Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury

Morality: B+
Writing: A

“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’d 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 sheet 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.”

Guy Montag lives in a future where books are illegal. In fact, he’s a fireman whose job it is to burn houses in which books are discovered, and he’s never given a second thought to the content of these illegal volumes. But gradually, the books he burns begin to draw him, and he begins to wonder . . . why have books been banned? And is there any way to recover what’s been lost?

This fascinating book is many things. To name a few, it is a gripping, terrifying thriller (I couldn’t put it down); a tribute to books themselves (the descriptions of the volumes are lovingly crafted); a startlingly well-written modern novel; and an insightful social commentary. In Montag’s world, books are not illegal because of an evil act of an oppressive government. (In a recent interview printed in the back of my copy, Bradbury makes it abundantly clear that the book’s emphasis is social commentary, not political.) They are illegal because the nation’s citizens decided to ban them. Books make people uncomfortable for two reasons — they are often full of content which offends one or another societal group; and the contradictory perspectives represented by many works of literature require people to decide which book is correct in its worldview. It’s so much easier passively to rely on the constant input of television or stereo headsets than to engage one’s intellect and decide for oneself about the value of a book’s content. Hence, these future Americans have decided, books are more trouble than they’re worth, and must be burned.

But without books, society has no roots, and citizens cannot learn to think, as Bradbury shows in the course of his novel. The U.S. goes to war during the course of the book — but the citizens don’t care. We readers don’t even learn which country the U.S. has attacked. Without the ability truly to think, the people have no way to form an opinion about the war, much less to consider its existence. In fact, without the stimulation of reading books, the people of this dystopian future have become so passive that they cannot even enjoy life itself.

This short book made me love books more than ever. It highlights their central role in preserving a thinking, living society. I loved this particular book for its own sake, too — the glowing writing and heart-pounding excitement kept me unable to put it down! In addition, Bradbury’s keen perception of modern society astonished me. The book was written fifty years ago, but in it, he predicts with amazing accuracy modern society’s addiction to the ‘constant input’ of television and personal headsets — and their resulting inability to think for themselves regarding a claim made by a news source or even a work of fiction (think The Da Vinci Code). It’s so much easier to let the input source think for you . . . All in all, I highly recommend this book.

Content warning: This book contains a fair amount of profanity.

Posted by Sasha | May 30, 2006

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