Saturday, March 29, 2014

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I just finished Fahrenheit 451 and wanted to get my thoughts down quick before I forget them. I chose to read this book since it's on most every "books you should read in your lifetime" list I've ever seen since I was in high school. I didn't know much about the story going in, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it deals with book burning - a topic I am (surprisingly to some) very passionate about.

Guy Montag is a fireman in a strange future where his job is to start fires instead of put them out. People are not allowed to read books anymore, so when books are discovered, the firemen rush in and burn the whole house to get rid of them. Guy lives this life for 10 years never really questioning it until one day a strange teenage girl moves into the house next door and gets him thinking. Guy becomes torn between the instant-entertainment-and-pleasure-obsessed culture in which he lives and his curiosity for what is in these books that makes them so bad that they need to be burned. And what could be in them that people actually risk their lives to own them?

I really connected with this book when it starts to describe Guy's wife, Mildred. She sits in their parlor all day which has 3 walls that are full tv screens so she can immerse herself in the constant television programs that are all propaganda and nonsense. Most of the time she can't even describe what the people (whom she calls her "family") are talking about or why she considers it entertaining. She watches it all day and then listens to it all night in headphones even while she sleeps - she can never endure silence. I'm sure this is an issue that many have related to since this book was published in 1953, but I can only imagine what Mr. Bradbury thinks of this vision becoming almost a reality now. I think of how big our flat screen tvs have become, and how popular "reality tv" remains. I think of horrible excuses for "entertainment" like the Kardashians and Real Housewives of "Some Major US City", or glorifying the ridiculous in shows like Honey Boo Boo. Anyway, the existence of "the family" really hit home with me. I hate most modern television. I hate sitcoms and loathe reality tv. Lately I find myself not even turning on the tv and just enjoying the silence. I'm getting old, what can I say.

The other main point of the book is summed up in a speech given by Beaty, the Fire Chief. He explains to Guy how the reverse role of firemen started long before. People were slowly giving up on reading in general in favor of the more instant entertainment of their screens and broadcasts. Then minority groups would start to complain about a certain book or other saying that it was against their beliefs or persecuting them. Slowly, books started to become banned this way. Add those two aspects together and you gradually end up with a culture that not only doesn't want to read, but finds those who do to be radical and subversive.  I know made jabs up there by mentioning specific television shows as some who read this blog may love those shows, but going with the mood of the book I feel I have to state my opinion. One of the book's main points is that you cannot please everyone, nor should you try. There will always be some group or class or race that doesn't like your opinion. Banning and censoring books is a dangerous and slippery slope. Who gets to decide what is ok and what is not? What are the criteria? Not only is it impossible to draw any kind of valid guideline on something that has such a broad scope as literature, but how can you ever feel right about letting some other person decide what is good for you? Why don't we just give up all of our freedoms right now? Because that's where such power leads.

This book caused a bit of a soap box style rant in me, but that doesn't make it any less true. I very much enjoyed the book both for its writing quality and its message. Fahrenheit 451 definitely deserves it spot on all those "Must Read" book lists. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

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