16. Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

This probably won't shock you but I have read this book before. This time was better. It's strange, we often consider these books optimal for adolescents (that is when we are forced to read them) when in fact it takes a mature mind to fully realize this little book's power. I was stricken this time by a troubling difference between the world in Orwell's 1984 (often considered F 451's "other") and this one. In 1984, the problem is a totalitarian government forcing its will on the people and, of course, the control of language. Bradbury, on the other hand, creates a world where it is not the government that begins things by burning books- it's ordinary people who turn away from reading and the habits of thought and reflection in encourages. When the governemtn starts actively censoring information, most people don't even bat an eye.

Bradbury's world is a utopia of sorts. Everyone is happily distracted by life's pain and suffering. Instead, people live lives of convenience, pleasure and a trouble free "happiness" brought on by some great technological advances in TV (wouldn't we all like an interactive TV that runs from floor to ceiling on all four walls of a room?), "sea shell" earpieces that whisper sweet nothings 24 hours a day, and drugs. It's interesting to read this in a time of hundreds of channels of TV avaiable 24 hours, including an array of challengeless reality shows, Walkmans, iPods, and literally thousands of pain-reducing drugs to choose from, all of which serve their specific purposes... and isolate us from humanity. Oh, it's that last part that is the downer.

Some lines that were cause for pause this time around:

"You are intuitively right, that's what counts."

"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."

"You can't guarantee things like that! After all, when we had all the books we needed, we still insisted on finding the highest cliff to jump off. But we do need a breather. We do need knowledge. And perhaps in a thousand years we might pick smaller cliffs to jump off. The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are."

"Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge."

"The blowing of a single autumn leaf."

"Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass."

Anyway, everyone has read this book so there is little sense in reviewing it at length. I liked it even more the second time around. Pick up a copy. Give it another read.

By the way, I just discovered that this book had a special edition of 200 copies printed in 1953 with an asbestos cover! What they didn't know about asbestos! There's one copy going for $13,000.


beemused said...

heck I still haven't read it... another classic I'm curious about! good review, crumbly.

Jarrett said...

Great review. Good book.

I just saw a pretty good play adaptation (I think RB wrote the script, though I could be misremembering that). The stage was like a dancefloor surrounded on all sides by the audience. Intimate, to say the least. We didn't get spit on, but it was close. The kid who played Clarisse was excellent and the woman who played (Mildred?) Mrs Montag was a little over the top. But the guy who played the boss, can't recall his name, was excellent. Could have been Jeremy Piven's brother.

(Speaking of Jeremey Piven, I watched Say Anything again the other day and his part is hilarious. I had forgotten all about it except John Cusack's "you must chill!" line.)