This time we are looking at Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. What can be said about such a classic? Ray Bradbury has his own unique style and sensibilities when it comes to crafting a story. I must recognize the quality of writing here. Take this random sampling for your reading pleasure, “He ran on the white tiles up through the tunnels, ignoring the escalators, because he wanted to feel his feet move, arms swing, lungs clench, unclench, feel his throat go raw with air.” There is a delicate pacing here. All kinds of people, teachers, writers, and readers talk about pacing. It is important, but they are usually referring to plot. Here is a different kind of pacing. Bradbury is controlling how you read and interpret the sentence. He is making you feel the words. Can you feel them? Do they resonate? Does it make for something more than a sentence? It communicates so much purely through its pacing. We can almost feel Montag start to run. His language is simple, because it can be. Simple language is conducive to this movement. Bradbury thinks about his words and what they mean where he uses them.
It’s hard to talk about Fahrenheit 451 without talking about themes. On the cover of my copy, it says, and I quote, “The classic bestseller about censorship – more important now than ever before.” The book originally came out in 1953. My copy was published in 1989 as part of the seventy-ninth printing. Censorship was and still is a major concern. When the novel came out, we had Senator Joseph McCarthy instilling fear into the hearts of Americans young and old. Calling it a book about censorship makes sense. They burn books. Sounds like censorship, doesn’t it? Not if you read deeper. Really, the book is about fear, but not the fear that some senator pushed on people. It’s a deeper fear than that. A fear that must have danced in Bradbury’s mind.
Figured it out yet? I’m sure you have. It’s easy to sell a book about censorship, it’s an eternal theme in any society, but this book is afraid that it will not have a place in the coming society. This is a book for books. A book that is afraid that books are dying. The central theme is not about censoring topics, it’s about destroying all books, all literature. Not because they say things we shouldn’t know, but because they are antiquated, and television is the future. Bradbury came out many years after the original publication, and set the record straight on his own book. Personally, I don’t think that was necessary.
I must go off on a small rant of my own here. Books and pieces of writing in general are meant to be read and interpreted. Same goes for pictures or even film. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. It becomes an article to be consumed and understood. Most of the time when creators say the people got it wrong, it’s really a short coming on their part. We shouldn’t need the author anymore. They did their part. If something isn’t there, then they screwed up. Bradbury, in my opinion, did not screw up. People look at a cover or read the first few pages and they assume they know a book. Oh well, end of rant for now. Let’s get back to the topic at hand. The book.
I could have written this review a million different ways. Usually I find something to focus on. Some little piece of writing or a concept to bring to light. I could continue to dive into the anti-television theme that runs throughout this book, but you can find that somewhere else. For the end of this review, let’s try something different. We know where Montag goes, we know what he becomes, or at least I hope we do. I hope we all read there. How about the first page though? What happened there?
The first page may be different from printing to printing, but on my first page, there’s no name there. Montag is nameless, and description-less. Instead, we have the flame and the gilding of his suit. That first line, “It was a pleasure to burn.” So much is in that one line. His act is itself faceless. We learn soon enough that he knows not what he burns, none of them really do. The ones who have an inkling, find their televisions to be better anyway. The pleasure. There’s human pleasure in destruction. I don’t pretend to know the reason for this, but most people love to watch things burn. A campfire is a place of community. It’s a television onto itself. In some ways, the fire was the first TV. Then we crafted written language, and soon worlds sprang forth on pages. In Bradbury’s world we return to the flame. Become cave-men and cave-women. It’s a lot to infer from one page. A lot to infer from one line even. The first page is how the author lures you in. That first line, makes you want to read the rest. In this first page, the fire and flame has beauty. By the end of the novel, something very different has beauty. Something that was being burned on page one. Some books start without their conclusion in mind, it’s not a bad way to start, but this book has the conclusion practically written on page one. We just have to sit back and find out how it gets there. That’s where the fun happens.
I apologize. The next review is going to be a little obscure. Not that the book is obscure, or the author, but for some reason, which I cannot understand, his books are hard to find, especially in print. Let’s take a look at a Clifford D. Simak classic. The City. Welcome to a world where humans are fantasy, and dogs rule the Earth. You can find the book on kindle, or even audible. I have yet to track down a paper copy myself.