Remembering Guy Montag

Have you heard about the newest American wedge issue: banned books? We’ve always had books being banned, generally for understandable, even if unreasonable, reasons. Classic works often contain words or activities that are no longer acceptable. Many more contemporary works are designed to appeal to the reader’s most basic, animalistic imagination. How many excellent books question or even ignore such sacred human constructs as religion or American Exceptionalism. Nowadays it seems the universal excuse is that a book makes someone, anyone, uncomfortable.

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The Fall of the House of Pontifex

imgres.jpgImagine a decent textbook relating some of the less well-known events of the 17th century—the Thirty Years War, Oliver Cromwell, the Spanish Treasure ships, book-binding for fun and profit—add an old Dan Brown novel treatment and the script to National Treasure VII and stir well. After half-baking, turn the plot over an antique salver and serve. Voilá! Ex Libris by Ross King.

Is it a bad book? Well, I would say “No” because the author dishes out a great deal of historical data: enough that I have put the Thirty Years War and Oliver Cromwell on my reading list. But King uses the historical data (real or fictional) to weave an intricate story of intrigue centered on a missing text that would presumably have bumfuzzled the Pope and made all of Christianity cattywampus. Or at least that was the illusion the reader received from all the action in the book.

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Morbid Stories Are Good For Children

When I was young I was often sick and spent many hours lying in bed either moaning in a darkened room with the measles (no vaccines then) or proped up on one elbow reading books and scratching my chicken pox. Sometimes I had books from the library and other times I had to rely on books that accumulated around the house. I got most of my books from Goodwill, used and often musty. Some of my books had evidently belonged to my parents, favorite stories from when they were young and impressed by Jack Hawkins, Bill Sikes,  or Dorothy Gale.

I still have vivid memories of avidly reading those over-the-rainbow books by the local San Diego author L. Frank Baum and unexpectedly flipping to a gnarly and often damned scary illustration that might interrupt my sleep for weeks. Or how about that wonderful illustration by the much revered illustrator N. C. Wyeth in the book Treasure Island that showed the gruesome skeleton of a pirate who had been marooned on the island long ago. In fact, just the concept of being marooned all alone on a desert island added a new level of fright and concern to both my waking and sleeping hours for years to come.

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