I have read many books over the course of my life, and books have become a central part of who I am. I read books for pleasure, for study, and for examination. I teach books in my literature classes at Lehigh University and Muhlenberg College, I write about them in scholarly work, and I write novels. As I was considering the topic for this post, I started to think about what books I consider to be the most important horror novels. Certainly, I must begin this series with a book I consider to be of extraordinary literary value, a great horror novel, and a book that has influenced my life.
So many come to mind and are possibilities for discussion, especially when I think of some of the books I read as a youngster in high school. Among these novels are Dracula, The War of the Worlds, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Haunting of Hill House. Certainly, there were many more books that I read at that time, and I have always been a voracious reader, but these books, in a variety of ways, help to shape my interests and some of my directions in life.
Now, I will focus on Dracula and what its influence on me was and is. This was the first Gothic novel I had read, and its power caught me immediately. I was drawn to the images of dark castles, terrible villains, and the supernatural. That I love Gothic is still clear, because not only do I teach Gothic literature, but also I write it.
Dracula, however, had a much deeper impact on me that simply the horror aspect; I was drawn to the idea of the need for good people to oppose evil. It is a theme that, on the surface, might seem simplistic, but a person need only look at the history of the 20th Century into our contemporary time to see that evil does exist, especially in the form of people who would oppress, torment, exclude, and bully others. Of course, I am not making an argument that the supernatural evil in this novel exists, but that human evil certainly does. The Nazis demonstrated that human horror in its full capacity.
In this book, a fellowship of human beings is created, and they decide to fight a creature that is far more powerful than anything they could have imagined, and they do so at the risk of their lives. This act of defending others, even if the people do the battle are put at risk, became a central part of my ethos. There will always be those who would bully and oppress others, and they must always be opposed. While in early high school, Dracula helped to form that idea in my mind.
I was also highly influenced by the Gothic nature of the book, and when I first read this novel as a youngster, I was terrified by it. This book stands as the best and most important vampire novel that has been written. I am not arguing that other excellent books on vampires do not exist; certainly they do. I am saying, though, that Dracula is the best and the cornerstone of all of them.
In addition to being a deeply important book, Dracula is also the foundation for a myriad of movies. In fact, the characters of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are the two most portrayed in TV, film, and theater.
I leave with this thought: if you enjoy horror, Halloween, and the Gothic, and you have not yet read Dracula, you certainly should. It is excellent.
This week, from September 26 through October 2 of 2021 is National Banned Books Week. Book banning and censorship is a crucial issue that should unite readers and writers. Throughout the world and humanity’s history, governments, churches, and other institutions have banned or attempted to ban and censor books.
Most of us are familiar with the images from Nazi Germany in which thousands of books were burned by the Fascists. All banning, however, is not so explicit. Sometimes in the United States of America, books are challenged, especially in the context of not being allowed to be taught in the classroom.
I oppose all such censorship. As a writer, it is an obscenity; as a teacher, it is an imposition of chosen ignorance; as a reader, it is an intolerable abomination. We must unite and oppose book banning, in all of its forms.
Fight for your freedom to choose what to read.
Here are several important links about this issue:
Please view Robbie Cheadle reading her poem “Do you want it enough” from her book of poetry Behind Closed Doors a collection of unusual poems.
I give Robbie Cheadle’s book of poetry Behind Closed Doors a collection of unusual poems my highest recommendation. Robbie Cheadle is an excellent writer of both fiction and poetry, and her work continues to be of the highest quality.
In this collection of poems, Robbie Cheadle deals with a wide variety of issues and uses a variety of forms of poetry, among them Tanka, limericks, and haiku, and she does this with great passion and control of her art. The poetry in her book is powerful, compelling, and evocative.
Several of the poems resonated with me in particular, including “Opportunity”, “Hope”, “Making a splash”, “Perspective”, “Lockdown in poverty”, and “I saw a fish a-swimming”.
Choosing these poems to highlight was difficult, because Robbie’s work is excellent throughout the book.
If you enjoy poetry, you need to get and read this book!
