Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

I think it only fitting that we begin Banned Books Week by reviewing one of the most popular books ever written about censorship. Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA Library in the spring of 1950. He paid just under ten dollars or so in dimes to rent the typewriter and it took him nine days to write the first draft. Since that day, over 4.5 million copies have been printed, devoured, and revered by book lovers around the world. In quite possibly one of the world’s most ironic objections, Fahrenheit 451 was challenged because of its’ use of some biblical swearing (of the H and D variety) and because, at one point, a German bible is defaced.

To this I can only respond: Seriously people? Seriously!?
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Summary: Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires…The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning…along with the houses in which they were hidden. Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames…never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think…and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do! (Summary from book – Image from amazon.com)

My Review: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books to the point of distraction. There is something about the great ones -- the world they create and emotions they evoke that hold me transfixed until well past any decent sort of bedtime. In particular, books speak to me in a way that only Ray Bradbury could explain:

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’ll find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a piece of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. 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. “
This book has pores. It is alive.  Put it under the microscope and you'll see.  On the surface, this book tells the story of a man who didn’t even know he wasn't happy -- didn’t even know anything was wrong, until something happened to open his eyes. Take the time to focus and you’ll find an insightful commentary on society’s obsession with electronic media, the instant gratification it offers, and the subsequent effect on individual expression and intellectual thought. Bradbury’s novel encourages contemplation of the world,  while theorizing about the dangers, impossibility, and ultimate stupidity of trying to make everyone in society happy with the realities of life. If that sounds boring to you, don’t worry, it wasn’t. Montag’s frantic search for what has been lost is as riveting and emotionally compelling as it is relevant.

This book didn't make me comfortable. It didn’t make me particularly happy either, but it demanded and willingly received my full and active participation. In short, Fahrenheit 451 made my brain sizzle, and in such a good way that I want to shout it from the roof tops. READ. THIS. BOOK. Now. Go get it*. I’ll wait. Let me know what you think.

My Rating: 5 completely un-edited Stars.  For the sensitive reader: Some instances of biblical swearing (of the H & D variety) and one part where someone tears a page or two off a Bible. Honestly, I didn’t think it was that big a deal.

Sum it up: As unsettling as it is predictive, Fahrenheit 451 will knock your socks off.

*Get the edition with the afterword and coda. The first gives further insight into Fire Chief Beatty’s character and history, and the second speaks more to the issues of censorship. Both were like party gift bags—not essential, but desirable nonetheless.

A final word from the author:In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger choppings, or the lung-deflations that you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.” (Coda)

1 comment:

Marc said...

I love this book. It's influenced me so much I've written a song with the title 451 from my band Upstanding Youth on iTunes and blogged about it @ marcallred.com those those interested. Don't think there's enough that can be said about the nuances of the imagery and metaphors Bradbury uses and even his great prose.

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