Friday, June 12, 2009
451 Fridays is based on an idea from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In his novel, a group of people (Bradbury calls them Book People) are trying to keep the ideas found in books alive. Instead of actually saving the books, the Book People each "become" a book - memorizing it, word for word, and passing it down to the next generation.
451 Fridays asks what books you feel passionate about. What book do you think is so important that you would be willing to take on the challenge of "becoming"?
This week, I am so happy to welcome Molly to 451 Fridays. Molly blogs at My Cozy Book Nook, and is always reading something new and interesting. She is also currently hosting her very first book challenge, the Summer Vacation Reading Challenge, which I am seriously tempted to join. Welcome, Molly!
What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?
In pondering my answer to this question, I tried to think in terms of historical as well as literary significance. I also wanted to ensure that the books I chose to save would span the centuries and give adequate representation to the development of literature, and not just focus on the present day. Finally, I wanted to save books that I would enjoy reading over and over again. To that end, here is my list for today (which I am sure will change again tomorrow - and next month....)
16th/17th Century: Shakespeare.
Not only did he contribute to the development of our English language, but virtually every major literary theme is addressed within the canon of his works. Ideally, I would save his entire collection - but if I would have to limit my selection to just one, I would chose to save Macbeth. Now, I must admit that I am not familiar with all the plays and sonnets (although I am working to remedy that this summer), but I am most familiar with Macbeth, as I have taught it for the last 4 years. I think that it is quite easy for our "humanness" to succumb to unbridled ambition, and this is something of which we should all be mindful. I also enjoy the discussions that arise from the theme of fate vs. free will. The element of the supernatural with the witches and Banquo's ghost, as well as the presence of a dominant female character, are all worthwhile reasons to save this particular play.
18th/19th century: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Jane Austen teaches us that life is about relationships. Jane Austen's novels may be romantic, but they are not JUST romantic. I believe that everyone - male and female, young and old, can relate to at least one of the characters in this novel. The dry wit of Mr. Bennet, the meddling antics of Mrs. Bennet, the flirtatiousness of Lydia, the simple beauty of Jane; the affability of Mr. Bingley, the brown-nosing of Mr. Collins, the snobbery of Lady Catherine, the outspoken nature of Elizabeth and the prideful, yet shy, Darcy. In addition to the well-developed characters and timeless themes, Jane Austen's prose is absolutely beautiful and worthy of remembrance.
19th/20th century: Charles Dickens.
It is said that the literature of Charles Dickens did more for social reform in London than any legislation passed by Parliament. Dickens came from the poor - was a product of the Debtor's Prisons - and despised the social conditions of the time. But Charles Dickens was not only writing for social change, he also wrote for entertainment - and his novels are some of the best novels ever written: full of well-developed characters (some with very interesting and descriptive names), suspenseful plots and subplots that somehow all converge at the very end; beautiful prose and exacting descriptions that cause the reader to sit back and enjoy the beauty of the words; and of course, the varied themes that give the reader cause to stop, ponder, and take notice of our human condition. Again, I would have a difficult time choosing just the "right" novel to save, but I would have to select the novel that I know best because I teach it: A Tale of Two Cities. The Theme of Resurrection and Redemption is absolutely beautiful, and the way in which Dickens subtly foreshadows nearly every event in the book is astounding.
20th century: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Racial tensions and inequalities have been a large part of the 20th century, especially in our American history. I think at least one example of this thematic literature should be saved, and I absolutely LOVE this particular novel. Harper Lee chose to narrate the story from the point of view of a young girl living in southern Alabama. While Scout is white, she is the daughter of a widowed lawyer who defends an African American in court. Scout is essentially colorblind -she does not see the color of a person's skin as defining who they are, but rather she chooses to look at what is on the inside. This "radical" way of thinking would not be tolerated by adults in this time period ( the story takes place in the mid 1930s, but Harper Lee published it in 1960 -- pre-civil rights days) but is somehow accepted from a "naive" young girl. Harper Lee's beautiful eloquence is reminiscent of a southern drawl, as spoken by a well-educated child who has always been treated as an adult, and the symbolism of the Mockingbird as it pertains to two characters in the story cause the reader to realize that prejudice extends beyond racial boundaries.
21st century: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.
I simply couldn't ignore the importance of World War II and the atrocity of the holocost in my small 5-volume library. There have been numerous books written on this subject, and I almost considered The Diary of Anne Frank, or Schindler's List, or Sophie's Choice, but in keeping with my one book from each century theme, and because this book is written from such a unique point of view - that of Death - I decided to "save" this one. If you have not had the chance to read this book you - you must make the time. I will warn you, I had to read the first two chapters at least three times before it made made any sense. This is not because of Zusak's writing - that is because of my pre-determined image of Death's point of view. I thought death should be evil, but in reality, death is neutral. Death is just a part of life. It is the manner in which death can be caused that is often evil. This beautiful YA novel should not be limited to the YA market. It is poignant, descriptive, unique, sad, and hopeful. It will help us to never forget this time in our history - so that we may never run the risk of repeating it in the future.
Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?
I would be honored to become To Kill a Mockingbird. This is the one and only novel that Harper Lee ever wrote, and it is a true masterpiece.
Do you have any favorite quotes from the book, so we know why you love it so much?
Atticus is Scout's father - a lawyer and the voice of reason in this book. The following are a few of the quotes that I find wise and beneficial, even today:
Before I live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.
Thank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me the opportunity to contribute to this weekly meme. I found the exercise to be very thought-provoking, and I definitely plan to make this a part of my curriculum when I teach Fahrenheit 451 to my 9th graders in the Fall.
Thank you, Molly, for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved!
Do YOU have a book you would be willing to become? Send me an email - I'd love to feature you in an upcoming 451 Fridays post!