THE WHOLE OF MY life has taken place since Edward Abbey released his fictional, sometimes satirical, environmental manifesto Monkey Wrench Gang in 1975. Abbey's colourful characters use sabotage to protest environmentally damaging activities in the American Southwest.
When I first encountered the book at age 19, it inspired me to don a ski mask and blow up the bulldozers destroying my native Ozark Mountains. But, stopping just short of making pipe bombs in the back shed, I instead revisited Abbeyâe(TM)s work and reflected on the fundamental contradiction of using violence to confront violence. More than 30 years later, Corey Redekop's Shelf Monkey addresses literary snobbery in much the same way as Abbeyâe(TM)s manifesto, exposing the contradictions inherent in extremism.
In Redekop's tale, disgruntled bookstore employees and librarians form a secret society, the Shelf Monkeys âe" an outlet for their frustration at the pathetic book choices of the masses. The group meets under cover of dark to set flames to books that are polluting the intellectual landscape and destroying the minds and souls of those who read them. No mere literary witch hunt, the group justifies their savage quest for their vision of a well-read society by employing a lengthy process to build consensus around a book or author's worthlessness.
âeoeIt was an opiate, more satisfying than tobacco, more addictive than heroinâe¦burning books was the ultimate in stress relief,âe says new Shelf Monkey Thomas.
The Shelf Monkeys, much like Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang, push their sense of intellectual and moral superiority to the edge, kidnapping and torturing a talk show host who uses his television book club to push trashy novels.
âeoeKnowing now what you do, if you had the chance, would you kill Hitler, or Hussein, or Milosevic, before they came to power? Wouldnâe(TM)t you have the responsibility to do everything you possibly could to stop these monsters? Now again, with the benefit of hindsight, if you could have stopped Jackie Collins before she had a chance to destroy a whole generation of bored housewives, well, wouldnâe(TM)t you have at least tried to convince her of the merits of a life devoted to something more appropriate to her talents? Like a travel agent?âe says Aubrey as he justifies his cause.
Redekopâe(TM)s ultimate success is in challenging intellectual snobbery. Shelf Monkey highlights how we can all too easily become that which we claim to detest, employing our own brands of dominance and hatred. Not bad for the first novel from this Manitoba librarian.
If you're the type of person who sticks your nose in the air as you walk past books with the Oprah's Book Club sticker on them and snorts at the person next to you in the coffee shop reading John Grisham, this book will challenge your intellect while tickling your funny bone. Redekopâe(TM)s work could be read as a light satire or a savage condemnation of intellectual snobbery, but in either view the work explores the complexity of any group of people attempting to set the standards by which we understand and engage literature.
The next time youâe(TM)re sitting on an airplane haughtily surveying the titles propped before your fellow travellers, remember that, soothing as it may be to the little snob that lives in most of us, intellectual snobbery is not a monkey you want on your shelf.âe"Melanie Redman
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