(Since September of 2017)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is the story of Guy Montag, a former government book-burner, who discovers that perhaps there is some real value in words and books. This is an interesting read in the Trump era, as it reminds us just how dangerous and self-perpetuating censorship can be. It also reminds us that may (and do) choose to be ignorant, to read fewer and fewer books, because modern entertainment is so intoxicating, an idea that clearly still resonates today.
“Remember,” a character in the book says, “the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.”
This should serve as a cautionary tale of what happens when a culture collectively stops reading and opts, instead, to be merely entertained.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
George Saunders’ novel is part Dante, part Homer, wildly inventive, and deeply moving. It’s about death, loss, regret, and transformation.
Most of the action takes place in the bardo, which is a liminal state between death and rebirth in Buddhist traditions. Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, falls ill and dies, which brings him to the bardo, where he encounters a fascinating cast of characters, shades, some of whom “manifest” in Dante-esque punishments. Others simply try to remain in the bardo because of fear that rebirth will be hellish.
Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln mourns the loss of his son intensely, all against the background of the ongoing Civil War.
“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear.”
This book is unlike anything I’ve ever read. It’s imaginative reach is staggering. I highly, highly recommend checking it out.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
After Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize I figured I needed to read more of his work. I read An Artist of the Floating World a while ago, and I remembered enjoying it, but I wanted to read more.
And I’m glad I did. This book is a slow-burning, heartbreaking story that delves deeply into ideas of what it means to be human and imagines a world that, considering the trajectory of modern technology, seems eerily imminent.
For those of you thinking of reading this one, stick with it through the first fifty pages or so. Once it starts to pull you in you’ll get swept away, and the last one hundred pages will just shatter you. But it begins a little slowly.
A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
Continuing my exploration into Ishiguro, I read A Pale View of Hills. In it, Ishiguro dives into generational difference, both on a micro and a macro level. There’s the acute sense of unbridgeable difference between parents and children, which reminded me of the Yasujiro Ozu film, Tokyo Story. There’s also conflict between the older generation, which is viewed by the younger generation as being responsible for the war, and the young people, who are growing increasingly Westernized (or, more accurately perhaps, more Americanized) in the post-war years. The older generation sees this as an unfortunate and sad surrendering of traditional values and ideals, while the younger generation sees it as cultural progression.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
This book is just unforgettable. Read it.