If you can believe it, this is the first time I’ve ever read Fahrenheit 451. As an avid book reader, this is the sort of dystopian literature that begs to be read. What would you do in a world where censorship and book burning are common place? What would I, Jackie B, do? This is my first foray into the works of Ray Bradbury, and it was a great place to start. Strong prose and powerful themes guided me from page to page through this classic novel.
I read the 60th Anniversary edition with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. His introduction is certainly noteworthy. Gaiman waxes eloquent on how relevant and important this novel has been, but he also explores the relationships between speculative fiction, science fiction, and dystopian fiction. This was fairly eye opening to me, honestly. He more or less thinks that how we define the book doesn’t matter; genre doesn’t matter. What matters is the intent of the novel.
There are three phrases that make possible the world of writing about the world of not-yet (you can call it science fiction or speculative fiction; you can call it anything you wish) and they are simple phrases:
If this goes on…
Bradbury wrote an “if this goes on…” type of speculative fiction. In Fahrenheit 451 he explores what was happening in his present (1953), our past, to warn readers about what could happen in a future focused on electronic media instead of physical media. I picked this novel up expecting a great treatise on how essential books are to our future. And while Bradbury certainly covers that, the essential nature of writing is not the core of this novel. Instead, I found an exploration of how distant humanity gets to from each other through their obsession with television, radio, and other newly formed electronic media.
If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.
Reading this today, it is easy to relate to 3D televisions, wireless headsets for audio programs, and the constant barrage of electronic media– including 24/7 news coverage and social media. But 1953 was the beginning of the “golden age of television”. I Love Lucy debuted in 1951. 1920 is the introduction of the first US and Canadian radio stations, 1927 the first talkie film is released, 1939 the TV astounds people at the World Fair, and it wasn’t until the late 1940s that televisions became commonplace in homes. The internet wasn’t publically available until 1991, mobile phones until 1973, 3D TVs in 2011. Bradbury saw a future distracted by technology where relationships fall apart and beauty is found in ignorance. He merely used books as a symbol to illustrate knowledge and intellect. And honestly, he wasn’t far from the truth.
We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
While I am astounded (as with most speculative fiction) at how many realities Bradbury was able to predict, and I was highly intrigued by many of the thoughts and concepts he proposed, I was left unimpressed with the overall execution. To me, it’s obvious that Bradbury had a ton of ideas in his head, but he wasn’t certain how they should all fit together. I feel like when he went to the UCLA library and rented that typewriter he just wrote down all his ideas. It’s not that Fahrenheit 451 isn’t brilliant- it just feels like three stories smashed together: Guy discovering his humanity and coming to terms with burning books, Guy the book fanatic who confronts the world in a mania about the importance of socialization and books, and the chase scene/conclusion.
The magic is only in what books say, how they stiched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.
Each section has something which appeals to me. The philosophical explorations of the importance in noticing the world around us struck me in “part one”. It felt very Buddhist in nature. In part two, I enjoyed the world building. Learning about the technologies, the history, and how we came to this place really intrigued me. Bradbury’s writing left me wondering: could this really happen? And in “part three”, I adored the conclusion. The bibliophile in me loves the idea of memorizing literature to keep it alive. Adores it.
There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning hourse; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.
But, sadly, these “sections” stood out to me since the transitions were almost non-existent. I was often stopping myself and questioning, “Wait. What is happening here? Why is this character suddenly acting so differently?” I also felt like the world building got lecture-y at times. And that is one of my biggest pet peeves. These moments really jarred me out of my immersion in Fahrenheit 451.
In the end, this is an astounding story which really got me thinking. I’m glad I read it, but the experience didn’t bring me a ton of joy. I strongly recommend this to any lovers of classics, lovers of books, and those who fear that social media is destroying our ability to socialize in society.
What do you think?
- Have you read this book? What are your thoughts on it?
- Do you read the introductions and afterwards to novels? Why or why not?
- What’s the last book you read which really got you thinking?