Thank you so much to Roberta Eaton Cheadle for creating another entry into the U. L. S., the Underground Library Society! The U. L. S. is an unofficial group of people who are dedicated to the preservation of books and in complete opposition to censorship. The idea is based on the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
A colleague of mine who is a philosopher recommended I read Brave New World, a book written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley.
I have read several dystopian novels including 1984 by George Orwell, Anthem by Ayn Rand, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, but this one disturbed me the most.
In all other dystopian novels I’ve read, compliance with the despotic authoritarian regimes that demand the surrender of knowledge, creativity, and individuality are enforced by strict control over the behaviour and actions of all people and the maintenance of power through force, intimidation, and torture.
In Brave New World, the freedom of choice of individuals is taken away by the removal of the normal human reproductive system, family units, and relationships. Reproduction is replaced with a state-controlled artificial system whereby babies are grown in test tubes and the developing foetuses are ‘interfered with’ so that the babies are suited to their pre-designated status in life.
Once the babies are decanted, they are conditioned by repetitive mantras during their sleeping hours which condition their behaviour towards each other, the different societal castes, and their leisure and consumption behaviour. Everyone is conditioned to accept everyone else and appreciate their contribution to the smooth functioning of society. They are also conditioned to accept death and to not have any strong emotions or feelings. There are no human attachments through love or a sense of belonging.
In this manner, everyone is happy as their physical human needs are met and even exceeded, as they are kept entertained as well as fed, clothed, and employed. All people are also provided with a soothing happiness-maintaining drug called Soma to take the edge off any mild emotional upsets they might experience.
The society in Brave New World is that of a rigid caste system where status, intelligence and worth, all of which are designated from conception through the method of development of the foetuses, is prescribed equally for males and females from almost all population groups on earth.
The Alphas are the intellectuals of the World State and take all academic jobs such as college professors, scientists, and leadership roles. They wear gray and have a lot more freedom provided the do not stray outside of the societal norms of ‘everyone is for everyone’ and they do not try to push the boundaries of the search for freedom, truth, or science. They do not have relationships but engage in numerous sexual encounters with many different people. The maintenance of their status costs them their individual thoughts and ideas. They are dedicated to maintaining the system and thus the happiness of the masses.
The Betas wear mulberry or maroon and are one level below Alphas. They are more ‘regular’ than Alphas as they don’t have the accelerated intelligence or physiques gifted to Alphas during their foetal development.
The Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are the workers, and their intelligences are artificially impaired. This impairment increases as you go down the castes with Epsilons being mentally incapacitated in their artificial wombs through depriving the developing foetuses of oxygen for limited periods.
The purpose of this intellectual impairment is to ensure the workers are happy in their repetitive and boring jobs and do not become unsettled or dissatisfied due to unfulfilled higher purposes and ambitions by the workers.
The Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are the majority and wear green, khaki, and black, respectively. Many of the work groups are grown from the same embryos so they share common features and are in effectively all ‘twins’ and related.
Lenina Crowne, an Alpha female who works in the hatcheries (baby production factories) is a little unsettled when the book starts. She is looking for a mysterious little something more than what she currently has in life. She is interested in an Alpha male called Bernard Marx who has offered to take her with him to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico. Very few Alphas can travel to the Savage Reservation and observe natural-born people who are not part of the new world order and who have relationships, suffer from aging and diseases, and still have their religion. They also have babies.
At the Savage Reservation, the pair meet Linda, a woman originally from the World State, and her natural born son, John. The story moves on from there drawing parallels between the two worlds and the lifestyles, wants, and desires of the inhabitants.
Why is this book important?
Although some aspects of this book are dated due to modern technology, there is much in the concept of the World State that is applicable and quite possible. The technology for genetic engineering and the creation of designer babies already exists, as does the future elimination of diseases and slowing down of the aging process. It seems likely, given our money-orientated society, that those with greater means would have access to these new technologies.
Controlling people through drugs and consumerism is already a known concept and the idea of a world benefits system has already been posed. The impact of over population is making itself felt and the idea of a set number of life years for people as presented in this book, seems possible.
It seems a valid theory that the removal of human relationships, together with the satisfaction of all physical needs, would drastically reduce conflict situations in the world. Conflict is driven by strong emotions of want, greed, desire, revenge, and others and it is reasonable to think that these emotions would be less likely to present themselves in such a placid and unchallenging environment.
