Update on the Banning of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man

Thought I’d better post an update in case not everyone has heard that the ban imposed (by a North Carolina county school board) on Ralph Ellison’s Invisble Man was rescinded at the special board meeting referred to in my previous post. For the L.A. Times’ article on the story, click here. Hurrah!

Below: author Ralph Ellison

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North Carolina School Board’s ban of Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”

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Well, here we go again. With impeccable timing (just in time for Banned Books Week!), a county school board (the picture below is from their website) in North Carolina recently voted 5-2 to remove an acknowledged literary classic, Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” from their library and reading list for students. This was after a complaint by a junior student’s mother who submitted the required forms and detailed supporting documentation. (Copies of all this may be found in the source material link below)

When the individual school she registered her complaint with decided not to take any action, she appealed the decision to the Randolph County school board. Her appeal, poorly written, included a ‘warning’ that “I and other companies are looking into other ways of having great attention come to this matter publicly.” The board caved and voted to remove the book. There has been a lot of negative public reaction to this censorship, and a special meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow. From the agenda, it looks like they will be reconsidering the decision and voting again. The meeting is at five p.m. EST tomorrow (9/25), and I will pause in my day & have a moment of silence of my own (concurrent with the scheduled moment of silence in their agenda) to hope that the board this time realizes the perils of censorship and where it may lead. I urge you to do the same.

Source material for tomorrow’s special board meeting:

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Below, the county’s Board of Education. All but the vice-chair Emily Coltrane and Todd Cutler have initially voted to “ban” the book. Board member Mason was quoted as saying “I didn’t find any literary merit” in the book. I am curious what his background is, and on what basis he made that determination. The materials and news that I’ve read on this story did not provide any additional info.

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Banned Books Week – a Fahrenheit 451 “Creature Feature” Quiz!

At the monthly meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s book club last week, Bill Briscoe, the KVML’s official historian and the book club’s unofficial poet laureate, shared with us a quiz…

Bill writes: “After reading Fahrenheit 451, I have concluded that Ray Bradbury loved to use “creatures” to “illustrate” his text. This quiz is simply a fill-in-the-blank exercise. The right column contains quotations from his novel. Just pick one of the “creatures” from the left column that are “featured” in the book. The quotations are in the order that they appear in the book in case you wish to search for any of the answers. Even though many of the “creatures” show up multiple times, each “creature” is used only once in the quotes.”

This was such a unique – and fun! – diversion I thought I’d share it here. Are you a Fahrenheit 451 scholar? How many can you get right? I’ve read it three times, but was lucky to get over fifty percent – and wouldn’t even have done that well except for some that can be inferred through context. Just click on the picture to expand and go to work. Good luck! (I’ll list the answers below the fold)

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Answers:

Read the rest of this entry »

Banned Books Week at the Vonnegut Library – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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In honor of “Banned Books Week” (starts Sunday!) the book club at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis read Ray Bradbury’s often-banned novel, “Fahrenheit 451.” At our meeting yesterday, we were also lucky to have a special guest, Jonathan Eller, who is the Director and General Editor of the “Center for Ray Bradbury Studies” in … Indianapolis! Located on the IUPUI campus, it’s part of the “Institute for American Thought” which in turn is part of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts. This “discovery” makes me wonder what other local hidden literary treasures might await me if I looked around a bit more.

Anyway, on to the book. This marked my third reading of this classic. The first time, in January 2001, was simply for my own pleasure. The second was just in 2010, when I re-read it for a discussion at Bookmama’s bookstore. A brief post about my 2010 reading of the book may be found here. I had no regrets about having to read it yet again for the KVMLBC. It’s a short book too, checking in at under 50,000 words. It can be read in a just a few hours, even by a slow reader like me. I won’t re-hash the plot of the story (I’m assuming “everyone” has already read it and, if not, please buy a copy and get started now.) 🙂

