Booklist 2017: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

 

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Ever burned a book? For me, it’s of those actions that I don’t cross my mind. Like deliberately tripping a blind person or pushing a pram down the stairs for kicks – it’s stuff that anyone with a moral compass wouldn’t think of doing. So picking up Fahrenheit 451 was a new sort of experience. Bradbury’s novel is set in a world that burns books because they’re forbidden. This novel is one of those on the dystopia world “must-reads” that I’ve known about but never picked up until this year. I suppose it’s my mood of the moment given the direction the US government is heading.

I can say I enjoyed the world in which the story takes place, but I really disliked the characters. The world is a fully realised nightmare on prozac: information levelled at the population with the sole aim to keep them distracted to maintain a happy kind of medium. Bread and circuses kind of deal. In this world, it’s an extremely empty happiness devoid of any purpose, which in turn, renders existence meaningless. The people in this world do nothing else but constantly consume the media, bombarded left, right and centre with simulation. Bradbury describes this state in such a way that I find quite unsettling because for me, the reader in 2017, it’s an fairly accurate description of how easy it is to find and stay distracted.

Books in this world are outlawed because they have the potential to make people think and thus, essentially become unhappy. Remaining books that are found are immediately burned. The story takes place in a world that’s at war but it’s like a passing thought amidst the placid and ignorant population. It’s in the best interests for people to stay happy and not think about what happening outside the bubbles. So, books are banned. An oversimplification of the context (I know), but that’s the general gist since there are far better essays / articles out there that properly deconstruct this world.

I suppose I didn’t like the story because I found myself sympathising with Mildred, the protagonist’s wife, who was more concerned with keeping her inner void at bay than being curious about where the act of reading books could take her. She’s a shell of a person – plastic and not really there. She has all the trappings of a very comfortable life that has no purpose. I really wanted her to “wake up” (in a very real sense) and do something. Do anything, but as the story progressed I became so frustrated because it was clear she actively chooses to remain as she is. The potential of facing the truth of this nothingness is represented in books and it’s disappointing, though not surprising, that she chose her path. I wasn’t rooting for her because I liked her – she is an awful person, but I think maybe, on some level, she reminds me of a potential, future kind of existence should I take the yearning for distraction to the extreme. I have complicated feelings about this book, which means I’ll probably need to re-read it later.

As ever, your thoughts and recommendations in the comments are welcomed!

Respective images via Senses of Cinema (which gives an excellent analysis of the film version of this book) and Messy Time Traveller Tumbler (the original image is a gif but is presented here as an image). 

First winter race was cold (duh)

Manchester (UK) has a special kind of winter. It arrives early in June for a day or so, realises it’s early, then comes back around November and stays until March. It starts to think about leaving April-May and sometimes actually leaves between June-September to make room for Spring / Summer, only to take turns arriving/leaving/arriving for a week or so before it comes back. As a cooler weather person, Manchester is my kind of city. Usually. Then it rains. It’s the bloody sideways rain (e.g. Umbrella? Fool!) with wind that blows against you no matter which way you turn. It was that kind of day that I found myself running my first winter race. This year I signed up to Cancer Research UK Manchester Winter Run 2017 and entered the 10k event. I figured I needed a running goal to keep me moving during the winter. When it gets cold I like to hibernate, stay in, eat – drink- and be merry kind of deal. Having a goal like this in the middle of winters gets me out and about.

It’s been mild the last few weeks but last weekend the temperature dropped to below freezing. So here I was on the morning of the run thinking I could just not do the race (and stay warm and cosy). Then I remember I paid for this privilege and have been training the last few weeks for this run so, damn it, get out here.

img_3451Y’know I’m glad I did. I much prefer running in cooler weather than in the heat. The actual race was surprisingly fun. The enthusiasm of the crowd and the organisers really made the day. Cancer Research UK really know how to organise a good running event: loads of signage, tons of marshals and entertaining cheerleaders all throughout the course, like the Samba Drum Choir and the folks dressed up fancy dress winter animals (polar bears, huskies, and penguins) looking for high-fives from passing runners. OK, the latter is a little cheesy but when you’re running against 15 mph winds, uphill, every cheer counts! I loved it!

Also, I got a new PB at 58:12 (!!!), finishing 996th place our of 1634 finishers. I usually finish around 1:02-1:06 so this was a surprise. Not bad for running in heavy wind and sideways rain! You can count on Manchester skies to deliver a proper winter setting.

Image my own selfie, about 5 minutes after I crosse the finish line. Could still feel my finger at that point!

 

Booklist 2017: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

In light of the atrocious Muslim travel ban attempt by the current US administration (ugh), my social media feed was full of protests and condemnations. However there was one article (By Emily Temple on Literary Hub) that caught my eye, not because it was funny or furious, but it was the only thing in the mess of my newsfeed that suggested a practical and positive reaction.

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Essentially, the article suggested to educate yourself by reading books by and about Muslims to temper the ignorance and growing Islamaphobia. Newsfeed and social media provide a variety of positions, but actually reading work written by Muslims from a Muslim perspective is a position that I haven’t really taken into account. I’m of the view that everyone has racist views (including yours truly), conscious and unconscious, and these views that we carry around affect the way we interact with others. So the small act of reading books by Muslim authors is, in my opinion, a way of getting some perspective.

“Throne of the Crescent Moon” by Saladin Ahmed is a rip roaring adventure set in a fantasy world I’ve never really encountered. Fantasy books are full of characters set in and/or drawn from some interpretation of European-esque myths and legends: fantastic creatures (dragons, wyverns), ancient races (elves, dwarves, orcs etc.) and some kind of system of magic. This book has these fantasy world elements based on ancient Middle-eastern legends and myths – something I know nothing about. I’m not talking about Aladdin (the legend-now-Disneyfied) or Prince of Persia Hollywood-bastardisations. The author introduces the reader to a world that has the familiar fantasy elements but not as we know it. It’s best to read the book to get a sense of the world the author has built.

The thing that struck me the most about this story were the references to God that are very much part of the world. The references are not religious in any sense but the world which this story takes place revolves around religious customs. Greetings, curses, attribution to good / bad fortune are in reference a higher power(s). Indeed, the central conflict is between God and “The Traitorous Angel” but the story isn’t presented in a philosophical sense but through the eyes of the humans that are “blessed” with powers (from each “side”) to do battle. I found the references to God intriguing and it did take a little while to get used to.

The one thing I did find challenging was managing my expectation of what I thought was going to happen during the story. Without giving away any spoilers, I did expect the characters to be doing more fighting against the “ghuls” and “djinns”. There is a lot action, there is also a lot of talk between the main characters. My impatience I think comes from my (stereotypical?) expectations of what happens in fantasy novels and I found these non-action sections interesting but challenging to read.

In all, I really enjoyed Saladin Ahmed’s first novel and I’m SO looking forward to the next book in The Crescent Moon Kingdom series.

Image of the book my own. As ever, if you’ve read this book, or can give any recommendations, please do comment below!