For whom the bell tolls, time marches on

This column, part of the monthly Heavy Metal Librarian series, originally ran in the Get Out! section of the Green Valley News on November 14, 2023. The series is authored by Charlie Touseull, Tween/Teen Librarian at Sahuarita Library. 

Working at the library, I often get asked questions about what I am currently reading or what books are my all-time favorites. The first question is always easiest to answer, because it is something happening now—usually something recently published and newly acquired by the library. But whenever I’m asked to reflect upon the trove of tomes that I have indulged in over the years, it is always hard to pick one specific title that outshines the rest.

Sometimes books serve as mile-markers that distinguish between place and time, frame of mind and personal achievements. In our life journey, they help us to better understand the human condition, our complex histories, global cultures, and to understand the natural world that surrounds us. Sometimes these stories can bring us a good laugh or bring us adventure, other times reading is a solemn act of reflection that can bring upon feelings of anger, pain, or even personal growth.

When I was in high school, I rode the bus on most days to and from school. It was a long commute, but most mornings I just listened to my cassette Walkman and read books. During my junior year, Metallica became my favorite band. I obsessed over anything that they recorded or was written about them. When I found out that their song “For Whom the Bell Tolls” was based on Ernest Hemingway's book of the same name, well, I had to read it myself.

I checked out a copy from my high school library and dove in right away. The themes, the history, the stoicism in the face of death, the complexities of the human soul under duress were all things that captivated me. And to see how artfully Metallica could take one chapter out of the novel and turn it into such an epic song just blew me away. I was a Hemingway fan forever after that encounter. And to this day I still love Metallica.

This is a moment that is personally important for me, and whenever I hear that song or see that book on my shelf, I connect to that moment in time where literature and music intersected in my life for the first time. Later I came to realize that a lot of other bands I was listening to were also inspired by books they were reading, and that was my personal cue to go out and find new and exciting things to read, long before book lists could be easily found online.

Shortly after I read Hemingway, I came to learn that Stephen King’s Misery was the source material for Anthrax’s song, “Misery Loves Company.” Exploring Stephen King through the world of music was a lot of fun. King’s novels had a certain b-movie aesthetic on the page that easily carried over to the songwriting of bands like The Ramones, who wrote the song “Pet Cemetery” based on the book of the same name to be used in the closing credits of the 1989 film. While those stories were not as heavy and literary as Hemingway, they still inspired me in other ways and further fueled my love for music and the written word.

This cross pollination of the worlds of music and books really captivated me as a young person and sent me on a path to eventually become a heavy metal librarian who promotes and performs in both worlds.

In those moments when reading an exceptional book that really connects with you and lights a spark of wonder in your mind, it can bring forth moments of revelation, self-discovery, and personal growth in ways we may not have been expecting. Reading is where we learn who we are and what we can do with our all too brief time on this planet. Literature is the vital catalyst necessary to fully actualize our capacity for understanding, peace, and love in what is far too often a violent and disconnected world.

So, when people ask me what is your favorite book? Well, that is a question that is too complicated to answer, it’s like asking a mom who their favorite kid is. Even if she knows the answer, she will say “all of them.”