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I was looking for ‘something different’ while reading this time around, and I was struck by how “fire” itself could almost be considered a character in this novel. (I felt something similar last year when reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – also for the KVML book club for banned books week – and found the Mississippi River also arguably taking on the role of a character). Initially, in Fahrenheit 451, fire is destructive only. In Fire Chief Captan Beatty’s lecture to the novel’s protagonist, Guy Montag, he describes it thus:

“What is there about fire that’s so lovely? No matter what age we are, what draws us to it? It’s perpetual motion; the thing man wanted to invent but never did. Or almost perpetual motion. If you let it go on, it’d burn our lifetimes out. What is fire? It’s a mystery. Scientists give us gobbledygook about friction and molecules. But they don’t really know. It’s real beauty is that it destroys responsibility and consequences.”

Later when Montag, after his escape from the city, stumbles upon some men around a campfire, the “personality” of fire had changed:

“It was not burning, it was warming. He saw many hands held to its warmth, hands without arms, hidden in the darkness. Above the hands, motionless faces that were only moved and tossed and flickered with firelight. He hadn’t known fire could look this way. He had never thought in his life that it could give as well as take. Even its smell was different.”

It’s little wonder that fire holds a place as one of the four original, primordial “elements” is it?

(below: Nazis burning books; these events happened not too long before Bradbury began work on the earlier versions of Fahrenheit 451. “I hate those guys.” )

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(And so did Indiana Jones, even if he did get Hitler to sign his dad’s “Grail Diary”)

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Due to our special guest’s presence, I also learned a lot about the book – and Bradbury – that I didn’t know. Here are a few tidbits:

The inspiration for Fahrenheit 451 was the 1940 novel, “Darkness at Noon,” by Arthur Koestler.

The original publication of Fahrenheit 451 included some books with asbestos board for covers (!) According to Eller, who has seen one, they have not aged well and should be opened only if wearing a breathing mask of some sort. This edition is pictured at the top of this post.

Eller also told us that Bradbury had a soft spot in his heart for the pedestrian, and that he felt they were a kind of “indicator species” for society (much in the same way ecologists view amphibians in the world of biology). Coincidentally, when Bradbury passed away earlier this year, I searched online for a story – any story – of his to read as a small tribute, and the one I found was “The Pedestrian,” a great short story about a future where being a solitary pedestrian late at night was apparently an arrest-able offense. Eller shared with us that Bradbury wrote this story after an encounter with law enforcement he had himself while out walking. This story may be read online here. It should be mentioned here also that an innocent pedestrian is also victimized in Fahrenheit 451 when the government, having allowed Montag to escape their televised chase, chose a pedestrian as a stand in to hoodwink the viewers into thinking they “got their man.”

We also learned about some of the earlier phases Bradbury’s story went through before it became the final version we know today. The highlight of our meeting (at least to me) was seeing some of the literary artifacts that Eller brought with him. One of these was an original copy of “Galaxy” magazine, wherein the Bradbury short story, “The Fireman” was published. This story was Fahrenheit 451 in, perhaps, it’s “larval” stage…

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Several of those in attendance were curious as to the reasons that Fahrenheit 451 had been banned.  It was mostly “foul language,” (“hell,” “damn,” – you know the type) and the sterilized amendments (many of which were published) seem but minor changes in today’s world.  One member of the club had a book (recently published, too) from a local school that STILL had the amended, sanitized text. Mr. Eller was surprised to learn this, and planned a call to, I think, Simon & Schuster… Eller has also written a book about Bradbury and  A Barnes and Noble review of “Becoming Ray Bradbury” may be found here

Overall, another wonderful day at the KVML…

A couple final things: I read somewhere before that Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper will burst into flame. Later I learned it’s actually 451 degrees Celsius at which paper combusts, but that Bradbury felt Fahrenheit sounded better as a title. I can’t remember where I read this, though. Can anyone confirm or deny? It’s interesting to note also that Bradbury was a steadfast supporter of “real” books over e-books, energetically opposing his own titles being released in electronic form. But – one can’t burn an e-book…

A Busy Book Week in Bibliophilopolis

Or at least it could be. Lots of stuff going on in town. We’ll see how much I actually get to do.

