Monday, May 14, 2007

Book Group madness

So first, I re-read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and then drove to Hiawatha, KS to help facilitate a book discussion group there last week. My favorite comment came from Virginia, who said she had read the book in 1956 as a college assignment and it seemed freaky and irrelevant (I might be paraphrasing here...) but when she read it this year, it seemed like Bradbury was writing about modern times and his futuristic visions were coming true in our society. I just loved her perspective over the 50 years in between readings. I can't wait until 2057 when I re-read this book and compare THAT society to Bradbury's novel. I can only hope that his dystopian novel continues to be "futuristic" and not "historical." Another point they raised (which I agreed with to some extent) was a complete disdain for "book collectors". One person went as far as to compare them to Beatty and his walls of unopened books (which we all agreed was a terrible crime, to hoard the books but not read them.)
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I also finally let myself start exploring my grief concerning the late great Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. At the Comicon in Overland Park last week, I bought several old issues of Playboy magazine featuring interviews and reviews with Vonnegut, but I had avoided re-reading, and have postponed reading the outpouring of reflections online in the last month, as I know that many Vonnegut fans have been doing all month, because I have felt so busy with other deadlines. Yesterday I could avoid it no longer, because today was Vonnegut day in book group, so I settled in to re-read "Slaughterhouse Five" and also a good sized pile of literary criticism and commentary to prepare. And, as always, Kurt Vonnegut's words have made me sad, and happy, and comforted, and upset, and relieved and riled up and peaceful and depairing and enthusiastic and inspired. Just like good writing should be.
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This weekend, M and I are discussing Fahrenheit 451 again with our Sunday group. I will probably re-read on Saturday. Bradbury becomes more literary and poetic with each reading.

Speaking of re-reading, I was a guest reader at the F451 kickoff event at TSCPL last Friday night. I was supposed to read for 3-5 minutes from a passage of a book that I love. I spent 3-5 hours on the floor next to my bookshelves, skimming and re-reading passages from my favorite books trying to find a passage to share. In my mind, I wanted to find something important that I loved, something that I would memorize if books were outlawed and my book was threatened. I tried Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding, Cheaper by the Dozen by the Gilbreaths, Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Egerton, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn, and of course I considered Connie Willis, particularly the last pages of The Doomsday Book.I looked at Nick Hornby, Tim Robbins, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and plenty of old favorites from my childhood.

But it all comes back to John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire, and after reading most of the second half of the book, browsing around Tralfamadorian-style, I settled in two pages close to the end. I had to practice reading them aloud so that I could complete the passage without getting emotional, but at the library Friday night, it went pretty well. I read about how Father, now blinded, doesnt't realize that the third Hotel New Hampshire in Maine isn't a typical hotel. He greets the "guests" (who are actually rape victims recovering at the center) and talks to them about how a great hotel can help people recover and put them back together. (That is the part that chokes me up of course). And his children conclude that their father continues to have good advice. Like "Keep passing the open windows...."
I don't need to count up those hours of browsed pages. The more I remember it, the more I was to go revisit "the good parts" of other books.


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