Friday, May 22, 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"?

This week, I'm thrilled to welcome Andi to 451 Fridays. Andi is one of the first fellow readers I met online, years before I thought about starting a book blog, in a Yahoo Groups book forum. We quickly discovered rather similar reading tastes, and I've eagerly anticipated her 451 list. Andi blogs at Tripping Toward Lucidity: Estella's Revenge, and is also the founder and co-editor of the cool e'zine Estella's Revenge. Welcome, Andi!

When I began picking books for this project I thought over all the “classics” I love. But somehow more contemporary books kept sneaking into my head and insisting that I pay attention to them. As a result, the list I’ve made up is full of my own contemporary favorites as well as a few dark horses: Call It Sleep, an underappreciated novel about the American immigrant experience, is one such example that I would urge any reader to check into even if they’ve never heard of it.

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

The Hours, by Michael Cunningham

Call It Sleep, by Henry Roth

The Golems of Gotham, by Thane Rosenbaum

The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt

The New York Trilogy, by Paul Auster

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

Oddly enough, I think I would choose the lesser known of the books I’ve listed (or so I assume). I would become The Golems of Gotham, by Thane Rosenbaum. I read it in 2006, and it made my Top 10 that year. At the time I only rated the book 8.5/10, but over time it’s really stuck with me. I think of the characters often, many affecting quotes have stayed with me, and I have an itch to re-read it. The book is a look at how the children of Holocaust survivors inherit and navigate such a tragedy. It’s a topic I’m particularly interested in, and Rosenbaum is one of the best at dealing with these particular issues.

In 2006, I wrote of the book on my Top 10 wrap-up for the year:

“It was hard to pick this last title, and I actually nixed Sister Carrie (Theodore Dreiser) at the last minute. While I think Dreiser’s novel was superior in its writing, I think Rosenbaum has done something special in The Golems of Gotham, and at the end of the day (or year as it might be) this title was much more affecting. It’s the story of a young girl and her father—their family plagued by death and loss. In an attempt to save her father, a writer, from his depression the girl summons her dead grandparents, Holocaust survivors, from the other side and with them comes a cast of famous Jewish figures, also Holocaust survivors who met their demise as a result of suicide. Rosenbaum deals in inheritance—how the children and grandchildren of those so inexorably changed by the Holocaust inherit that burden and live with it (or die by it). The novel is magical, something akin to magical realism I would say, and the writing is gorgeous. Rosenbaum is certainly an author with good things on the horizon. I urge any and everyone to give at least one of his books a try.”

While it might sound like a “downer” of a book—and it certainly is dark in spots—what I loved about it was also its hopeful humanity. The main character and his daughter are shining examples of the good and beautiful things that can arise from darkness and despair.

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

“Despair, if nothing else, is a private matter. The mind isn't required to share such information. That's because the soul is the master of its own short-circuitry, the system shutdown, the fading pulse that monitors the brokenness of both spirit and heart. When a state of mind sinks to a point where the life itself--the day-to-day engagements, the nightly slumber and silences--becomes unbearable, who are we to second-guess or armchair analyze? There was no way to properly insert oneself inside the minds of the Levins and follow the logic of [Holocaust] survivors who would one day choose a synagogue as the setting to turn off their own life-support systems.”

"The Golems didn't die from suicide. The true cause of death was too much reflection; casualties of a life lived in furious remembrance. The closer they looked, the easier it became to self-kill. Those who examined too close inevitably saw too much. Each one an Icarus, flying too near the sun, and then, for the sake of finality, stared intrepidly, and fatally, into the hypnotic face of a Medusa head cut off from the corpses of Auschwitz."

"’We are turning over the burden to him,' Paul said. 'We could have left him alone as he was, but that was not alive, either. He needs the challenge. It is only in the extremes, on the margins of existence, where life is worth living, where we learn what's possible for ourselves and for the rest of humanity. The middle of the road leads nowhere, it reveals nothing about man other than ambivalence and fear.'"

Andi, thanks so much for taking the time to share with us YOUR list of books which must be saved. Next week, I will welcome Fleur Fisher of FleurFisherReads to 451 Fridays. Would you like to see your list featured on an upcoming friday? Send me an email and we will chat!


Liyana said...

Congrats! You have something here.

Beth F said...

I haven't read The Golems. I'll have to take a look. Great list -- minus the classics.

Jenners said...

Another great entry in this series. I must confess... I haven't heard of any of these books. But when a book stays with you for years after, it is one that you want to keep and "become."

bermudaonion said...

Oh my gosh, I haven't read any of those books. This post gives me some new titles to explore.

Iliana said...

Hi - I just stopped by from Andi's blog! I cannot believe I've never read any of these. Yikes. Definitely putting them on the list because if Andi says they are good then they are must reads :)

Violet said...

wow...haven't heard of any of these titles before, expect maybe The Hours.
There are just too many books to read :)

Elizabeth said...

Liyana - thanks! That's so kind. =)

Beth - it's fun to see the new classics on here, too!

Jenners - don't feel bad, I hadn't heard of most.

bermuda - me either. Andi is always reading something that sounds good.

Iliana - exactly - if Andi says it's good, it's good!

Violet - I know what you mean! There are always more books than hours in the day.