This is a book that needs to be preserved so that we can be reminded that constant happiness comes at a price and would be likely to diminish, or even destroy, creativity, innovation, and further progress, as well as our freedom of choice. The question to ask ourselves whether constant happiness is worth sacrificing our freedom of choice for, especially as that happiness restrains further human development and restricts knowledge and reading.
We also need to ensure that no single world power gains absolute control over all of humanity thereby allowing it to make all decisions, unopposed, about the welfare and future of all people. Keeping people satisfied in their work by reducing or limiting their brain growth sounds so horribly viable in the author’s context of peace and happiness, but is a gross violation of human rights.
Some interesting quotes
“Social stability. Standard men and women, all exactly the same. The staff for the whole of a small factory from one single bokanovskified egg.” Relates to the mass production of identical twins who all look the same and who all have an artificially generated low IQ.
“Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks; already in the minds of the babies these pairs of things were connected, and repeated lessons would make the connection permanent.” Relates to conditioning during baby and toddlerhood.
“”I want to know what passion is,” he said. “I want to feel something strongly. “We are all grown-up intellectually and during working hours,” he went on, but we are infants where feeling and desire are concerned.” Relates to the removal of emotional stimulus.
Please be sure to visit Robbie at her wonderful blogs:
Unfortunately, in the world of books as well as the larger world, human beings often create artificial divisions. Sometimes, even in the academic world of which I am a part and which I love, there are those who would try to dictate what the best books are and what you should read. Sometimes books that come from genres are considered less than so-called literary books, and I completely disagree with that assessment.
In his “Newberry Medal Acceptance Speech,” following the text of his wonderful novel The Graveyard Book, Mr. Gaiman speaks to the question of what books to read.
He says, “It was as if some people believed there was a divide between the books that you were permitted to enjoy and the books that were good for you, and I was expected to choose sides. We were all expected to choose sides. And I didn’t believe it, and I still don’t.
I was, and still am, on the side of books you love.” (Gaiman 320)
I agree with this brilliant writer completely: read and cherish the books you love. Don’t let others tell you what you can and cannot read.
I am again asking for those who would like to join the U.L.S., the Underground Library Society, to join and write a guest post. I put this request out several times over the course of a year, because I hope to have more people join in the cause.
In an earlier First Year Class at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The U.L.S. — The Underground Library Society — was created. It is in the spirit of the Book People from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In that novel, all books have been banned, and a few people “become” books by memorizing them, in the hope that, one day, books will be permitted to exist again.
In that spirit, I am putting out the call once more for like-minded people to join The U.L.S. All that is needed is to choose a book you would memorize if the need ever arose. The type or genre of the chosen piece does not matter. There is no restriction on what you would become. You do not, however, actually have to memorize the book now. If you wish to join, simply write a guest post in which you say what book you would “become” and why.
I have had several other bloggers join the U. L. S. Join the movement!
I hope many of you choose to join.
If you are a member and wish to add another book that you might become, you are welcome to do another post!
In the past, I have mentioned that I would become one of the following books: The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, or Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
If you do wish to do a post, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and write a guest post as a Word doc. Thank you.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.”
“Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.”
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
“Life without curiosity is mere existence. Adults should remember the curiosity they had as children and rekindle that desire to question and to learn–always.”
I am a teacher, a writer, and a lover of books. I cannot remember a time when I could not read, and the simple act of reading a book is one of the best pleasures in life. So, I was thinking today about a book, one of my all time favorites: The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, that I have taught often, both at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA. This novel is brilliant, funny, witty, Gothic, romantic, and deeply engaging. Can you tell I love it?
Here is a quotation from the back cover of the paperback:
“Wondrous . . . masterful . . . The Shadow Of The Wind is ultimately a love letter to literature, intended for readers as passionate about storytelling as its young hero.”
— Entertainment Weekly, Editor’s Choice
So, I ask you: what is one of your favorite books?
A network of individuals and groups in Palo Alto, California, committed to 1) building community 2) encouraging local resilience to cope with peak oil 3) reducing carbon emissions to cope with climate change