Sunday, July 8, 2012

The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns

Can you imagine life without books, dear reader? That would be my own personal hell. So it was a particularly jarring experience reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

In the world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen don't put out fires. It's the other way around actually. When they receive a report that a person has been hiding books in his house, they're the ones who set the house on fire. And Bradbury's story focuses on one particular fireman, one Guy Montag, who begins questioning the status quo after his series of encounters with a very precocious and unconventional teenage girl.

Montag eventually takes out the books that he has secretly kept while doing his job. Needless to say, it was a pivotal moment for him, and it's an act that would cost him his job and force him to go into hiding. And this is the point where he meets a band of 'outlaws' who dwell in the outskirts of the city with a single, seemingly profound purpose—to read books and thereby commit them to their memory.

The concept of a person being the living Bible or Anna Karenina or The Origin of the Species is both an ingenious and a romantic one. That person becomes a living repository of the text, one who becomes invaluable in humanity's struggle against oppression and ignorance. In that world, I would like to be the living I, Claudius, Robert Graves's wonderful historical novel, which is still my favorite book of all time.

After reading Fahrenheit 451, you can't help but feel that censorship is not always a good thing. It supposes that people cannot think for themselves and somebody else has to do it for them. Thus, I believe that censorship is insulting. Who are you to tell me what books I should read, what movies should I watch, and what songs I listen to? Just because I read Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting doesn't mean that I'd do drugs and lead a life of waste and deprivation. Also, believing that watching 'Glee' would turn children gay is just plain moronic.

Fahrenheit 451 is one novel that would certainly appeal to the lover of the printed word. In that novel, the government has banned books because they make people think differently. But is that such an evil thing? In that world that Bradbury conjures, people seem to have lost that zest for living. So I guess it would make sense if I find myself trapped in that nightmarish fictional world, I'd rather kill myself.

Read this book if:
  1. You believe that one cannot have enough books.
  2. You know that this world would be much nicer if more people read.
  3. Despite the book's first line, you don't think that 'it's a pleasure to burn'.


Kaz said...

Hi Peter,

Another to be added to the TBR pile!

This was one of my mother's favourite books. I found many, many quotes from it scattered through various of her little notebooks. I think (my memories of this time are a little hazy) I actually used one of them in the eulogy I wrote.

Which book I would memorise, if it were necessary...I hardly know. Probably 'My Name is Asher Lev' by Chaim Potok. If pressed to name a single favourite book, it's the one I always come back to. Where it sits on the hierarchy of 'important' books, I don't know, but I do know its importance to me - and that's what reading is all about, after all.

I'm amused by the nature of our respective posts today... While they're not about the same thing, per se, there's a link of sorts - at least, there is to my, possibly, twisted way of thinking!

Peter S. said...

Hello, Kaz! You're right! I see the connection!

Ryan said...

I would memorize this book. Fahrenheit 451 is quite possibly my favorite book. I read it at least once a year.

Peter S. said...

I think you just might have committed this book to memory, Ryan, since you read this every year!

Jack Tyler said...

You and me, brother. Let's make our suicide pact right now.

My view is that censorship is NEVER a good thing. You censor yourself by choosing not to read that which offends you. It's nobody else's business.

Jeane said...

I LOVE this book.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! Right on! I'm with you on the suicide pact!

Hi, Jeane! You and me both!