Sick of being confronted with lists of “100 Books Any Semi-Literate Person With Even One Measly Ounce of Self Respect And/Or Intelligence Absolutely Will Have Read” (and corresponding sentiments of inadequacy), I set out to knock some of the low-hanging fruit from the tree. I decided to go for three at a time, selecting Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (which, in case you are new to these lists, or otherwise simply did not know, each of these appear on every single list, without fail) (as too does the first Harry Potter book, for some reason (no current plans on reading that one (call it a stubborn point of pride)) (also appearing with shocking frequency, as separate items on the list, BOTH The Chronicles of Narnia AND The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; I don’t know who makes these lists (and yet I can’t seem to stop reading or caring about them) (it’s like a disease; or watching people smack their kids at Wal-Mart)).
Which is not to say that I had not previously read at least a portion of each of the three chosen books. It’s just that I didn’t know for sure, and I wanted to be able to officially count them (because I am a big, big, big, big nerd when it comes to being exact in circumstances just such as these; and claiming to have read a book when you have not actually read it is unethical, offensive, and lame; and because books are the only things that I can enjoy taking seriously).
Fahrenheit 451 was amazing, I thought. I had read most of it before, I am now sure, but I still enjoyed this latest reading immensely. Man, Bradbury was ahead of his time. I wonder if it gave him any satisfaction to live to see his prophesies fulfilled. I wonder if he really foresaw our mindless-media, soundbyte-driven society as an actual potential reality, or if it surprised him. Video screens on every wall, filled with “family members” babbling senselessly at high volume, that we can’t tear our eyes away from, even though watching is making us fatter and dumber by the second. Ignorant, uncaring, perpetually numb, devoid of any meaningful relationships. Could we be any closer to living in the world he created? Sure, we don’t have actual, literal book burning “firemen” yet. But then, we don’t really need them. An ignored or unread book is just as “burned” for all practical purposes. Turn off the TV and head to the library. Get off Facebook and meet a friend for lunch. Put down your stupid smart phone and talk to the people that are sitting right next to you. This was the message I took from this latest reading.
Animal Farm was next. It was fun and funny. Simple (at least on the level I read it). I understand that a lot of the characters in the book represent actual characters from history (e.g. Napoleon the pig representing Stalin, for example). I just read for story, not history, and I am fine with that. I could tell that there were probably deeper meanings and political messages at play, but even on just a story level, it was interesting. I liked the shifting rules or commandments, the classic, of course, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” You don’t have to be a history buff or rabid politico to grasp the significance in that statement. I actually wouldn’t mind if anyone has any deeper-meaning thoughts or analysis to share. I just didn’t go there this reading. I also just enjoyed the pigs.
Finally,Le Petit Prince(I wish I could/would have read it in French). It was a simple but beautiful story. Reading it in English, I think some of the feeling and emotion was lost in translation. Not that my version wasn’t translated properly or accurately. Just that some concepts do not convey. People that speak/write/dream in other languages don’t just sound different, they think differently. I think feelings, and the expression of those feelings, are different in different cultures. I think the assumption that everyone thinks and feels the same is wrong. To the extent anyone makes such assumptions. Or thinks or cares enough to contemplate the assumption. For me, the take-away message here was “don’t trust adults” or “don’t take life too seriously” or “take time to enjoy the beauty of simple things around you” (this is a quite literal “stop and smell the roses” story). I found the whole thing charming and sad (which, actually, would serve as a good description of a lot of the French literature I have encountered. And has anyone seen any French films? Don’t forget to bring your tissues!)
Three down, several more to go. Some, I will never read, I don’t care what the lists say.
How about you? What are your elusive book-list entries?