Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Synopsis from B&N:
Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires...
The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning...along with the houses in which they were hidden.
Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames...never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.
Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think...and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do!
I can't believe I'd never read this novel before. It's odd to think of all the English classes I've taken, and realize that no professor ever thought this would be worthwhile to teach. I'm sure lots of them assumed it had been read before - but that certainly didn't stop them from making me read Huckleberry Finn 5 times! (But that's another story...)
There is so much to consider in this short little novel - Bradbury really packed a lot into a small package. His writing style is full of simile and metaphor, which sometimes seem a little over-the-top, but they give the narrative a feeling almost like a dream. It is very visual, giving the reader detail after minute detail in which to see the drama unfolding. When Montag goes to a house to burn books one night, "Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon."
Guy Montag is the focus of the book, and as such the only character who really gets a chance to develop. Mildred, Guy's wife; Clarisse, Guy's neighbor; Faber, the professor - we meet each of these people, but never get the opportunity to find out much about them. They are merely catalysts, propelling Guy forward on his journey. Each has their small part to play, and then they are gone, because the author is mostly only interested in Guy.
It is fascinating to read Bradbury's vision of a world gone mad, written in the 1950s, and realize how similar it is to the world we live in today. In his world, people don't want to read books, or be challenged by new ideas - they would rather sit in front of their gigantic television sets and be entertained. In his world, no one wants to stand out or be different, but would rather conform to the image that the majority has decided is ideal. In his world, people don't connect with each other, but spend their time blocking out the world with the earphones in their ears. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I have to wonder if Bradbury ever feels chilled by his prophetic vision.
Of course, what resonates most clearly with me is the few people in the novel who are trying to save the books. When Montag decides, for the first time, to sit down and read one of the books he has been secretly stashing away, his life is forever changed, and that is truly the moment of triumph in the novel. When he finds Professor Faber, and later the band of men in the forest (Bradbury has referred to them as the Book People), and decides he wants to do something - anything - to keep the books from being lost, it is the flash of hope that lifts the novel from despair.
And Bradbury knows it is not the books themselves that are important. Books are little more than ink and paper, which don't add up to very much. "It's not the books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books...Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us."
Fahrenheit 451 is quite a magnificent novel. I have no doubt it is one I will be reading again and again.
Source: Franklin Avenue Library
As a side note, my mom (the brilliant english teacher) has her class participate in a very interesting activity to go along with reading this novel. Inspired by the Book People, she asks her students to list 5 books they believe are important enough that they should be saved, and the one novel from that list they are passionate enough about that they would be willing to "become" that book. It's an interesting question, which I'm going to ask of myself. If enough people are interested, I'd love to make it a feature on the blog for a while. So what do you think? Would you like to answer that question for yourself? Let me know!