Monday, August 10, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

The Ray Bradbury panel got me thinking about Fahrenheit 451, which I read about a month ago. I read it in a day, it was actually the same day as my last day working at The Book Shop before the owner sold it and retired.

I miss The Book Shop, I had some good customers there and I certainly miss the employee discount, but what I miss most is hanging out with the owner, Hank, gossiping all weekend. What more could I ask for than good books, good company, and good gossip!

My last day there was particularly odd. About an hour before the shop was supposed to close the lights turned off and Hank couldn't get the landlord on the phone to turn them back on so we just closed early. It was the last Sunday in June and it was sweltering hot. I started the book at work, then finished it after going out for ice cream while I was lying on my bed with an ice pack on my head because we don't have air conditioning and I was trying desperately to cool down. All together, I think it was a pretty good setting for reading this book.

Despite the number of 'classics' that I've read and loved I'm still surprised when I read one that truly engages me and keeps me turning the pages. I guess society's prejudice that classics have to be time consuming works that require serious concentration and thought to appreciate is just too prevalent to be avoided. I immediately fell in love with Clarisse, and I soon began to be absorbed by this story of a dystopian society in which people who owned books were outlaws. I think it was Bradbury's biographer who pointed out in the panel that with ipods and blue tooth the idea of people being constantly bombarded with noise and distracted by 'seashells' seems more relevant than ever.

I'm not going to bother with a full review of the book because I'm pretty sure that everyone out there knows it well enough. I would, however, like to briefly talk about a few passages that stood out to me. The first is one of the best arguments that I've found about why printed books will survive the kindle:

"Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The 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. "

I think that more than anything else this is why books will survive. Because there is a physical quality and weight and smell and feel to books that can never be replicated by the pristine slickness of electronics. The kindle will never replace the books I have from my grandmother with her hand-written notes in the margin and yellowing pages and creased spines. They will never replace the books we got at The Book Shop with old pictures shoved in as book marks or inscriptions like in my copy of Time Traveler's Wife: "Passion & Obsession. The one thing you cannot live without is love. Never stop believing." dated February 14th, 2006. I bought the book in June of 2007. If that's not a perfect reminder of reality to accompany a romance novel I don't know what is! I'm not naive, I know that e-readers are becoming more and more popular and that they won't disappear any more than physical books, but new technology rarely entirely replaces the old. Some bands still come out with vynil versions of their albums for goodness' sake!

The second quote seems particularly apt to me considering the times that we are in.

We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality. Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth? But when he was held, rootless, in midair, by Hercules, he perished easily. If there isn’t something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane."

I work as a Student Assistant at a CSU library, and we just had our first furlough day today. Of course the library couldn't close if classes were in session so we opened with half staff and no other offices open to refer students to. We've also been closing an hour earlier every day than we did last summer, and it will only get worse before it's over. I just graduated from there in fall, so I'll have to find a new job soon. The job hunt hasn't been particularly encouraging so far because most libraries, as state-funded institutions, simply can't afford to hire any new people right now even if other people leave. I know we'll survive this economic down turn because, well, what choice do we have? But it makes me wonder how much damage we'll be doing in the meantime by cutting the funding and services at our schools and libraries.

The last quote is a bit more optimistic:

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching…The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime."

I'm starting grad school for my Masters of Library and Information Sciene soon and it's quotes like this that make me glad that I am, even though tuition is killing me! I truly believe that as a librarian I will be able to touch people's lives and make them better. We all have a responsibility to help in the way that we are best equipped for, and the more I work in libraries the more I feel that it is where I belong. I know that a lot of the patrons may just be looking for a book to finish their report that they waited until the last minute to start, or even just looking for the restroom, but even if I touch just one person's life in my whole carreer I'll feel like my time at library school was well spent.

P.S.If you want a tangentially-related laugh, check out this comic.

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