Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Published in 1953.
Synopsis: In an unspecified future time, Guy Montag is a fireman. Unlike firemen of the present time who put out fires, Mr. Montag’s job is to create fires by burning books, which are now illegal to own in an overly self-absorbed, unhappy world. Montag’s curiosity for what lies in the written word sets him on a path of self-discovery and conflict with his decaying society.
About the Author: Now in his 90s, Ray Bradbury is an American science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery writer who has published over 500 short stories, novels, plays and poems throughout the course of his lifetime. An accomplished screenwriter, he also was a contributor to the television shows Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, and wrote the screenplay for Moby Dick. Fahrenheit 451 was originally published as a three-part series in some of the earliest issues of Playboy magazine.
My Initial Reactions
I checked out the 2003, 50th anniversary edition of this book from the library, which contained 3 separate introductions written by the author in 1953, 1993 and 2003. Of course, I had to read all 3 introductions, partially because the novel itself was so short.
One of the things that excited me from Bradbury’s introductions was that this book idea was essentially developed from his love of libraries, a passion I also share. (In fact, the then-poor Bradbury wrote this book on a rented typewriter at the UCLA library). Imagining a time when libraries were no longer a part of society, and even rejected by society, led him to create this book-burning idea.
You may ask why this book club, which mostly read books written post-2008, has a few classics on the list. The answer is that I wish to examine the relevance of these classics to today’s actual society. From reading Fahrenheit 451 for the first time, I can see some (gross) similarities from the world created by Bradbury around 60 years ago to today.
I am one of those people who is saddened that the economic recession has led to deep cuts in the library system, and wonder if our nation’s decline in appreciation for literacy and education will ever lead to a shunning and irrelevance of books. My husband and I are already shunned by many in society for not having cable television and preferring to stay at home with our noses in books. How far away are we from characters like Mildred, whose lives are absorbed by television so much that she requires a tv set on each wall in her parlor?
One of my favorite quotes from Montag in this book is toward the beginning of the second chapter (pages 101-102 in the 2003 edition):
Every hour so many damn things in the sky! How in the hell did those bombers get up there every single second of our lives! Why doesn’t someone want to talk about it! We’ve started and won two atomic wars since 2022! Is it because we’re having so much fun at home we’ve forgotten the world? Is it because we’re so rich and the rest of the world’s so poor and we just don’t care if they are? I’ve heard rumors; the world is starving, but we’re well fed. Is it true, the world works hard and we play? Is that why we’re hated so much? I’ve heard the rumors about hate, too, once in a long while, over the years. Do you know why?
To some extent, we’re not too far off that mark already. Bradbury also has a few other interesting snipets from his futuristic world that could partially ring true today: (1) Mrs. Bowles saying she had two children by elective Caesarean section because why bother “going through all that agony for a baby” (this is a soap box of mine for another time); (2) the peppermint and saccharine Jesus, who is family-friendly and advertises for people to buy certain consumer products; and (3) the recent presidential election when the women didn’t vote for the man who combed his hair poorly, while not even caring for what he stood for.
So what did you think of the book? Did you read into the political discussion and the relevance for today’s society or just enjoy the book for it’s entertainment value? Why do you think this 60-year-old book is still well-read and popular today? Post your comments below, whether you’ve recently read this book or read it a number of years ago.
Next up for dicussion: Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, a memoir by Jillian Lauren. Discussion begins December 2nd.