How should I start a discussion on Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal? What would be a good first question or statement about the novel to get a group of readers talking?
Hrabal's Too Loud A Solitude is about Hanta, an eccentric hermit who has spent the last thirty-five years compacting paper; he has compacted thousands and thousands of books filled with priceless knowledge. Sometimes, he even pilfers a few for his own private collection. Books are like indulgences to him:
..I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel.
As this short novel is filled with similar intoxicating references to the beauty and significance of the written word, preliminary discussion thoughts/themes/questions might include:
1) The importance of the written word as a vehicle for mental rejuvenation.
I am a jug filled with water both magic and plain; I have only to lean over and a stream of beautiful thoughts flows out of me.
2) The ideas associated with the written word as a vehicle for steadfast rebellion in a totalitarian regime—"inquisitors burn books in vain."
3) The permanence of abstract ideas is immune to the totalitarian threat of obliteration. Ideas may be written and printed in volumes, but ideas are "disembodied thoughts flying through air" and no man can permanently and successfully contain or destroy them.
4) The helplessness and corresponding indifference of a society to stop the cycle of destruction in the life of beautiful things, in this case, the ideas contained in books. The "inhuman" modern press has turned workers into thoughtless automatons:
...where workers wearing orange and baby-blue gloves tore out the books’ innards and tossed them onto the conveyor belt, which silently, inexorably jerked the bristling pages off to the gigantic press to turn them into bales, which went on to the paper mill to become innocent, white, immaculately letter-free paper, which would eventually be made into other, new books.
5) Why does Hanta drink so much? It seems that he has to desensitize himself to the destruction he is a part of. He has five more years to retirement and until then, must continue to deaden his despair and outrage with copious drink. So, the question becomes: in today's society, when we censor the free exchange of ideas, will all the Hantas have to deaden the pain of their dehumanization through addictive endeavors?
The only reason I down so much beer is to see into the future, because in every bale, I bury a precious relic, a child's open coffin strewn with withered flowers, tinsel, and angel's hair...
When he sees a load of Royal Prussian Library books loaded onto flatcars like so much garbage and left to the mercies of the elements, he is devastated. He feels as if he has committed a crime against humanity and begs to be arrested by a policeman.
6) Parallels to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
This is not an exhaustive list of preliminary discussion ideas, but I hope this gives you something to work with. Thanks for the question!