they can find.

There are definitely some similarities between the discord making up ‘Fahrenheit 451”s pages and today’s overly social conscious yet utterly socially ignorant world. It’s a quick read, lovingly written, with mind-boggling precursors to modern technology. The society pictured here takes anything stimulating or challenging from people’s ready access, and the sheep-like civilians don’t even put up a fight. Instead, people who like to read or even explore the world and themselves beyond instant gratification and inane excess are considered freaks, abnormal. and subhuman, and thus worthy of extermination by ‘the Hound.’

Everybody is unhappy, but nobody knows they’re unhappy, or why. In the style of something like “Fight Club,” violence is the only conceivable release from boredom and empty consumer culture. I loved this book mostly because of the writing. I found myself inwardly nodding to myself while reading the incisive prose, and wanting to jot down some of the things written within the slim, but potent little novel.

The world-building is also fantastic. Bradbury creates a bleak but instantly recognizable world riddled with violence, apathy, and drug addiction. People are so fixated on the devices and happy pills they have forgotten what makes them happy, much less human. They’ve certainly forgotten each other, so focused are they on their flickering, opium-soaked electronic worlds.

Although Guy is the protagonist of ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ Beatty, Guy’s maniacally evil boss, may be the most interesting out of the cast of characters. For a man who hates books and reading, Beatty is certainly well-read, and belies his disgusted attitude toward knowledge with a plethora of classic literary references and quotes. I kind of wish they had gone into Beatty’s past a bit more, a backstory that Bradbury himself goes into a bit more depth about in the afterward of the edition of the book I read.

Don’t let the fact that “Fahrenheit 451” is a ‘classic’- a double-edged term often associated with dusty bookshelves and interminable boredom get in the way of reading what is surely one of the best dystopian novels of all time, loaded with spiritual and social significance without being wordy or a drag. Teachers and parents who try to withhold this book from teens’ hands  are certainly barking up the wrong tree (though if I’m not wrong, teenagers will find a away to acquire those books and videos which are kept from them.) This is great discussion material, and much more substantial than most young adult books on the market today.

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Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Author William Golding’s classic ‘attempt to trace the defects of human society back to the defects of human nature,’ is as beautifully written as it is barbaric and grim. Even if you are one of the thousands of students for which this was mandatory reading, it might be behoove you to revisit it at an older and wiser age. This harrowing quick read (and seemingly, the author’s only widely remembered novel) is the story of a group of schoolboys who crash on an uninhabited island, and quickly go psycho without the guidance of parents and teachers to keep their homicidal impulses in check.

“Lord of the Flies” is less about character development and plot that the (riveting) descriptive writing and an attempt to see the bigger picture psychologically and sociologically. Ralph represents the benevolent leader who wants to keep the feuding boys in check, Jack, his opposite, the yin to his yang. Fat, ever well-intentioned Piggy is the scientist, and Simon serves as the instinctive, spiritual force of the group.

Several characters ironically state on several occasion that the children are a group of ‘proper English boys.’ This seems to be a satiric jab at the silly assumption that one race is more capable of order and reason than any other. “Aah,” Mr. Golding seems to say, “Wouldn’t the white colonist like to think so.” His is a tale of intrinsic evil, carried out by children, no less, the members of our society considered the most innocent and impervious to blame.

Despite Ralph’s alignment on the side of (relative) good (as a posed to pig-killing, Satan worshiping chaos,) I did not really like him all that much. I did not like the way he treated Piggy, teasing him, nettling him, betraying his confidence and ensuring he would be called an awful nickname for the rest of the book. Like many, I felt most protective of and absorbed by Piggy, who just really wants everyone to get along because ‘what’s right is right,’ and after all, they’re a group of proper English boys, not savages (…Heh.)

The only thing I did not like about the novel (*SPOILER ALERT*) was the way the Naval Officer at the end reacts so obtusely to the anarchy and bloodshed. “Fun and games, eh?” he inquires despite the fact that the whole island is on fire and Ralph is covered is blood and bruises and has even been stabbed by a spear. That was just stupid. I know that it was meant to convey that the miniature whack jobs were really just little boys, as far as an outsider looking in was concerned, but I really did not like how the only adult in the book was a complete dim bulb. (*END OF SPOILER*)

This meditation on human evil and societal decay is a cynical literature reader’s dream, but you don’t have to have a bleak outlook on life to appreciate what’s being done here (although it probably helps.) Mr. William Golding might not be the finest of human beings (Rapey incidents aside,) but he was a Hell of a writer. My wish is that in reading this review you will revisit this classic or discover it for the first time.

lordofthefliesSam Weber

A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

A-Land-More-Kind-Than-Home

“A Land More Kind Than Home” may well be one of the most beautiful, insightful, and gritty novels I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a rare thing for a book to take so far out of your range of experiences and hook you almost immediately, and this novel does exactly that, employing a cast of some of the most fascinating characters I’ve seen in ages. The focus is religion-gone-badly-awry and ignorance, with tragedy as a result, but never does it seem preachy or dicdactic.

Jess Hall is a precocious nine-year-old boy who is expected by default to take his thirteen-year-old, significantly Autistic brother Christopher (AKA Stump) everywhere he goes. The miracle of Jess’ character is that he doesn’t resent Stump in the least, as many young protagonists who serve as makeshift caretakers for their disabled siblings are. Jess and the gentle but entirely non-verbal Stump are as close as brothers can be expected to be, and they share a special bond that Jess doesn’t maintain with anyone else. Together they chase fireflies, catch salamanders, and amuse themselves exploring their rural North Carolina landscape.

Jess and Stump’s mom Julie is basically well-intentioned but a bit of an idiot, to be honest. She spends her time at the Baptist Church run by a shady and mysterious figure by the name of Carson Chambliss. The worshippers speak in tongues and dabble in snake-handling (AKA generally dodgy stuff,) and Jess’ atheistic pop Ben will have nothing to do with the diseased goings-on within the church. But when Jess and Stump catch wind of something they shouldn’t it is Stump who pays dearly.

The book is narrated by three POV characters- Jess, who is in too deep in the world of adults and still doesn’t entirely understand their affairs, is the center of the drama and arguably the lead. Adelaide Lyle is a good Christian and a very old lady who kind of also serves as the town wise woman. Clem Barefield is the sheriff, past his prime and dealing with his own demons. Resentments simmer in the small NC town of Marshall and explode into violent climactic confrontation.

I found the writing to be beautiful and literary without making a big show of itself (i.e. readable.) The narrative immediately grabs your attention as Addie recounts confronting Chambliss and being put in a threatening situation by the batty self-proclaimed prophet. If you’re interested in how “A Land More Kind Than Home” depicts Autism Spectrum Disorders, I found prose on Stump’s condition to be well-written and sensitively rendered.

On a side note, can I just say how much I wanted to shake Julie. I’ve NEVER seen a character in a book act as obtuse as she did. In the end, I found her almost as at fault in her ignorance as Chambliss was in his psychopathy. NO sympathy for her by the end of this novel. I thought all three POV’s worked extremely well to give us a multi-dimensional look into the story.

I want to read Wiley Cash’s second book “This Dark Road to Mercy”  as soon as possible. “A Land More Kind Than Home” is a rollicking good read and a beautiful piece of literature in its own right.