“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

fahrenheit451coverBooks on Tap read Fahrenheit 451  by Justin Torres at Champion Brewery on June 7.  The group votes on the titles we read each period and this was our “classic” selection. Many of us had read it in high school or had watched the 1966 film adaptation (none of us has seen the newest HBO version) and recalled the basic outline: in the near future fireman Guy Montag burns books because they are dangerous, meets a young woman, rethinks society and his role in it and joins a band of outcasts determined to memorize and preserve literature as the government fakes his assassination. Throughout he is surrounded by citizens who use entertainment and drugs to numb themselves, making it easy for a political/military elite to wage a war that seems to destroy the cities in the end.

The group doesn’t read many sci-fi titles and this one was within our comfort zone. The wall-to-wall screens and omnipresent earbuds presaged today’s obsession with Facebook, Twitter, Virtual Reality and fandoms. The mechanical dog functions like today’s drones, complete with the paranoia of being singled out for constant monitoring and crime-fighting-through-DNA. Similarly, Montag’s wife Mildred is repeatedly overdosing and being brought back with little fanfare and with seemingly no harm. Not only was this a way for her to numb herself against the monotony of her life and to distract her and the rest of the population from the war, it also reminded 2018 readers of the current opioid epidemic.

We were most interested in Montag’s boss, Chief Beatty. He seems conflicted – he’s read and hidden books but daily burns them and those who hide them. It was unclear if he was currently reading books or had memorized some and was now just hoarding them as a display of power. Some of us posited that Beatty committed suicide by provoking Montag. We then considered Montag’s young friend, Clarisse. She is the one who exposes Montag to an alternative way of living, where people discuss ideas and sit on porches to meet with neighbors. Not only is she one of the few people to talk to Montag for any length of time, she is one of the few woman with a backstory.

Bradbury’s coda disappointed us. He claims that writers are splintering into ethnic, social and racial divisions but until recently sci-fi was notoriously non-diverse. It was hard to square this novel, a call to arms to preserve intellectual freedom, with his restrictive view of how writing should be presented.

What struck us most about the novel in 2018 was need for deep, sustained reading for pleasure as opposed to purpose. It is an antidote to our plugged in society, getting us out of our bubbles and exercising our attention spans. That led us to list the books that hooked us on reading as children and young adults:

Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Roald Dahl‘s works
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Cherry Ames series
Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope

More Information:
About the author and book
Other works

Adaptations:
Play
Short stories as origin
1966 Movie
2018 Movie

Read Alikes:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
The Stand by Stephen King
A Gift Upon the Shore by M.K. Wren
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Mr. Burns, a Post-electric Play by Anne Washburn
This is America a music video by recording artist Childish Gambino

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles

“We were allowed to be what we were, frightened and vengeful — little animals, clawing at what we needed.”

wetheanimalsBooks on Tap read We the Animals by Justin Torres at Champion Brewery on May 3. We sat outside to enjoy the beautiful weather and wrapped up our conversation before the band started playing. Opinion was split on this atmospheric coming of age story, shaded by violence, unpredictability and dysfunctional love. It centers on three young brothers, narrated by the youngest. Their very young parents, one white, one Puerto Rican, have relocated from Brooklyn to upstate and no other family in town is like theirs. The episodic chapters are filled with scenes of great love right alongside great violence, culminating in the narrator ruminating on both his birth and chosen families.

I have to admit that the notes I took are no longer in my possession, so what follows is more of an impression of the discussion than reportage. Some admired the lush writing, others appreciated that writing but were glad the book wasn’t any longer and still others were confused and are waiting for the movie to see what really happened. We debated the stresses of poverty and racism on families and the pull of parental love. The author drew on his family history for inspiration. The mental health crisis portrayed made us wonder what services were available in a rural town in the 90s. Overall, we were glad we had been introduced to this author, even if we weren’t clear on what actually happened in the book.  

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author
About the book

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles

“More subtle than Kingsolver.”

ragnarokBooks on Tap read Ragnarok (other editions available) by A.S. Byatt at Champion Brewery on April 5. The book is part of the Canongate Myth Series, in which noted authors reinterpret myths in book-length format. Last fall the group read and enjoyed Margaret Atwood’s contribution, The Penelopiad, so we decided to try another one. A.S. Byatt chose Ragnarok, the Norse myth of a battle of the gods leading to the end of the world. She frames the story with that of the thin girl evacuated to the British countryside during World War II who comforts herself by reading and re-reading 19th century German collection of Norse myths. The destruction of the mythic world and  20th century Europe are compared in the final section, “Thoughts on Myths” with environmental degradation in the 21st century.

Unlike The Penelopiad which was a witty transformation of The Odyssey focusing on a minor character, Byatt’s Ragnarok is a straight-forward retelling within the frame story. Some of our readers found the writing, naming all plants and animals, lush, similar to The Ten Thousand Things. Others found it off-putting and hard to track.

Byatt questions the difference between myth and fairy tale but does not provide a clear answer. Our group was also unable to come up with a definitive answer, but did find this myth useful. Are we not as vainglorious as the gods? Is Loki’s chaos as natural state destined to bring about cyclical cataclysm, either war or environmental? Unlike modern interpretations of fairy tales, Byatt chose the pre-Christian ending, in which the world is destroyed but not re-born. However, there are glimpses of hope in her final section and in the fact that the thin girl’s father unexpectedly returns from war.

While this wasn’t the success that The Penelopiad was, the readers who joined us found it a worthwhile struggle and the first (and probably only) book by Byatt that we’ll read.

More Information:
About the author
Interview with the author about the book
Other works

Books on Tap Information:

Have a suggestion for future titles? Add them to this list.

Previous titles