27 January 2010

Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag lives in a vapid, futuristic America where there are no books, no ideas, and no independent thought. (Sound familiar?) He spends his days as a fireman, burning illegal "worthless" books, including Shakespeare, Faulkner, and poetry, and his nights tolerating his mindless, TV-addicted wife, Mildred. Literature, knowledge, and appreciation of any of the finer things in life are all shoved aside in favor of superficial pop culture and the fast life. And then Guy meets Clarisse, a teenaged neighbor who (insert astonished gasp) thinks and appreciates nature and takes the time to talk to people! Oh my God! How dare she? This is earth-shattering behavior to Guy, who has grown accustomed to the fast-paced, self-obsessed society in which he resides. Soon, he's stealing the books he should be burning and is beginning to question his life. Once he discovers that there is more to life than TV and the saccharine sweet world he lives in, he becomes determined to change society. But at what price?

Fahrenheit 451 is one of the world's premier sci fi books and is one of my favorites. Why? I love Bradbury's writing, for starters. He has a style that is both evocatively descriptive and lyrical, yet still readable. (Bradbury has been accused of overusing adjective and noun sentence constructions. I won't argue that, but I still find his style readable and enjoyable.) Guy Montag is not the most mentally swift of heroes, but he has a good heart and it's encouraging to watch his transformation from an unthinking drone to an intellectual rebel. I also love the gripping, compelling plot - this book is a genuine page turner. And since it's a cool 160 pages, I guarantee you'll read it all in one setting. I particularly love the scene where Guy lashes out at Mildred and her idiot friends by demanding that they have an intellectual conversation and illegal poetry reading with him which, as you may guess, ends disastrously. That scene leaves me howling every time. I also like the unique dystopia that Bradbury creates. Rather than fashioning a totalitarian communistic society, like so many other dystopian writers, Bradbury's futuristic world bears a disturbing resemblance to modern-day America, with its rejection of knowledge and culture in favor of superficial pursuits. This book is often championed as a criticism of book censorship and it is. But the real target of Bradbury's anger is obsession with televison and superficiality in general. The people of this society didn't have book censorship and thought control thrusted upon them by force. They accepted it willingly because they were brainwashed with the box, and this makes the book all the more disturbing because of it.

But the main reason I love this book is because this book scares me! The very notion of a society that burns books tears at my very existence. I would be nothing without my books. Reading has been my favorite hobby since I was a toddler. What would I do with my spare time? I wouldn't have a job, because I work in a library. I wouldn't have a blog, because I blog on books. I wouldn't have a future, because my plan is to teach literature and history and write books. I wouldn't get Hanukkah and birthday presents, because that's what I always get. My God! I am Jewish - We're the "People of the Book"! What would we Jews argue with each other about if we didn't have books? Just thinking about this upsets me. (Of course, I got upset when my books were banished to the basement. I can still hear them whimpering like little lost orphans at night. *sheds tear* My poor darlings, there, there, don't cry, Rebecca and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Garfield 30 Years of Laughs & Lasagna: The Life & Times of a Fat, Furry Legend! *cough* I digress. I do this when I am upset...) And I assume that, since you're reading a blog devoted to books, you also love books. What would you do in a society like the one Bradbury describes?

Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is an amazing, thought provoking read. The narration is evocative, the plot is suspenseful, and the setting is eerily familiar. Read Fahrenheit 451. If it doesn't scare you, I don't know what will.


Next Week: I am going to try to read Ron Hansen's The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, an excellent historical fiction novel set in the American West. This is one of my favorite historical fiction books. I am rereading it just to blog on it. Yeah, it's that good.


  1. A world without books would be a truly horrible place indeed.

    What would I do? Stay in bed and dream, I suppose. It's the next best thing to reading. :)

  2. If find the notion of a world without books (or criminalizing them) scary, but also fascinating. In some ways I think it would be a good thing. True, there is so much history and antiquity involved even in the most contemporary stories, but is that always a good thing? Imagine a world where we had no conventions or expectations when it came to literary arts. Imagine being able to be the first person to write a story like Fahrenheit 451. I dunno, sometimes it just feels like there's not enough room for innovation anymore; kind of like an overgrown forest that is beautiful, and old, but perhaps not as healthy and vibrant as it could be. A forest fire can be devastating, but also clears room for new growth. I think my favorite part about Fahrenheit 451 is the ending, not because there are people preserving these books, but because of the hope that those stories will have room to change over time, and new stories will come about; new growth.

