Thursday 25 August 2011

More than one way to burn a book

I first read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury many years ago but picked it out on audiobook at the library because of a conversation on an e-mail list. I think I probably had a much stronger memory of the film of the book so it was interesting to hear the full story again.

The book is a dystopian vision of a future in which war is accepted as inevitable, people are kept passive by wall to wall television and books are viewed as subversive and are forbidden. Firemen are now the people who destroy books. I get the impression that Guy Montag, our protagonist, was already asking himself quiet questions about his work and his society, even before he meets the unconventional Clarisse, otherwise he would have dismissed her as crazy and not been intrigued by her. The government really knew where the danger was, considering that just a brief glance at a book is enough to lead the fireman astray. It almost feels like the wrong approach, we all know the best way to make something more attractive is to outlaw it, surely it was within their power simply to engender disinterest, so that reading simply withered away. So Montag starts to steal books, and hide them in his house, eventually revealing his secret to his wife and attempting to read and understand the books. And so he finds himself increasingly at odds with his boss, his wife and society in general. In such a society you cannot just disagree a bit and still live there, so his only option is to run, and run quite literally when the very unpleasant robot dog is set on his trail.

What I found most interesting about the story was the way television had come to dominate people's lives, with huge screens covering all the walls of their living rooms, in many ways the most prophetic aspect of the book. I found myself mainly musing on how difficult life would be without books, their education system seemed to consist of acquiring skills but not knowledge or understanding, and wondering how you reach a point where people stop asking questions about things, stopped wanting to know and understand. The book is also making a statement about how an authoritarian government controls, not so much by fear and violence, but by apathy; feed people what you make them think they want and they will just accept the rest. The setting fire to the books aspect of the story is in some ways merely symbolic of the control and the crushing of ideas. It was first published in 1953 but in 1979 Ray Bradbury wrote a postscript to the book which was included on the audiobook and was most fascinating. In it he rails against what he sees as creeping modern day censorship, from political correctness to the expunging of swear words, and the dumbing down of literature for the consumption of schoolchildren. Considering that Banned Books Week is coming up at the end of September his words are very apposite.

"There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian/ Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist / Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist / Women's Lib / Republican /Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse….Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever."

Duvet Day

I started my day off with a plan yesterday and even managed to carry most of it through. I confess I would rather have had a Duvet Day (though we tend to define it as a Dressing Gown Day, one where you don't get dressed all day and do pretty much nothing, though you are not obliged to actually stay in bed) having been feeling really exhausted recently, but there are always so many things to do on my day off.
I finished off yesterday's blog post and wrote a short piece for the Open Stories "Real Story 2011 Competition" that I came across via the Manchester Literary Festival (it is closing Saturday so you'd have to be quick). I am going to be volunteering, and hopefully blogging too, for the literature festival that is happening over two weeks in October and am really looking forward to it.
The job I really had planned though was a new duvet cover. My first foray into duvets was a lovely patchwork velvet one for Creature that you can see in this old post, made when we moved to Fosseway Avenue, and the inauguration of this blog was a post about the first one I made for Tish. Dunk and I have had one done in purple satin made at least five years ago, it has irritated me for some time because it did not fit the duvet very well and the fabric had become very worn. I have a very large fabric stash because at some time in the far distant future this may become a home business (I have six or seven made up ready to go in an Etsy shop), and having trawled through it yesterday I plumped for the embroidered duck egg blue with a shot gold/blue edging. I cannibalised the old one, removing the cotton backing fabric to use on the new one so that I could get it finished. I sewed to the accompaniment of 'Fahrenheit 451' on audiobook, that I will review for you later. For once the sewing machine did not put up a fight so it all went pretty smoothly, and we cuddled up quite contented under the new one.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

We were the Mulvaneys

We were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
I have only read one other book by Oates back in 2009 but her name has stuck in my head as someone worth reading, which is what prompted me to pick up this one at a charity shop a while ago. Interestingly it is another tale about rape and it's aftermath, and, again, about how the ripples of consequences can spread and reverberate.

