After having read a lot of light, modern, conversational Riordan, I was craving something with more depth and more flowery flare. I floundered for a while and asked everyone I knew for suggestions of writers who have a mastery of language to rival Patrick Rothfuss’. In the end, I picked up this old favorite: Fahrenheit 451.
I can’t tell you when I read Fahrenheit 451. It might’ve been almost a decade ago. I didn’t remember as much of the plot as I thought that I had, though I remembered a great bit of the sentiment.
Ray Bradbury’s writing (I’ve already mentioned) has left a deep scar on my heart and mind. His poetic prose and command of language and meter is something to which I aspire and which I greatly admire.
This book was especially impacting to read now—now in the wake of all that is happening in the world and all that I fear may soon happen in the world.
It’s amazing how prophetic some science-fictions/future dystopias can be.
Guy Montag is a firefighter in a future America. Instead of fighting fires, he sets them; he sets fires to books and to the homes of those who are found in possession of books. Books are a source of chaos. Books foment rebelliousness. Books are a toxin to the world that has been sedated and made happy by noise and glitter and flash and distraction. Interaction has been replaced by walls—television screens that are as large as a wall, and of which a person is intended to have four, so that they can be fully immersed in the programming, which also can be set to include a viewer’s name, to further the immersive escapism.
The world outside of the walls is about to go to war, but the newscasters are quick to gloss over the fact, and quick to dismiss the possibility of loss or hurt.
Montag’s been long curious about the nature of the oppression of which he is a part. He has been sneaking books home and hiding them. But it takes a series of encounters with a girl who seems more awake and more alive than anyone he’s ever met to convince him to act upon those secret curiosities and begin to read. A few lines and a desire for real conversation after that girl dies quickly spirals him into the world of secret bibliophiles and thinkers, concerned with preserving the knowledge of the ages and the culture of the past beyond themselves.
I sort of remembered this book ending hopefully, and I suppose in a way it does, but the city as been bombed, and the fringe society of scholars and bibliophiles and thinkers are heading back to the city to see if they can help.
Bradbury never says what becomes of the society, but leaves it with only those few heroes and a bombed ruin, death and loss and pain that most Americans didn’t see coming because they were too distracted by the escape and the light and the sound.
I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about where this love and fascination with distraction and noise is present today. If I say much else, I’m writing a very different blog post.
Suffice it to say, this is a book that I’m glad that I read in high school, and I’m glad that I read it now.
Bradbury’s vivid prose is escapism of a different kind because it makes me think instead of distracting me from thinking.
There were a few passages that I found significant enough to mark both in high school and again this past June—and this was I think the first book in 2016 to make me get a pencil to mark its passages. Because they seemed so significant both times, I want to share them here:
“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up. That way lies melancholy.” (61)
“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
“So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.” (83)
“Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends. The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. […] Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.” (86)
This book has a special place in my heart too for the reverential way that it talks about writers and book; I am something of a bibliophile or I probably wouldn’t have this blog.
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Rey-Random, 1953.
This review is not endorsed by Ray Bradbury, his estate, Del Rey Book, Random House Publishing Group, or Simon & Schuster, who seems to have acquired the current rights, because sometimes publishing is weird. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.