Friday, August 14, 2009

451 Fridays

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"?

Today I am thrilled to welcome Cathy, AKA Connie, from one of my favorite new blogs of the year, Constance Reader's Guide to Throwing Books with Great Force. She's only been blogging since April, but she's already one of the blogs I check first in my Google Reader. Her reviews are smart and funny, and she's not afraid to say it when a book goes wrong. AND she dedicated a review to me - yep, that's right, you can read it here. If you don't read her blog, you need to get the over there now! Cathy, welcome!

What 5 books do you believe are important enough to be saved, and why?

This is an incredibly difficult question. I love all books, good and bad, and picking only five is like something out of Styron. Do I pick the ones I'd want to read, or the ones I feel would do most good to future generations? And in this particular exercise: Do I pick the ones that will impress you guys, and make you think I'm sparkling and witty and charming and well-read? (I'm none of those things, except occasionally, I sparkle. Like Edward Cullen.)

Can we just stipulate, though, that you all will try to think of me that way, so I can give my real choices?

1. Anne of Green Gables, by LM Montgomery: I can't imagine being without Anne, and I can't imagine future generations of girls growing up without Anne, so this is a necessity. I read this book on my first night of college, when I was languishing from homesickness; when my grandmother died; in the hospital; all of these times, it has made me feel better. Love that scrappy red-head from PEI and her (mis)adventures.

2. The Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller: I'm not in love with Miller himself, or the loosely fictionalized version that exists in ToC, but in my opinion, he's the best prose writer ever. He uses the English language the way a musician uses quarter notes and time signatures, or a painter, paints. He's one of the very few writers that I would go so far as to call an artist: he gives us a mood, a setting, a feeling, of the Lost Generation and he does it as easily as breathing. A horrible, dirty, filthy, immoral, beautiful book.

3. We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. Shriver's story is about the aftermath of a school shooting, the factors that led up to it, and the idea that a parent's love for a child can be as varied as there are parents and children. It's a great read, perfectly written, and will serve as a cautionary tale to young hooligans in the post-Apocalyptic world. YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN.

4. We Were the Mulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates. The best stories, in my opinion, are the ones that show us how families are formed and operate, what brings them together, and what tears them apart. WWTM is symphonic, full of hurt and longing and joy, the best example of that that I can think of. Even including a certain work by Mr. Tolstoy.

5. The Courage of their Convictions: Sixteen Americans Who Fought Their Way to the Supreme Court by Peter Irons. As a general rule, I don't like nonfiction, but Irons's account of these landmark Supreme Court cases is full of the things that make works of fiction so great: pain, suffering, redemption, trial, triumph and loss.

Of those 5, which book would you choose to "become"?

The Courage of Their Convictions--if we're talking about ideas that need to be kept alive, this book is chock-full. You have these amazingly humble people, ordinary people, standing up to the machinery of government, throwing themselves under the wheels of it because they believe in an idea larger than themselves.

Each chapter in the book recounts one Supreme Court case dealing with Bill of Rights guarantees that have been denied certain groups of people. In each case, one person has come forward to try to secure those rights for themselves and the rest of us. You have conscientious objectors arguing for the right to remain peaceable during times of war, schoolteachers demanding the right to teach evolution, women who feel that they should be able to decide when and how to raise their families. African-Americans who just want to own property, or vote, or attend public school. In each instance, Irons has written an essay setting out the technicalities of the case, and then follows an essay by each of the plaintiffs, recounting their feelings about the ordeal, what prompted them to sue for their rights, and how they felt after the matter was settled. In many cases, they lost; in some cases, even decades later, these people feel betrayed by their government. In others, they are profoundly grateful. In yet others, they are befuddled at the importance others place on them. "I didn't do anything so great," they say. "I just wanted to be free to live my life."

I think these ideas deserve to live on. I think it's good for people to know that there are times when the individual can face down the behemoth of government and come out victorious. I think that people should know that it's important to fight for what you think is right, even if you know you won't win. To remember that government can't exist without the consent of the governed, that the people made the Constitution and that it lives only by their will; that underneath the laws and statutes there are common inalienable rights that are due all people, that can't be legislated away.

Do you have any favorite quotes from that book, so we know why you love it so much?

"We may be generations away from a shared vision about the things upon which we can build a harmonious, secure, and just future for all of humankind. But if we survive at all, it will come, I really believe. And I think it is fitting that the survival question must remain, for the time, unanswerable. If we knew for sure of an optimistic answer we might be tempted to sloth. If we knew for certain that disaster was inevitable, we would be paralyzed with despair. The fact that human survival is truly hanging in the balance keeps us striving. I can't conceive of a more enlivening and worthwhile thing to do with one's days than grapple with these great questions." -Daniel Seeger, a Quaker jailed during WWII for his conscientious objector status, United States v. Seeger.

Cathy, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved. I'm always looking for more participants - if you are interested, send me an email. I'd love to chat!


Connie said...

Thanks again! <3

bermudaonion said...

I'm going to check out Cathy's blog - The Courage of Their Convictions sounds wonderful.

Serena said...

wow, sounds like a wonderful blog. I am going to have to check this out. I haven't read any of these sad...though I did attempt to get into the Mulvaneys, but I just never went past page 10.

Beth F said...

I agree with Kathy (Berundaonion) The Courage of Their Convictions sounds wonderful. I'm not much of an Oates fan and I haven't read the Shriver yet. But I like the other choices!

Jenners said...

Ok...I think I'm going to have to check out her blog based on this! Love the intro and love the choices. I just read "Anne of Green Gables" for the first time this year and fell in love ... and I was a huge fan of "We Need To Talk About Kevin." Anyone who can love both of these books is worth checking out ... and I want to check out the others based on her writings. Great post!

BookSnob said...

I am delighted to see both Anne of Green Gables and Tropic of Cancer on your list. Certainly not two books that often appear together!

Carrie K said...

As I've picked up Peter Irons lecture series on the Supreme Court from the Teaching Company and thoroughly enjoyed it, I second Cathy's choice to become that book.

And with that said, I'm off to find the book.

Zibilee said...

What a great list of books! I haven't read all of them, but I will be checking some out some of those less familiar to me. Great post!