  3. One of the books I have been encouraged again and again to read, but never gotten around to. Maybe I will...soon...It sure sounds awesome!
    Very good review, Zella. But oh! I just had to comment on this one thing, because I don't think I've ever seen any incorrect grammar from you! Sorry, this is nitpicky, but I was just shocked--
    "Guy Montag is not the most mentally swiftest of heroes, but..."
    Shouldn't this be 'mentally swift?'
    Sorry! It just shook me. I had to mention it.
    Very good post.

    @popsi--As always, my friend, you make me think. Although I'm afraid that with this society we are now in, if the old books were burned, we couldn't learn from them any more. That's what history is all about--learning from the past. If we just took a few centuries and burned them away, we couldn't learn from their mistakes. My thoughts.


  4. Jean, Indeed! What else could you do without reading to look forward to? :)

    Popsi, You always have such a unique take on things! I think in some ways fiction may be improved if there were no existing literary conventions, because many authors are content to just follow the "rules" and, yeah, it is discouraging to see a lack of creativity from writers. At the same time, so many of the great writers are great precisely becuase they did break the rules. I look at Shakespeare, Faulkner, and some of my other favorites and see that they revolutionized writing with their breaks from literary conventions (even though they may have been chastized for it). I think it may be a matter of the author's mindset - whether he/she is willing to be creative and break new ground or not - over their influences. But I am not sure. This is a fascinating topic! I am so glad you brought it up. This will give me a lot to think on. Thanks so much for commenting! :)

    Scott, OMG! Thank you for catching that error! Arggh! "Swiftest" has been beaten with a stick and banished to the far reaches of the universe. Let that be a lesson to him! (Or me... :D ) I am glad you enjoyed my review. It's an excellent book. I think you'd enjoy reading it. Let me know what you think about it when you read it. :)

  5. Hey, excellent review! I can't wait to read this one (I'm currently writing my own review of Hamlet, thanks to you!)
    Keep up the brilliant work.

  6. Jourdan, thanks so much! I think you'll like Fahrenheit 451. It's an amazing book. I can't wait to read your Hamlet review! :)

  7. Wow! Definitely makes me want to read the book. Sounds amazing.

  8. Andrew, thanks! It is an amazing book! Let me know what you think of it if you do read it. :)

  9. Wow, I loved this blog! Fahrenheit IS a great book. My English teacher (from last year) had promised that it would be a fun(ner) book than some of the other books we had read, and she wasn't kidding! It's one of my favorite books.
    As you said, it IS really frightening to see how close to reality this book is. Well, we don't have room-sized TVs, but we sure are close! Just look at the sizes of TVs we have these days! Here's another thing that's scary...they got rid of my school's library! They gave away a lot of the books and moved the rest to the media lab (making it the "multimedia lab"). The library has been replaced with the "Connection Center," which helps with colleges, careers, internships, and such, which is not a bad thing in itself, but it could have coexisted with the library (and it did, for a while)! But, I feel like such a hypocrite as I never read books in the library because I felt that they had such a limited amount of books. But still! They could have added books! They didn't have to DESTROY THE LIBRARY!!! :O
    Also, someone in my math class commented that "books are the worst things ever invented." Seriously? I was shocked out of my mind! My math teacher then responded with "I never liked books much either, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that they are the worst things ever invented." Sigh. Why, world, why?

  10. Thanks, Sana! :)

    Your school's library story scares me! As does that kid's attitude. ARGGGGGH! What *is* the world coming to? I always ask people I meet what they like to read and if they've read any good books lately. Usually I get a blank stare in response. *beats head against keyboard* Books are the best thing in the world. (Better even than ice cream. Which is saying something...)

    I do take take comfort in the fact that there are still people who do read and appreciate good books. It also makes me feel better when I see how many people my age who follow my blog love to read and are always giving me great suggestions. I love you guys! We must stick together! :)