The Mulvaneys are an all American family; dad runs a roofing business, mum stays at home and cooks, eldest son is the football star, second son the brainbox, daughter is sweet and popular, and the youngest son, Judd, relates this tale of their downfall and redemption. It is a little like something out of The Waltons, only set in the 1970's. I can almost hear them calling 'Goodnight' to each other between the bedrooms of High Point Farm. They are wholesome and happy and bound together by their shared life:

"Always it seems, hard as I tried I could never hope to catch up with all their good times, secrets, jokes - their memories. What is a family, after all, except memories? - haphazard and precious as the contents of a catchall drawer in the kitchen (called the 'junk drawer' in our household, for good reason). My handicap, I gradually realised, was that by the time I got around to being born, my brother Mike as already ten years old and for children that's equivalent to another generation. Where's Baby? - who's got Baby? the cry would commence, and whoever was nearest would scoop me up and off we'd go. A scramble of dogs barking, their eagerness to be taken along to wherever, a mimicry of my own, exaggerated as animals are often exaggerations of human beings, emotions so rawly exposed. Who's got Baby? Don't forget Baby!" (p.4)

So Judd builds for us, the reader, this picture of such an idyllic family life, full of warmth, and then it all goes horribly wrong. After a fateful Valentine's Day dance Marianne gets drunk and is raped, and the cracks begin to show in what you think is a strong and loving family. Judd is left trailing in the wake, being a young teenager and not really understanding what has happened or why it is so devastating. Interestingly for a woman Oates writes mainly about the male reactions to the event, and it is their behaviour and emotions that dominate the story. Michael senior, the father, reacts predictably and confronts the young man responsible and ends up arrested himself. Marianne refuses to press charges because she has such a hazy recollection of the rape, and blames herself for getting drunk. After her initial physical shock she withdraws into herself, but by this time the family is so concerned with how Mr Mulvaney is behaving that her hurt is completely overshadowed. Michael gradually becomes ostracised by the community as he tries to get justice for his family (Marianne becomes kind of lost in all this, as it becomes something that happened to them all) but at the same time he cannot bear to see Marianne and so she is sent to live with a distant cousin of her mother. Mike and Patrick, the older brothers are both wracked with guilt at being so powerless, forced to come into daily contact with their sister's rapist. Mike gets into confrontation with his father and eventually leaves and joins the army. Michael takes to drinking and the business goes slowly downhill. Patrick goes off to Cornell but continues to be preoccupied with Marianne and the "execution of justice", and eventually ropes Judd into his plan to get retribution for the crime. The rape itself takes on an almost mythical status, not a physical act, one that Marianne appears to recover from, but the symbolic event that has this power over their lives.

Meanwhile the women just get on with life. Corinne, the mother, tries desperately to carry on regardless, pandering faithfully to her reprobate husband as he goes further and further off the rails. I did not like her as she seemed unable to confront him and simply sacrificed the family that she had worked so hard to create in an attempt to placate him. She allowed him to send Marianne away, and to keep her away, causing her to carry all the blame for the destruction of their family. She does nothing to prevent the spiralling out of control of their lives, nor to prevent her husband's descent into alcoholism. It's as if she has to keep up this front of normality, telling everyone, including I think herself, that everything will be fine. She spends the entire book completely in denial about the catastrophe that has befallen them. And Marianne waiting patiently, first at the cousin's home, then going away to college and living in a strange worker's cooperative, for the call to return to her family, one that never comes, living with the feeling that she has shamed her family and deserves this punishment. She becomes this extreme version of self-sacrifice, physically wasting away and neglecting her studies in order to work harder for the co-op. She abandons her life several time in order to avoid making close relationships with others, but seeking out places that mimic her family environment, searching for a new sense of belonging.

There is a lot of suppressed emotion in this book. A lot of men being men and not wanting to show how they feel, or being unable to articulate it. So they hide behind other things, like drinking and the army. Patrick is the one who confronts it in the end, in a scene that is both gripping and cathartic, and hugely satisfying, when he enacts his plan to execute justice against Zachary Lundt. I won't spoil the event, but it felt to me like the turning point of the book. Then we return to Marianne and watch as she finds a new place that feels like home and learns to trust in life again. Corinne works to rebuild her life, having held her husband's hand at the end, and by sheer force of will drags her family back together. While the characters were not necessarily sympathetic they were certainly all interesting, and in spite of them all going their separate ways you get this ongoing sense of a bond between them, the shared history, of both the good times and the trauma, keeps them linked. It is a story about family ties, and even though it was a little bit too 'feel good' I think we all deserved the ending.

