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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Review: Fahrenheit 451

I'll be honest, I thought "Fahrenheit 451" was going to be one of those books I heard so much hype over that it disappointed me in the end. Bradbury surprised me, though. I started the book a few days before I left for New York and finished it on the plane, leading me to think about it during my entire trip. I even went back through to re-read some passages and marked some things to remember, so I hope this review says something you haven't already heard about "Fahrenheit 451".

I also really love the cover on the copy I own, designed by Joseph Mugnaini.  I love the type, the colors and the illustration. Really great stuff.

To read the review and some of my favorite pieces click through the jump.

I'm not going to launch into a huge summary because you can find that anywhere, but essentially "Fahrenheit 451" is centered on Guy Montag, a man whose job it is to burn books. After ten years of loyal service as a fireman, he begins to question his daily actions and think for himself.

I know this book is supposed to be set in the far future, but it seemed so realistic and relevant to 2011. I know so many people who have not picked up a single book since their high school's required reading and would much rather constantly be entertained by the latest technology. The latest technology is great, in "Fahrenheit" and in the present, but it is important to step back and think for ourselves without using the easy way out all the time.

"Fahrenheit" also reminds us that the important thing about reading is the act of reading, it doesn't matter how you're doing it. People have been all worked up over the past few years about the "death of print" but in "Fahrenheit" we see the death of reading and all together. Sure, e-readers are electronic, but they still get people reading, thinking and using their imagination. The content is far more important than the means.

Although I really did love this story, my favorite part of the book was the Afterword (You can read the entire Afterword over at American Buddha). Here Bradbury describes the writing process behind "Fahrenheit 451" and how the characters continued on in his mind and later in a two-act play. One of the best passages from the characters is an interaction between Montag and the Fire Chief, after Montag discovers the Chief's hidden library (post-F 451):
"Once --" Montag hesitates, then continues, "Once you must have loved books very much."
"Touche!" the Fire Chief responds. "Below the belt. On the chin. Through the heart. Ripping the gut. Oh, look at me, Montag. The man who loved books, no, the boy who was wild for them, insane for them, who climbed the stacks like a chimpanzee gone mad for them.
"I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name 'em, I ate 'em. And then ... and  then ..." The Fire Chief's voice fades.
Montag prompts: "And then?"
"Why, life happened to me." The Fire Chief shuts his eyes to remember. "Life. The usual. The same.  The love that wasn't quite right, the dream that went sour, the sex that fell apart, the deaths that came swiftly to friends not deserving, the murder of someone or another, the insanity of someone close, the slow death of a mother, the abrupt suicide of a father -- a stampede of elephants, an onslaught of disease. And nowhere, nowhere the right book for  the right time to stuff in the crumbling wall of the breaking dam to hold back the deluge, give or take a metaphor, lose or find a simile. And by the far edge of thirty, and the near rim of thirty-one, I picked myself up, every bone broken, every centimeter of flesh abraded, bruised, or scarred. I looked in the mirror and found an old man lost behind the frightened face of a young man, saw a hatred there for everything and anything, you name it, I'd damn  it, and opened the pages of my fine library books and found what, what, what!?" 
Montag guesses. "The pages were empty?"
"Bull's eye! Blank! Oh, the words were there, all right, but they ran over my eyes like hot oil, signifying nothing. Offering no help, no solace, no peace, no harbor, no true love, no bed, no light.
I think this passage is such a powerful statement of love lost. It also confirms suspicions I had about the Fire Chief while reading F 451. Because Bradbury added this in the afterword, I felt closure for the characters that I didn't necessarily feel before.

In Coda, Bradbury also addresses censorship of F 451. He suggests that whoever doesn't like his book can write their own. He would rather have someone not read his book at all than to read an edited version. I love how he ends this section:
In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book.

All you umpires, back to the bleachers. Referees, hit the showers. It's my game. I pitch, I hit, I catch. I run the bases. At sunset I've won or lost. At sunrise, I'm out again, giving it the old try.

And no one can help me. Not even you.
I might just love the end of Coda because of the baseball metaphor but I don't care, it is still awesome.

The bottom line is you should read this book and see what you think for yourself.


littleghostgirl said...

I have that exact cover, too! It's fantastic. This book is really inspiring and I'd even say it might be more relevant to today's society than 1984. I really enjoyed your review. Thanks!

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