(1) Tomorrow, author Majie Alford Failey is discussing her book, We Never Danced Cheek to Cheek: The Young Kurt Vonnegut in Indianapolis and Beyond, at Bookmama’s Bookstore in Irvington. I stopped by Bookmama’s last week as their “Shared Pages” book club was discussing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, one of my favorite short stories. At that time, I learned of this week’s event and bought a copy of the book. It’s only 150 pages or so, and I’ve already started it.

(2) Wednesday, the “Great Books” reading group is meeting at the Nora Library to discuss Sinclair Lewis’s classic book, Main Street. I’ve always wanted to read this and have downloaded to my Nook reader and gotten started, but I doubt I’ll be able to finish by then. I need to get to one of their meetings soon, though, as I asked to be included in their emails long ago but have yet to show up for anything. 🙂

(3) Thursday (Part I) The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club, in honor of Banned Books Week, is reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I completed my reading of this classic just yesterday and plan to attend this meeting for sure, barring unforeseen crises at the office (this is the club that meets in the middle of the day on a weekday; many of its members are retired).

(4) Thursday (Part II) My book club, The Indy Reading Coalition, meets to discuss Rex Stout’s Some Buried Caesar. I just read this short book last year, and don’t know if I’ll re-read just review to re-familiarize myself with whodunit. I can’t miss e meeting, though; my attendance record of about 58 out of 60 meetings is something I take pride in. 🙂

Do you ever have weeks this filled with book-related ‘events?’ I think is is a first for me…

September Reading

Okay, so it’s already the morning of the eighth and I’m a little bit late with this monthly post. As a result, I’ve already finished two books this month. One I had already read about two thirds of (We Make a Life by What We Give by Richard Gunderman) but it still counts as a September book. I hope to write a post dedicated to this book soon. The second is Chris Edwards’ Spiritual Snake Oil: Fads and Fallacies in Pop Culture. The author lives in central Indiana and gave a brief talk and book-signing at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library last week. This book – as you might guess by the title – shines a critical light on much of the pseudoscience in today’s world. More on this one later as well.

Enough of what I’ve finished already. What do I still have to go? Well I have a couple required reads as usual. One, for my personal book club, is Rex Stout’s Mystery Some Buried Caesar. This will actually be a re-read for me as I read it when it was the chosen book for Indianapolis’s “One City, One Book” program awhile back. I even went to a discussion about it at Bookmama’s Bookstore. It’s short and I know I can blast through it in a couple days when the time draws near. Stout is also an Indiana native (although he grew up in Kansas, I believe).

The second “required read” is for The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. The club is switching things up in September by NOT reading a Vonnegut novel this time. Instead, in honor of Banned Books Week, we are reading the frequently banned or censored classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This book happens to be one of those classics which I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read. That is about to change. 🙂

A semi-required read would by Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, which I’m about 75% done with at this point. Is a six-hundred pager, though, and I originally started reading it since it is the September pick for the “Critical Mass Book Club” at the Carmel Public Library (where I went last month for the Flannery O’Connor discussion). While I’m not officially affiliated with that group, I was impressed with its size and vibe when I visited.

I have another book that I’ve already started that I’d like to wrap up this month too. That’s Christopher DiCarlo’s How to Becone a Really Good Pain in the Ass. Another author and voice of the skeptical movement, he visited Indianapolis recently on his book tour. This book will doubtless be similar to the Spiritual Snake Oil book I’ve already finished, but it is a little heftier and more of a guide to logical and critical thinking rather than a debunking of specific fads & pseudoscience, etc.

A couple other wild card reads might be For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway and The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham, both classic which I’ve been wanting to read for some time.

Well, that’s it for me (isn’t that enough!?). What are YOU reading in September…?