" 'Judd, I just can't get over your brother Patrick! He isn't at all what I'd expected.' I asked, curious, what she'd expected, what Mike had led her to expect of Patrick, and she said, 'Well, I guess I expected someone not so - Mulvaney.' I asked, 'But what is Mulvaney?' for the concept was genuinely baffling to me. Vicky said, stroking her belly that was so pert and round beneath her buttercup-yellow maternity smock, and fixing me with a look as if I must be joking, to ask such a question, 'Why, you. all of you.' " (p.445)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

So what do you do when you find you have been friends with a family for fifteen years ... why have a barbecue of course. We met the Ridley Birks family in August of 1996 at the Education Otherwise group that used to meet at what was the Parrs Wood Rural Studies Centre, and because we found that we lived just around the corner from each other we took to sharing tea (though I spilt mine on her living room floor on my first visit) and letting the kids run wild together. A year later we moved away but somehow the friendship stuck, through visits and camps and EO gatherings. The rest, as they say, is history. We had a bit of a nostalgia session on Sunday having dug out a collection of old photographs of us doing silly stuff together. It was a pity not to have the big kids there too, for the 25th we'll have to make it a more formal event I think, proper planning and invitations.
Obligatory Silly Faces
And Worn Out By All the Excitement (except the Babe that is:-)

Sunday 21 August 2011

Works in progress

I think Creature's experiments with her hair will be an ongoing work in progress for some time. After discussion with friends she has had another go at the multicoloured look, this time sleeping with the colour on, which is supposed to help the semi-permanent colour to last a bit longer. We used green, purple and blue this time, as you can see, wrapped in foil to keep the colours separate, and then covered in a plastic bag to protect her pillow.
This morning the effect was pretty awesome:The yarn I showed you the other day is coming along quite well, I'm only making about a mistake every other row, but mainly if I try and knit in bad light. I think that doing a whole jumper in sock weight yarn may be the thing that drives me to getting some reading glasses. But it looks great and I am pleased with how lovely the colours look. You can't see the lacy design that well, it is meant to be snug fitting and will have to be well blocked after it is finished. It looks a funny shape because the clever pattern creates the shaping by changing to smaller size needles rather than reducing the number of stitches, so the part I am working on at the moment is the narrow part at the waist.

Friday 19 August 2011

to cage or not to cage, this is the question

In the corner of the office we have an area that is referred to as 'The Cage', it is locked and has partly wire mesh walls, where the Special Delivery items are sorted and other important stuff stored. Today the manager asked me if I was interested in taking on an indoor job, working in the cage. As part of the revision there is a reallocation of all jobs within the office, based on seniority (how long each person has worked for Royal Mail, I have eight years eight months), and whether you are full time or part time. He knows how to get to me because he says the job needs someone well organised and professional, and I am a sucker for a bit of flattery. I would still be doing the same hours and days, though sometimes coming in earlier to open the office! So I am weighing up the pros and cons of a distinct change of role.

being inside in the warm
not so physically tiring
interesting variety
getting to know how the office runs
more responsibility
having to learn new stuff
can always do some delivery on overtime if I miss it

being inside
missing the physical activity
not really being a 'postie' any more
feeling a bit like it is a softie job
having to do packet delivery one day a week

I am trying not to make a gut decision based on the fact that I have had a crappy hard work week and cursed the whole process of going out and putting letters through people's doors. I had not really considered the job that seriously before because I did not know what it involved, but now I am in a quandary.

Friday 12 August 2011

Yarn Porn

Beautiful yarn for your delectation.
This stuff is Zauberball 'Cranberries' that will become a lacy hoodie for Tish.
This wonderful concoction will become a kind of freeform blanket for cuddling up with on the sofa. When Tish went off to uni she took with her the recycled sari-silk yarn blanket that I had made for the sofa so I have been promising myself we would have something new, vibrant, stunning and unique. We have a selection from Araucania, Mirasol, Noro, Louisa Harding and Debbie Bliss. I realised as soon as I saw the package that there is not nearly enough here, but this will keep me going for a while.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Giant babies and all that

Most days I like to check out what people have been searching in order to come across my blog, usually it is something that brings up my most viewed posts, like 'Margaret Atwood poetry' or 'Will and Lyra's bench' or, strangely, 'galapagos'. Sometimes people just coincidentally search the precise passage from a book that I have quoted in my review. The Cooking and Sewing post from April is still getting visitors almost every day though I can't fathom out how people are coming across it. The most peculiar search I came across was 'giant baby+ squashing' which brings up our visit to the Manchester Art Gallery back in January, I rather liked that one. But today someone searched 'martine frampton', and now I am just completely freaked out!

