This year, I promised myself that I would devote more of my time to reading classics, and reflecting on the books I’ve chosen to read, I’m a little shocked at how many classics I’ve somehow skipped over the years. Fahrenheit 451 is a great example. When do people normally read this, and what was I doing instead?
Maybe it’s weird that I never read this book, but, being on a science fiction kick, now seemed as good a time as any.
Being perfectly honest, I didn’t love this book at first. I felt the world wasn’t as fully realized as it perhaps could’ve been, and I didn’t particularly identify with the protagonist, Guy Montag. Even the plot, itself, didn’t hold much interest for me, though I can’t quite identify what the problem is. I loved 1984, and similar dystopian fiction. Maybe the ubiquity of this books influence has made the story so familiar that it has lost some of its power for me.
Whatever the case, once Bradbury sets up the world and begins delving into the mechanisms that allowed it to fall into place, I was hooked. I’m not turned off by polemicists, and I found Bradbury’s critiques to be biting and prescient. As a society, we very much have become impatient and more heavily dependent on less thoughtful forms of entertainment. Gone are the days when current events were debated on television by learned and stuffy men. We are inundated by “Breaking News” (regardless of the content) and pretty women dressed in miniskirts. Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley debating? No. Jon Stewart retired and we’re left with Sean Hannity yelling at whatever brainless opposition he deigns to have on air with him. There is no room for the spacious beauty of Akira Kurosawa or Stanley Kubrick, our films are modeled after the paint by numbers garishness of Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay. Instead of the elegant beauty of baseball, we glory in the loud and violent tumble of football.
This book brings out my closeted conservative. Oh to live decades ago, when we could trust our news, enjoy a calm summer day, and get lost in the epic grandeur of this years latest cinematic epic!
I’m not entirely sure how seriously I should take this reaction. At it’s core, there’s an underlying disregard for minority opinion in Fahrenheit 451. Much is made of how this is a grand warning against censorship and book burning, and while I think there certainly is that element to it, I can’t help but feeling that – in the midst of the incipient Civil Rights movement – Ray Bradbury sensed changed in the air and wanted to remind us that there is a storied past that we should be striving to maintain. I fundamentally disagree with that idea. I think that all that is good in humanity is reliant on our ability to constantly move forward, to progress to some future, unknown existence that is better than all that we’ve known in the past, but which is consistently beyond our grasp. Our best selves lie in front of us, not behind. To hold to the past is to reject our true potential, and to forsake all that is good and worthy about our dreams.
So I don’t think I agree with the underlying reasoning behind this book. Which is very unexpected, because this seems like the kind of book that everyone agrees with. Like 1984 or Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 was written to warn us against losing our path. What’s to disagree with? Well….I don’t think I want to be on the same path as Bradbury.
But despite all this. the book is excellent. Beautifully written and thought provoking, a paean to intellect, art, and the shared wisdom of literature. Even if I can’t fully get on board, I can appreciate what he was going for.
Reviewed three times before, with an average rating of 4.