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Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

By 21:30:00 , , , ,

History lessons I had in school are not something I dwell on very much, but I do have a clear memory of hearing about Hitler burning books in 1934. Having loved books ferociously since I learned to read, the idea horrified me almost to the same extent as the way some people were treated in those times. I'd like to think that in some instinctive way I felt how catastrophic a lack of books, and the kind of censorship required to actually burn them, would be for our world.

Even if you haven't read this book you've probably come across it: Guy Montag is a fireman whose job it is to start fires - to burn books, because they are a source of unhappiness. Bradbury has important things to say about conformity and media in our society, and this books just a very intense look at how Montag's life suddenly changes in this post-literate future.

If you haven't read it, you might want to put off reading this review, because I admit I get pretty thoughtful about the society described in the book. You've been warned! :)

Reading Fahrenheit 451 as an adult was a very different experience for me than reading it when I was 14 (10 years ago!!). I remember being a bit uncomfortable reading it, and now I wonder if that was me being a little like Milly, or any of the characters in the book, so unused to thinking for myself, to remembering, to caring that the story felt like it was slapping me in the face? I hope not, and I would like to think not, but maybe in a small way I was scared that I didn't care enough or think enough.

I've been grappling with a lot of my own issues lately, and I think that's why I recognise a part of myself in this awful, unhappy, non-reader society. Milly and her friends, for example can't stand to hear a poem read by Montag. These people are refusing to even see themselves for who they are. They spend time in with their parlour 'families' and that is their life. They don't even know themselves, so they don't know what they want to do. They have no idea, so they do what everyone else does, because at least there's security in that. It's such a tragedy to me because to me humanity is about difference and individuality - we are all so different, we do different things, we enjoy that difference, and we enjoy feeling a bit special. So an idea of a society where being different might get you killed - even if being different just means that you want to read books - is absolutely horrifying.

After reading it for a second time, I still find Fahrenheit 451 frightening, but for different reasons: I know people who don't read, and it always upsets me, and I try not to judge how others spend their free time but still - books are important. Bradbury brings up a lot of important issues, I think, and he's made me really thoughtful. I mean, what will happen if people start to read even less than they do now? What if we don't read to our children? What if people spend more and more time watching Big Brother, not knowing where its name comes from, not even the tiniest bit afraid of the idea of a Big Brother? What will become of society if we can't take the time to read, and to think, and to remember? I don't want to see that happen.
I'm going to end with a quote - this is something Bradbury says in an afterword to the 50th anniversary edition to his book, and I hope it strikes a chord with you, like it did with me:
"It had to do with books being burned without matches or fire. Because you don't have to burn books, do you, if the world starts to fill up with non-readers, non-learners, non-knowers? If the world widescreen basketballs and footballs itself to drown in MTV, no Beattys are needed to ignite the kerosene or hunt the reader." 
If you managed to make it through my rambling thoughts (I'm sorry I got so philosophical on you!), please let me know if you've read Fahrenheit 451, and how you felt about it. I would really love to have other opinions on this!

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