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This place matters

Sunday, May 3, 2015

One is the loneliest number

A few fun facts about books with numerical names:

The title of Fahrenheit 451 was not, as some have said, the temperature at which paper burns. Paper burns when it is on fire; it doesn't really care what the temperature is. In fact, Bradbury chose the name because that temperature is the one at which paper will catch fire without being exposed to a flame. Which, actually, is also wrong - though the auto-ignition point of paper varies widely based on the paper, 451 is probably at least 30 degrees too cold. All of which is kind of moot, since the firemen in the book had flamethrowers, meaning the paper didn't have to auto-ignite, meaning that the paper burned when it was on fire, and it didn't really care what the temperature was.
According to Wikipedia, about fifteen years after its publication, the book's publisher began phasing out the original version of the book, replacing it with expurgated versions that, at various times, censored the words hell, damn, abortion, navel, and drunk. I have to assume someone at that publishing house is a huge fan of irony.

Slaughterhouse 5 isn't the fourth sequel in an '80s horror movie franchise, but the name of the actual Dresden slaughterhouse where Kurt Vonnegut was held as a POW during the Allies' firebombing of that city. How awful it must have been, to have suffered God knows what at the hands of the Nazis, all the while being bombarded by his own country. No wonder Vonnegut was so damned cynical. 
Slaughterhouse 5 tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes "unstuck in time" while a POW in Dresden. Through a series of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and flash-sidewayses that put the creators of Lost to shame, we see the story of a man lost and wandering, living a life at times surreal and at times utterly mundane. But again and again he revisits Dresden, quite against his will. Funny that a crazy sci-fi/fantasy mish-mosh of disjointed scenes can so beautifully illustrate the effects of war on the people who live through it.

From one war to a much earlier one: I saw a production of Shakespeare's Richard III once. I'm sure there were a plot and characters and sets and stuff, but literally all I remember is how painfully awful the actor who played Richard was at pretending to be a deformed hunchback. It was George Clooney as Batman bad. It was like sitting through Les Mis, but with Russel Crowe playing all the roles.
The real Richard III, historians are almost certain, was found a couple years ago under a car park in Leicester. The ruler met his end at the battle of Bosworth, when an enemy soldier apparently liberated his brain from his skull. The kingly remains were reinterred in March. This prompted a BBC radio commentator to suggest that they make a yearly celebration of his exhumation and reburial - every February, they should dig his body up again, and if he sees his shadow - six more weeks of the winter of our discontent. Sounds like a plan. 



Also, Aimee Mann was the lead singer of 'Til Tuesday. And when I was a kid I thought the lyrics were "In a church/deep in downtown/this is scary." 
The fact that she got rid of that hair is tragic. Tragic.

If you were trying to figure out where the hell that came from, Aimee Mann covered One is the Loneliest Number on the Magnolia soundtrack. And if you're still reading, you might like to know that I just fell down a YouTube black hole for like 20 minutes watching Community outtakes. Which, if you're really interested, came about because I was considering also posting a clip from Community that features an Aimee Mann song, but decided it was too offensive without context. 

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Its" not "it's" in this context. "Its" publication. Forgive me. Must...correct...usage ...mistakes.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Thanks, that's one of my pet peeves, yet I still do it from time to time.

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