Wayyy belatedly for Banned Books week, I decided that I should reread Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I hadn’t read it since high school and, although I loved it then, I’ve found that I sometimes have a different perception of books as an adult than I did as a kid. For example, I was not a huge fan of George Orwell’s 1984 when it was assigned in 8th grade but the years since have made it more compelling as I’ve learned more about the world and the antics of the NSA.
If you don’t know the plot, it centers around fireman Guy Montag, whose job in the near future is not to stop fires, but to start them. Particularly to burn books, and even sometimes the owners of books. Because the people have decided that books are a source of disharmony and have instead turned to pleasures like drag-racing and watching the parlour walls, a form of television. Over the course of the story, Montag begins to question the life that he’s living as discord arises in his job and marriage.
Since I was reading the 50th anniversary edition, a special foreword from Bradbury was included that explained the origins of the story. Written in 1953, Bradbury was influenced by the rise of McCarthyism and the newly imposed censorship of thought as well as Nazi book burnings. Additionally, he had listened to radio reports of the atomic bombings at the end of WWII and experienced a negative encounter with the police, both situations that contributed to the final plot.
Said plot is all meat and no filler, fortunately for me as I’ve complained frequently recently about the verbosity of authors these days. Bradbury goes the opposite route – Fahrenheit 451 is incredibly short, barely over 100 pages, yet there is so much condensed into it for the reader to contemplate. More authors should follow in his footsteps, not just in length but also in innovation.
Because the most fascinating part for me, which I didn’t recall from my initial introduction to the text, was Bradbury’s uncanny predictions about technology, inventions that seemed peculiar in the ’50s but are essentials of today’s life. Certainly, our culture has become increasingly obsessed with TV, decreasing our attention span and moving sidewalks can be found in public areas, though they haven’t yet eradicated the conscious desire to exercise. His “seashells” and “thimble radios” are basically earbuds, now dangling from the ears of everyone on my morning commute. Thankfully, books are still mostly safe…for now!
This is a classic book for many very good reasons, without even mentioning the slightly-sadistic glee I get out of sticking it to book banning advocates (individuals who clearly paid no attention when their English class learned about irony, because it is the height of to ban a book that’s satirizing censorship). If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do (before the Hound finds you!).