Thursday, 11 August 2011

Back to normal, riots and book burning.

 I realise that it has been almost two months since my last post and for that I can only apologise. I have not been feeling too well of late but it seems like I might now be turning a corner as my enthusiasm for reading and blogging is returning.


However, as I haven't been in a reading frame of mind recently, I was wondering what I could write about to get back into the swing of things- after all this is a reading blog. 

Obviously, the topic on everyone's minds at the moment is the riots that have been taking place across the country. As I  followed the events unfolding via Twitter on Monday evening , there were many tweets and retweets from all over the country. A vast number of them were expressing concern for areas where they lived or for people they knew and the amount of tweets coming through became almost too overwhelming to keep up with.
  There were however, other more upbeat tweets and whilst I do not wish to make light of the riots and their effects in any way I couldn't resist a small chuckle at those referring to comments made by a Waterstone employee. He/ she is reported as saying that Waterstones would remain open despite the disturbances as "if they stole some books they might learn something."

Unsurprisingly it does seem that very few if any books appear to have been looted, the rioters preferring instead to take plasma tv's, watches and designer label clothing- a very strong reflection of our materialistic society.
This led me to wonder what part books have played in the history of rioting ( if any) and what I have found is very interesting.

The practice of book burning (aka libricide or biblioclasm)  is something that has occurred throughout the ages. It is a symbolic act, usually performed in public and generally motivated by moral, political or religious reasons.

During my research , I came across this  blog post written by Prospero on The Economist.
In it he states that
rioting and books share a stormy history 
and refers to the Bonfire of the Vanities which took place in 1497 when
Girolamo Savonarola and his band of religious followers roundly collected and set fire to mounds of “pagan” literature.

Girolamo Savonarola was an Italian Dominican Priest  who destroyed all types of art, including books, that he deemed as immoral in a fire on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence. Unfortunately, his moral stance and actions did him little good and he was executed in 1498.
If you are interested in reading a fictional portrayal of Savonarola, the Victorian novelist, George Eliot wrote a book called Romola where he is one of the main characters.

I also looked at  the portrayal of rioting in literature and came across a very appropriate book to read in the context of the last few days- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

I had heard of this novel but until today, I was unaware of its story. However, on reading the blurb (courtesy of Bianca's Book Blog) I have immediately added it to my TBR pile. The blurb says;
In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury's classic, frightening vision of the future, firemen don't put out fires--they start them in order to burn books. Bradbury's vividly painted society holds up the appearance of happiness as the highest goal--a place where trivial information is good, and knowledge and ideas are bad. Fire Captain Beatty explains it this way, "Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs.... Don't give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."
Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman undergoing a crisis of faith. His wife spends all day with her television "family", imploring Montag to work harder so that they can afford a fourth TV wall. Their dull, empty life sharply contrasts with that of his next-door neighbour Clarisse, a young girl thrilled by the ideas in books, and more interested in what she can see in the world around her than in the mindless chatter of the tube. When Clarisse disappears mysteriously, Montag is moved to make some changes, and starts hiding books in his home. Eventually, his wife turns him in, and he must answer the call to burn his secret cache of books. After fleeing to avoid arrest, Montag winds up joining an outlaw band of scholars who keep the contents of books in their heads, waiting for the time society will once again need the wisdom of literature."
 Ray Bradbury was apparently inspired to write this novel by the Nazi Book Burnings of the 1930's. The story which was published  in 1953 is set in an America of the future. Reading and books are banned and anyone caught  with them is at best sent to a mental institution. Lawlessness is rife-there are teenagers crashing cars into people, and hedonism is the way of life. Firemen are employed to set fire to books which are the source of knowledge and knowledge leads to unhappiness.

I doubt it is going to be a comfortable book to read, especially as it seems to have parallels to the events of the last few days. However, I believe we should all occasionally read texts that make us uncomfortable if only to feel glad for the lives that we have.

 I hope that all of my followers are safe following the unrest of the last few days. I feel it is important to remember that although there were a great number of rioters, they are in a minority and the rest of us law abiding citizens should hang on to what we believe is right and not be intimidated by these mindless individuals.

 See you soon


  1. Fahrenheit is simply fantastic, one of my favorite books.

  2. Great post. I have always thought that a healthy mind is an enquiring mind...and of course enquiring minds are often in the bodies of avid readers. 451 is now on my list as well. :-)