We kicked off Banned Books Week Gadsden Reads Fahrenheit 451 last night with a participatory performance art piece, a ceremony celebrating intellectual freedom and our right to read. The audience sat on borrowed church pews and faced a borrowed alter covered in candles. The candles sat on replicas of banned books. At the foot of the altar were the charred remains of discarded books, a reminder of what could happen if the right (or wrong) circumstances occurred within a community. Our officiant was Mario Gallardo, artist, art teacher (at Gadsden State Community College) and director of the Walnut Gallery (the newly acquired Walnut Gallery space is an old church from which Mario loaned the borrowed pews and alter), dressed in his academic robes.
The service was reverential and reflective. Thoughtful movements that took the participant from writing the name of their favorite book on a page torn from a banned book (The Great Gatsby), rolling that page into a scroll and tying it with twine. Destroying the scroll by casting it into a fire pit. Lighting a candle in memory of that book. Finally, writing a love letter to the lost book. It was moving.
I was unable to write down the name of my favorite book, nor was I able to write a love letter to it, just too busy with minutiae.
But I did write that love letter after the fact. And here it is, dedicated to Jaimie. You deserve better.
My Dearest Absalom, Absalom,I’ll never forget the August that I first read you, an August that was hotter than the stoked fires of hell’s floor furnace. I started reading you at Sherry Yates’ cabin on the banks of the Chattooga River in Cedar Bluff, Georgia, little more than a stone’s throw from Cornwall Furnace, that furnace built by the Noble Brothers in 1862-63 to supply Confederate forces with pig iron for products used in the War Between the States, the same furnace that was blown out by Union forces a year after it began production.You confused me, Absalom, Absalom, what with how you jumped around a lot and wouldn’t hold still long enough to tell me the whole story all at once. I wanted to take you and hold you under the water to show you, to bring you up just long enough for you to catch your breath and tell me what was happening by Gawd. Who were all these people that you kept introducing long after new characters should have EVER been introduced? And why the hell were you repeating yourself over and over again like I wasn’t listening to you? I WAS LISTENING! You just didn’t notice because you were too busy being all stream of consciousness…I suffered that August to finish you, suffered not just at the cabin by the Chattooga, but back in the old chicken coop at momma and daddy’s place in the country, me perched on an upended milk crate. And later in the parking lot of the University while sitting in my car before going to speak with my advisor, my reading interrupted only by the talking alarm on the car beside me that calmly cautioned "Step away from my ride." anytime anyone breathed the same air as it.Absalom, Absalom, I sweated you out in the August humidity, sweated you out like a fever, or a night of too much liquor. I sweated you out so much that I thought I had seen the last of you with your final sentence, “I don’t hate it!" because I thought I hated you and never wanted to see you again!I should’ve hated you Absalom Absalom especially after what all you put me through but I didn’t and I don’t I love you Absalom Absalom I love you so much I read you two more times AND hosted a pub crawl in your honor and I am currently encouraging my dear friend Jaimie who is reading you AT THIS VERY MOMENT I tell her that you are worth it because you are you areMy sincerest regards,Carol