Friday, October 31, 2008

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In his 1823 play, Almansor: A Tragedy, Heinrich Heine wrote: “Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.”

Book-burning is the practice of ceremoniously destroying books or other written materials. In the last 50 or so years, we have seen phonograph records, video tapes and CDs added to the pyre.

Book-burning generally is motivated by moral, religious or political objections to the material, or, more specifically, the ideas the material contains.

Book-burning can have a profound effect on culture, especially when the works destroyed are irreplaceable and their loss results in severe damage to a people’s history and heritage. Book-burning — indeed, book-banning — has become a symbol of harsh and oppressive regimes.

China’s Qin Dynasty burned books and buried scholars during in the second century bce. Four destructive fires at the Library of Alexandria spanned 700 years. The late 17th century saw the destruction of Mayan codices by Spanish conquistadors and priests. The 20th century was marked by Nazi book-burnings of the 1930s and the destruction of the Sarajevo National Library in 1992.

However, burning is not the only method of destroying cultural artifacts. In our country, school and public libraries are under constant assault by elements that would force their views on the majority in absolute contradiction to our First Amendment freedoms.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of an oppressive society in which books are forbidden objects, and firemen are required to burn all books they encounter.

It’s not without irony, then, that Fahrenheit 451 has been the object of book bans itself.

Dawn Sova writes of it in Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds. She states the reasons for its banning have included the mention of hell, and the words “damn,” and “abortion.” Also, objections were raised to the reference of a “drunk man” and “cleaning fluff from the navel.”

Such oppression helped set in motion the establishment of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, Young Adult Division. All this happened in 1967. But as recently as 1992, students in a California middle school were issued copies of Fahrenheit 451 with all the above-mentioned offending words blacked out.

Parents have the absolute right to control what their children read. They do not have the right to control what other people’s children can read.

Frequently, supporters of free speech will raise objections, censored copies will be removed and removed books will be re-shelved.

Following such an outcry, the expurgated copies of the book distributed in California were replaced with the original version.

Libraries are temples of democracy, and librarians are the priests and priestesses. They guard information. As the great English essayist, Francis Bacon, wrote more that 400 years ago, “access to information is power.”

We must take Heine’s dictum and Fahrenheit 451 as a warning. Overzealous individuals who would control ideas really want to control our minds. Read it, Waco, and decide for yourself.

--Chiron, 10/31/08

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff

The second read for this year of my book club was picked by a Buddhist/vegan/animal rights activist friend of mine. I was not sure at all I would enjoy it, but I did. This thoroughly enjoyable read was informative, if a bit repetitious at times.

Anyone who lives with a dog or a cat or has grown up on a farm is well aware of the intelligence, memory, and emotions expressed by animals. Bekoff’s book is loaded with anecdotes from ethologists (researchers in animal emotions) as well as lay persons. As he says, “the plural of anecdote is data” (121). Many of his anecdotes closely match what we have observed with our pets at home.

Bekoff shows how animals and humans share brain structure and chemistry. He posits that our emotions have evolved along with our physical structure. To my surprise, Darwin also speculated about animal emotions, and he believed they evolved along with physical structure.

One chapter ends with, “if we try to learn more about forgiveness, fairness, trust, and cooperation in animals, maybe we’ll also learn to live more compassionately and cooperatively with one another” (109).

This read has not made me a vegetarian, but it has made me more conscious of products I buy. I simply like meat too much to give it up completely. However, I try and buy products not tested on animals, free-range chicken, and organic, hormone and antibiotic-free milk and eggs. It is a first small step.

The most interesting question Bekoff poses is, would you treat your family pet the same way you would treat the animals in your lab, on your farm, or in the wild? I suspect almost everyone would answer with a resounding, “No!”

--Chiron, 10/31/08

Sunday, October 26, 2008


I am still here! Not lost, dead, or hospitalized! I am in a very busy period with grading, studying, and planning the school's student literary magazine.

Things will begin to loosen up this week, and I will have a couple of new posts by next weekend.

-Chiron, 10/26/08

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White

Patrick White has been one of the great discoveries I have made over the last couple of years. I now own copies of all his books, and I am working my way through them. Each book I read increases my admiration for this Nobel-Prize winning author. The Twyborn Affair was no exception. The splendid prose, the fascinating characters drawn with precision and a breathtaking depth, so absorbed my consciousness, I missed clues leading up to the climactic ending that exploded in the early days of the blitz of London.

This novel tells the story of three characters: Eudoxia, married to an elderly Greek aristocrat with delusions of grandeur; Eddie Twyborn, the son of a respected judge in Sydney, who takes a job as a hired hand on a farm in the outback; and Eadith, the mysterious madam of a posh brothel in London of the 1930s.

These three characters spin their lives in various directions, but the stunning conclusion brings them together. Eddie’s mother, Eadie, also plays a role in the ending.

As I have said before, White’s novels are thoroughly enjoyable, but the prose requires close attention and a second read. Once I get through all his novels, I will most definitely start all over again.

If you have never read anything by Patrick White, I urge you to remedy this major gap in your reading experience. Ten stars! No kidding.

--Chiron, 10/16/08