Friday, September 25, 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"?

I'm so excited to welcome author Marc Blatte to As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves today for 451 Fridays! I reviewed Marc's book, Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed yesterday (read my review here), and later today I have a special post from the publisher of that book. But now, here's storyteller Marc Blatte, with his take on 451 Fridays. Welcome, Marc!


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

These books are all fabulously written, infused with humor and impart timeless wisdom with great empathy and compassion. Indomitable non-conformists, who are perfect for inspiration and empowerment in an age of repression, inhabit them. Multiple examples of the redemptive power of love are throughout all, which I believe might be the perfect antidote to the pessimism and hate of a dark age.

The book I would like to become is Catch-22. It makes me laugh out loud and I can never get enough of funny. I consider Joseph Heller’s narrative to be hilariously subversive. What could be better than to confound totalitarian systems? Especially when in this case it is the military? I can’t imagine becoming anything more elevating than delighting people with Heller’s zany characters and absurdist situations.

I met Joseph Heller at a restaurant once, in Bridgehampton, NY, while I was with my wife‘s family waiting for our table to be ready. It was around Christmastime. At first I couldn’t put a name on the face of the literary master. Fortunately I was with my sister-in-law, who is a well-known broadcast journalist and has interviewed many authors.

“Hey, look at that guy over there. He‘s so familiar. Who is he?”

She says without pausing, “Joseph Heller”.

“I‘ve got to talk to him. I’ve got something he will want to hear.”

“He‘s famous for his reticence, Marc,” she says with appropriate concern for a bad outcome in the season of goodwill.

I nod indicating I understand, and to offer a sign of appreciation for the sentiment. However, tonight, reticence is not on my menu.

In the middle of our dinner I see Mr. Heller‘s guests have gone. He is sitting alone. Fate has blessed me with the opportunity I have waited for. I excuse myself and pounce.

“Joseph Heller,” I say, super-friendly, hand extended. “I’m Marc Blatte.”

He looks at me as if he knows who I am- although he doesn’t, I assure you. He takes my hand enthusiastically.

“Marc Blatte, what can I do you for?” He smiles. Or am I projecting…is he actually beaming?

“I was introduced to Henry Kissinger,” I say, “and as I shook his hand, all I could think of was your quote in Good as Gold: “Mine is not a Jewish accent, it is a German accent.”

The great writer bursts out laughing and keeps at it for a while.

“You know Marc Blatte,” he says, once he‘s recovered, “I just saw Henry’s brother on CNBC. He was asked why is it that he has no accent and his brother does?” Mr. Heller pauses before the punch line. “Because,” he says, “I am a business man. When people talk, I listen!”

We both laugh. He’s charming and funny.

After a few pleasantries I excuse myself and join the family. On his way out of the restaurant, to my disbelief, he comes over to our large group, introduces himself with great bonhomie, and tells my in-laws what a great guy I am. Our jaws dropped to the floor.

So if becoming Catch-22 is what is needed to keep his spirit alive, no problem. Call me Joe, or Catch. Or, if you’d like to be formal: Catch-22. I’ll be sure to respond to any one of them.




Marc, I'm honored to have you share your choices for the book YOU would become. If you are reading this and think you'd like to participate, let me know - I'd love to have you join us!

9 comments:

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Um I just died a little inside. I am jealous you kept such composure. I probably would have bowed. Great choices. I love love love Catch-22. Took me a few times to appreciate the true genius but the hilarity got me from read 1. What a wonderful memory!! As well as a wonderful post.

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Um I just died a little inside. I am jealous you kept such composure. I probably would have bowed. Great choices. I love love love Catch-22. Took me a few times to appreciate the true genius but the hilarity got me from read 1. What a wonderful memory!! As well as a wonderful post.

Hazra said...

I love Catch-22. I've read it just once, but I love the sarcastic tone of the book. And he got to chat with Heller himself; how cool is that!

Kristen M. said...

What a great story and such a diverse list. I totally agree that humor needs to be preserved ... and smart humor at that. Great entry today!

Jenners said...

OK ... this was perhaps the best 451 Friday post ever! That story is FANTASTIC!!! I'm swooning. I could never pull off anything remotely close to that. And a great list -- Catch-22 is one of my favorites. I'm glad it is now "safe."

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

The story of Joseph Heller is so charmingly told. I want to read Marc's book now just based on the way he told that story. I also like his five books.

Laughing Stars said...

Excellent post! The story about meeting Joseph Heller is priceless.

bermudaonion said...

This is a great post and Marc came up with a great list of books. What a fantastic story about Joseph Heller!

Zibilee said...

I have not read any of the books on his list, but after reading his story about Heller I am planning on adding a few of these to my list! Great post!