Alright, friends! I promised I would break out of the cage of YA and diversify my reading list, so here it is. What better place to start than banned books? I have always wanted to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. So I did.
Having been assigned his Martian Chronicles in high school and thoroughly enjoyed the writing, I figured this would be a successful read as well. Of course I was right because how could Ray Bradbury be wrong?
The introduction in my copy of this book was most helpful and intriguing as a set up to the novel. It mentioned this book was written in a time when television was making its debut in homes across the country. Houses that were once identified occupied as windows lit at day’s end were instead showing signs of life in the dark as families gathered around their television sets. Interpersonal conversation ceased to make room for this new friend of technology and entertainment. Fahrenheit 451 was written as a warning to this fixation; an ode to the perils of embracing the silver screen at the cost of insightfully driven conversation and real human interaction. If only ol’ Ray could see us now! He would roll over in his grave as we looked on behind masks of emoji faces.
Most people know the basic plot of this book, even if they’ve never read it. It chronicles the internal struggle of a fireman. Except in Ray’s world, these men are no longer fighting fires, but rather the pursuit of knowledge. The firehouse alarm sounds not for flames, but for uncovered books of residents in town seeking to preserve the written word so long outlawed.
We follow the main character (Guy) through a series of events that expose the truths of their dystopian reality, and cause him to question everything he represents. This path takes him to extremes as he battles the status quo of his forced cage. Many of his actions are shocking, yet telling of a time of great disconnect.
Bradbury has a specific style of writing reminiscent to George Orwell. If you haven’t read either of them, it takes a few pages to settle into their groove of orating. Once you do, you’ll find interesting notions, detailed and well-thought storylines, and profound thought. Before Collins and Roth there were Orwell and Bradbury. Today’s dystopian fiction could not hold a candle to what these authors penned. 1984 was by far my favorite of this genre, with now Fahrenheit 451 as a close second. The more modern of these stories lack a certain truth: that any post-war barbaric institution would never contain such errors as to be overthrown by a band of moderately attractive misfit teenagers. The original after-worlds were well crafted, masterfully manipulated, their depose near impossible and highly unlikely.
I found this book not only insightful, but also indicative of our modern society. In one passage Bradbury writes:
“There was a silly damn bird called a Pheonix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burned himself up. He must have been first cousin to man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but we’ve got one damn thing the Pheonix never had. We know the damn silly thing we did. We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.”
He wrote this argument in the 30’s, yet it still resounds today and throughout our bloody history. It’s why our World War has a sequel. It’s why racism exists beyond the fall of the Confederacy. It’s how we survive Reagan and Nixon and still elect Trump. It’s forgotten knowledge and the turning of a blind eye.
I think those few people Bradbury mentioned are salvation. They are listening, remembering, bearing others up on the weight of broad shoulders to bring hope. They are the embodiment of acceptance and understanding. I want to be one of those.