I am exceedingly glad I did not read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in high school–or college for that matter. I would not have been able to appreciate it as a teenager, and professors would have dissected it to the point of insanity in college.
I am glad I read it on my own. I read it on a two-hour plane ride while on a trip for work and I loved it. Every moment. That said, is not one of those books you can pick up and put down willy-nilly. To read it requires…focus.
451 is the story of a fireman, Guy Montag, set in a disturbingly plausible future. Guy lives in a world where books are societal poison. Even the bible is distilled down to televised talking points from a generic, news-casting Jesus. Everything in Guy’s world is about “snappy endings” and making sure society is stupidly happy. His profession, fireman, has evolved from putting out fires (which, in this world, is just silly folklore because everything is fireproof) to starting them.
Guy burns books, and he, presumably, likes it. He burns books because books lead to free thinking, which destroys happiness. Happiness, on the other hand, is a constant bombardment of “infotainment,” keeping more deep thoughts subdued through over-stimulation. What an interesting form of mind-control Mr. Bradbury has put forth here. It requires little censorship, but thrives on individual fears and humanity’s ability to be distracted.
Then, Guy meets a young woman who doesn’t conform to society. She thinks, she asks questions, she teaches him how to do the same, and then she vanishes. At this point, Guy begins his “downward” spiral into freedom of thought, learning the reasons behind society’s aesthetic of happiness and blazing a new, dangerous trail for himself.
Bradbury’s writing style in this book is poetic. It’s often abstract or disjointed in places, reflecting Guy’s confusion and anger. The beginning is a little hard to get through because of that, but it is worth it in the end.
I loved this book because the story presents the reader with a mirror, asking us to question the status quo, and even rebel, if necessary. It doesn’t sugar coat the subversive path. Everything is hard and requires painful sacrifice. It plainly states the rebel’s cause will not be taken up immediately, rushing out upon society like a tidal wave, but rather it must be seeded–nurtured and cared for until society is ripe.
I also loved this book because Guy isn’t portrayed as a hero in the traditional sense. He’s just some ordinary fellow that valued curiosity and that put him in the crosshairs. He’s infinitely relatable.
If you haven’t read it before, I suggest you do so now. Maybe, even read it twice.