Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My first exposure to Ray Bradbury came some 14 years ago when I was a freshman in high school.  We read The Martian Chronicles and I was smitten, not just by Bradbury himself, but also by the whole idea of science fiction.  Science fiction seemed to be a place where adults were still allowed to use their imaginations.  I’ve since read Fahrenheit 451 (twice!), Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes and have loved each one dearly.

Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of fireman, Guy Montag, who lives in a future where firemen start fires instead of stopping them.  Their job is to burn homes suspected of housing the most dangerous of contraband – books.  When Montag meets a strange young woman, Clarisse, one evening, she sends his world spinning simply by having the audacity to ask questions.  Soon enough, Montag realizes he’s been yearning to ask these same questions and finds himself hunter turned hunted as he races to free himself from the shackles of a world without thought.

I’m not sure what I can possibly say about this literary gem that hasn’t been said much more eloquently by someone else.  What really amazed me this time through the novel was how utterly relevant the story still is 59 years after publication.  Nothing about the premise or execution seems dated.  The futuristic elements are still locked firmly in a future we haven’t realized and fears of censorship, raging wars, and lack of freedom are still quite prevalent.  To top it all off, this ‘classic’ is an extremely accessible novel to read and should pose no hardship to new readers and yet still impact well read literary snobs.  Bradbury is a genius.

During my first reading in high school, I think I focused more on the shameful act of burning books than how our country got to that point in the first place.  During this reading, I was shocked to discover that people stopped reading all on their own far before the government enforced a ban.  How scary is that?  With the closing of Borders and the idea of brick-and-mortar bookstores being close to extinction, Bradbury’s foresight seems downright creepy.  Will we as a nation just eventually shun reading so much that we’ll be happy to see books banned?

I was also really drawn to the description of this dystopian society.  America becomes a world where brainless television reigns (think reality tv).  They have whole rooms where all four walls are huge television screens and they call the actors their ‘relatives’.  Their world moves so fast, technology has become so central, that no one slows down enough to make human connections anymore.  Can you imagine the day we think of Kris Jenner as our own mother or Kim Kardashian as our beloved sister?  It makes me break out into a sweat.  In this future world, suicide is so commonplace that they just send a team of stomach pumpers to siphon the swallowed sleeping pills from your body.  I’d probably be swallowing pills too if my family was The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

Joking aside, this novel is scary, grim, and shocking because you will see signs of society already turning towards Bradbury’s ‘fictional’ world.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and get a copy ASAP – it’s a short little story, less that 200 pages, but so unique and important.  My reread took place on the same day everyone was protesting SOPA which felt so freakishly relevant.  I would also beseech you to read Bradbury’s other novels, as they are all amazing in their own way.