17. 6 Poems

by Margaux Delotte-Bennett

Ordinarily I'd say this book was too short to count but I must make an exception. This is my dear friend's book and she published it herself. In fact she made them herself. And the poetry, as usual, is deeply personal, asking the reader to read closely and be moved. I did and I was.

Her poetry is richly rewarding. I highly recommend you find one of these rare copies! In fact, if you ask I might send you mine.

16. Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

This probably won't shock you but I have read this book before. This time was better. It's strange, we often consider these books optimal for adolescents (that is when we are forced to read them) when in fact it takes a mature mind to fully realize this little book's power. I was stricken this time by a troubling difference between the world in Orwell's 1984 (often considered F 451's "other") and this one. In 1984, the problem is a totalitarian government forcing its will on the people and, of course, the control of language. Bradbury, on the other hand, creates a world where it is not the government that begins things by burning books- it's ordinary people who turn away from reading and the habits of thought and reflection in encourages. When the governemtn starts actively censoring information, most people don't even bat an eye.

Bradbury's world is a utopia of sorts. Everyone is happily distracted by life's pain and suffering. Instead, people live lives of convenience, pleasure and a trouble free "happiness" brought on by some great technological advances in TV (wouldn't we all like an interactive TV that runs from floor to ceiling on all four walls of a room?), "sea shell" earpieces that whisper sweet nothings 24 hours a day, and drugs. It's interesting to read this in a time of hundreds of channels of TV avaiable 24 hours, including an array of challengeless reality shows, Walkmans, iPods, and literally thousands of pain-reducing drugs to choose from, all of which serve their specific purposes... and isolate us from humanity. Oh, it's that last part that is the downer.

Some lines that were cause for pause this time around:

"You are intuitively right, that's what counts."

"Good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies."

"You can't guarantee things like that! After all, when we had all the books we needed, we still insisted on finding the highest cliff to jump off. But we do need a breather. We do need knowledge. And perhaps in a thousand years we might pick smaller cliffs to jump off. The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are."

"Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge."

"The blowing of a single autumn leaf."

"Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass."

Anyway, everyone has read this book so there is little sense in reviewing it at length. I liked it even more the second time around. Pick up a copy. Give it another read.

By the way, I just discovered that this book had a special edition of 200 copies printed in 1953 with an asbestos cover! What they didn't know about asbestos! There's one copy going for $13,000.

from The Curtain

As he saw his life run away from him
Thousands ran along
Chanting words from a song:

Please we have no regrets
Please we have no regrets

15. Fires in the Mirror

by Anna Deavere Smith

This is a eye-opening series of monologues performed live by Anna Deavere Smith in 1993. Like most New Yorkers, the 1991 Crown Heights riots both shocked and perpexed her. In these 20 or so monologues, all of which she performs herself, she manages to channel a diversity of voices of both sides of this conflict. It is not only important social commentary but a creative look at the culture gap between Black and Hassidic neighbors in Crown Heights.

I have ordered the live performance on video, which is certainly the best way to experience this thing.

14. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Nabokov (who bought the rights to Jekyll and Hyde) implores to readers, "Please completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn, consign to oblivion any notion you may have had that Jekyll and Hyde is some kind of mystery story, a detective story or a movie." Of course I found that impossible being that this story had been retold hundreds of times in my own lifetime. It has become a staple of Halloween. Certain aspects of the novel are frequently credited as being a prominient ancestor to our modern mystery and detective stories. How does one erase such lore from one's consciousness and go on reading the thing?

Well, the answer is to just relax knowing it is not necessary. The answer is to skip right past the pretencious literary introductions added to books way after the fact and read the thing itself. I admire Nabokov greatly but for his own fiction, not his haughty justifications others'.

Anyway, despite the high Victorian style and language, I really dug this novel. It is a remarkably strange 72 pages. Well worth the trouble. Here is a copy in hypertext:

http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/SteJekl.html

While you are at it, you might want to browse the other texts that the University of Virginia has been converting to hypertext.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/collections/languages/

Happy Birthday Jerry Garcia

That's it. Just happy birthday.