In other news I have made a firm decision to participate in National Novel Writing Month (more commonly known as NaNoWriMo) in November. Creature and I signed up last year but since we moved house I failed to write a single word, Creature wrote a few chapters, and she likes to do it the hard way, by hand in a real book with a real pen. I am working on the principle that if I tell people it is more of a real commitment. The only problem is my complete lack of inspiration. I read so many great books and each of them inspires me in a different way, so I am trying to pin down what makes each of them worth reading. I went in search of Margaret Atwood's 'Negotiating with the dead: a writer on writing' on the bookcases downstairs and got 'A Novel in a Year' by Louise Doughty from the library that has some interesting writing exercises to get me started. While rooting around my shelves I picked out 'These are my rivers' by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and, as is invariably the case, I got completely distracted from the job in hand, so I thought I would share this, it being a long time since I posted any poetry:

People getting divorced
riding around with their clothes in the car
and wondering what happened
to everyone and everything
including their other
pair of shoes
And if you spy one
then who knows what happened
to the other
with tongue alack
and years later not even knowing
if the other ever
found a mate
without splitting the seams
or remained intact
and the sole
ah the soul
a curious conception
hanging on somehow
to walk again
in the free air
once the heel
has been replaced

Sunday 7 August 2011

the end of the world as we know it

I came home from work on Thursday determined to moan about the rain, it having been another 'bath wrinkle day', then thought how well it all linked in to writing about my most recent read. The weather was so bad it reminded me of our year of the flood in 2007 when Moreton was engulfed in a tidal wave of rain that saw our house under several inches of water (a lot less than some people, but the houses on the other side of the road were spared completely). Dunk trawled through his vast archive of stuff and came up with the photos that we took that afternoon as the waters rose. It was all rather fun to begin with, Tish put on her bikini and sat in the hammock in the rain, and even as the water began to invade the house we floated rubber ducks and carried precious things up the stairs. It ended on Saturday morning when we stripped out the carpets and lino and then lived with concrete floors of six months until the builders moved in.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Attwood
I knew this book had something to do with Oryx and Crake, it is kind of a sequel, so I kept thinking I had read it before as the names of the characters were so familiar, or maybe I had picked it up at mum's before and read a chapter or two. It is always a mistake to browse my mum's bookshelves as I always add at least half a dozen to the pile. She did have a little book in which you were supposed to write down what you borrowed so she could keep track of her books, but she said not to bother, I think maybe it's part of a futile attempt to downsize.

I really like dystopian fiction, though I always wonder why the future is never imagined as a nice place, with the human race learning from their mistakes and making a better world, rather than one where it has all come crashing down around us. What I think is interesting about a book like Year of the Flood is how it parodies the direction that the world is already moving in, the obsession with science and technology, the corporate takeover of society and the increasing divide between the rich and the poor. Our two heroines Ren and Toby are part of a group called The Gardeners, a religious cult that rejects modern culture and lives in a rooftop garden where they grow real food and await the coming of the 'waterless' flood that Adam 1 has predicted. You get to thinking that he has some kind of insider knowledge, that the Gardeners seem to have contacts in all sorts of high places and I wouldn't put it past them to have been involved in whatever nasty germ infects and destroys the human population. It's just too much of a coincidence that most of the people who survive seem to be members of their cult. What is most enjoyable however is how such a scenario lets the imagination run wild, and Atwood fills the book with outlandish creations, outrageous ideas and wonderfully horrid baddies, animal hybrids, weirdly coloured sheep who's wool is used for hair transplants, 'Secretburgers' (who knows what they contain), Happicuppa (aka Starbucks:-) and Painball, televisual punishment rather like Big Brother only with weapons.
The book really is about asking questions. Look where we might be headed, what sort of a society are we creating, what are the consequences of progress ... and most of all, will we get our comeuppance? It is not a plea to return to some kind of idyllic preindustrial 'naked in the woods' society. In the same way that the floods of 2007 came as a nasty shock to some small affluent enclaves of southern Britain, how easily mere stuff can be swept away, it is just meant to bring a pause for thought.

(If you are a fan of Margaret Atwood you can pop over and read about her poetry here, it is my second most visited post after the lizard cake and maybe we can buck the statistics and get it into first place.)
(p.s. there is no river in Moreton, this is pure unadulterated rainwater!)

Saturday 6 August 2011

Stopgap post

Have been reading and listening to audiobook and knitting and baking and going to work and drinking tea with Julie, but since Creature got back from Hes Fes I have hardly got a look in with the computer, so several posts are in the pipeline but not making progress. I reached page 1000 in War and Peace, which feels like a great milestone, only 400 and something to go, but I am now wondering how on earth you write a review of such a vast book.

So here are my cabled socks that have taken well over a month. I kind of invented the pattern as I didn't want to do just plain ones, and then regretted it because the cables were so fiddly, and I hadn't really planned it out very well and I forgot how often I was cabling and I worried I had made them too small ... but in the end they turned out ok and they fit really nicely.