December Reading:

Last Orders by Graham Swift

Jack’s dead and his mates are taking his ashes off on a final journey. One of Jack’s mates is an undertaker, and was charged with cremating his remains. In the car, one of them wonders:

Whether it’s Jack in there or Jack mixed up with bits of others, the ones who were done before and the ones who were done after. So Lenny could be holding some of Jack and some of some other feller’s wife, for example. And if it is Jack, whether it’s really all of him or only what they could fit in the jar, him being a big bloke.

Friends since WWII, and with that in common, they’ve grown into men with families and responsibilities. During the trip, driven by Jack’s adopted son, they look back internally on their friendship and their failings.

…what a man does and how he lives in his head are two different things.

Anger, guilt, resentment, stress and growing old, these are all themes. The book is laced with humor, too, black and otherwise. They are a hormonal bunch, close to death, dreaming of liaisons and carnality. Then there are flashes of a beautifully-turned phrase. This is Jack’s wasting and the subsequent effects of illness on his body:

He ought to look less like himself but he doesn’t, he looks more like himself. It’s as if because his body’s packed up, everything’s going into his face and though that’s changed, though it’s all hollow with the flesh hanging on it, it only makes the main thing show through better, like someone’s turned on a little light inside.

It’s the memory that is the point of it all:

…The dead are the dead, I’ve watched them, they’re equal. Either you think of them all or you forget them … And it doesn’t do when you remember the others not to spare a thought for the ones you never knew. It’s what makes all men equal for ever and always. There’s only one sea.

Last Orders won the Booker Prize in 1996.

The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul

Washington Post article by Philip Yancey

I am going through a personal crisis. I used to love reading. I am writing this blog in my office, surrounded by 27 tall bookcases laden with 5,000 books. Over the years I have read them, marked them up, and recorded the annotations in a computer database for potential references in my writing. To a large degree, they have formed my professional and spiritual life….

Reading What Is Forbidden

Sherman Alexie with the most banned book of 2014
the author with his book

This week is National Library Week and the American Library Association has released its annual 2015 report on the state of American libraries. The top 10 frequently challenged books are listed in the report and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian gets the top honor of most challenged book in 2014. Included in the list are Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Satrapi’s Persepolis, Dugard’s A Stolen Life, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

If there is one truth about humans, we all want the forbidden fruit. Adults who try to ban books create that forbidden fruit. In the immortal words of Evelyn Carnahan, ‘No harm ever came from reading a book.’ Happy National Library Week!

Want more? Here’s a partial listing from Books Under Fire by Pat R. Scales:

The Fighting Ground, by Avi
My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis
Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene
Dead Man in Indian Creek, by Mary Downing Hahn
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Shiloh, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
Harris and Me: A Summer Remembered, by Gary Paulsen
Mexican WhiteBoy, by Matt de la Pena
In Our Mothers’ House, by Patricia Polacco
Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
The Dirty Cowboy, by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Adam Rex
Stuck in Neutral, by Terry Trueman

Destruction of libraries = Destruction of civilizations

burned books
books that have become ashes at The National Library and State Archives of Iraq

link here to art historian and archaeologist Zainab Bahrani’s story:
http://documentjournal.com/no-50-amnesia-in-mesopotamia/

And check out the library’s copy of A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Baez
https://salida.marmot.org/Record/.b28157254/Home?searchId=37712363&recordIndex=1&page=1&searchSource=local