So I finally got around to reading the book about the power of books/knowledge/reading: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I’m glad I finally read it, if for no other reason than to say, “Why of course I’ve read that!”
The book is an incredibly profound portrayal of what life would be like if knowledge and education (by way of reading) were made illegal. In the beginning of the book the protagonist Guy Montag befriends a young girl who gets him thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is more to life than TV, driving fast, listening to/watching/absorbing advertisements, and burning books. Clarisse is only in the novel for a short time, but her thoughts live on in Montag so strongly that he ends up a fugitive on the run from a community that hates him and his desire to be free-thinking, to know more than what the government wants him to know. “We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were REALLY bothered? About something important, about something real?”
I couldn’t help but fear that modern day America has become part of what Bradbury (via Montag and Clarisse) feared: “Click, Pic, Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There…One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!” This paragraph perfectly encapsulates the recent flux from of newspaper to Twitter. What used to be well-written, vetted articles has become 140-character barely-grammatically-correct sentences about nothing of any importance, save the recently celebrity baby or political tussle.
What’s more is that we turned into the society that Bradbury wrote about (in 1953! my gosh, Bradbury was a soothsayer): “With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be.” My mind is blown by this. This book was penned nearly 60 years ago, and some elements of our society have absolutely become what he prophesied.
I am truly glad I read the book, but I cannot say I liked it. It seemed a bit obvious, like, “Okay, Bradbury we get it: books/knowledge is important.” But…school systems, concerned parents, and seemingly-random individuals challenge books every single day. That is why we celebrate “Banned Books Week” every Fall, to remember that reading and knowledge is free, legal, and encouraged!
If you’re toeing the line about reading this: do it. It is absolutely worth a read. Or, just read this article that my coworker forwarded to me where Bradbury says that, if he could only save one book it would be A Christmas Carol because “it’s a book about life, it’s a book about death. It’s a book about triumph.”