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Fahrenheit 451: Because we need to be really bothered once in a while.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.com

So I had decided to read Fahrenheit 451 a good two weeks ago, which seems like a long time to finish such a short book, I know. But you know me, reading more than one book at a time and with work and everything else, I can’t afford to read a book in a couple of days anymore. I actually finished reading the book a few days ago but only now had time to come here and write about it.

First of all let me warn you that I will talk about specific things in the book. If you don’t want me to spoil anything for you, go read the book first. Then you can come here and give me your opinion on it.

Still here? Great. Either you already read the book or you don’t mind spoilers. Anyway, Fahrenheit 451 is a book written by Ray Bradbury about a dystopian society in which books became obsolete. More than that, they are now something to be feared, and must be burned. I love that it was not a government imposition, but a natural consequence of a society that no longer value books; a society where information must be delivered in quick, summarized statements. People don’t want to think. People just want to believe they are happy. But does that bring them happiness? Is oblivion such a good thing? Is it preferred over having to deal with the problems around us?

I really enjoyed this book. How torn Montag, the main character feel. How he goes from going with the flow, just doing what he’s been told, drinking the Kool-Aid, to being a person who thinks about why things are the way they are. He goes through a crisis, trying to understand the reasons behind what they are doing and whether or not something can be done to change the situation. And at the end we have hope. Hope that not all is lost after all, that we will always have people who think and not just do what others tell them to. Hope that maybe one day everyone will be able to analyze things with critical eyes instead of blindly following the herd.

The story, by the way, was originally a short story that Bradbury wrote. Later he worked on it and let it grow. And Bradbury typed the book in a paid typewriter at a library. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, but somehow the image of a writer with a story in his head, a message, going to a library to type it all out using a paid typewriter, making every word count, makes me like the story even more.

Quotes from the book:

“We need not to be let alone. 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?”

“If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”

“No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. 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.”

“Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents.”

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

“We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.”

 

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Because you don’t have to burn books if the world starts to fill up with nonreaders, nonlearners, nonknowers

I decided to read Fahrenheit 451. I got the 40th anniversary edition with a new foreword by the author, Ray Bradbury. I always liked this little glimpse to the author’s mind. Bradbury, however, gave me more than I would’ve expected. Here’s what he wrote:

(…) a prediction that my Fire Chief, Beatty, made in 1953, halfway through my book. It had to do with books being burned without matches or fire. Because you don’t have to burn books, do you, if the world starts to fill up with nonreaders, nonlearners, nonknowers? If the world wide-screen-basketballs and -footballs itself to drown in MTV, no Beattys are needed to ignite the kerosene or hunt the reader. If the primary grades suffer meltdown and vanish through the cracks and ventilators of the schoolroom, who, after a while, will know or care?

All is not lost, of course. There is still time if we judge teachers, students, and parents, hold them accountable on the same scale, if we truly test teachers, students, and parents, if we make everyone responsible for quality, if we insure that by the end of its sixth year every child in every country can live in libraries to learn almost by osmosis, then our drug, street-gang, rape, and murder scores will suffer themselves near zero. But the Fire Chief, in mid-novel, says it all, predicting the one-minute TV commercial with three images per second and no respite from the bombardment. Listen to him, know what he says, then go sit with your child, open a book, and turn the page.

I couldn’t agree more. What good is it to have books and not read them? I never understood people who say they don’t like to read. It makes no sense at all to me. It’s like saying you don’t like to breathe.

I’ve heard kids saying they don’t like to read. I can understand that. But that’s only because they haven’t found the right books yet. We all go through reading books we don’t like, but for little kids, because reading is a skill they have not yet mastered, they struggle more. They don’t know yet what genre they like, and they are not well equipped to understand all that’s in between the lines. They can only see what’s on the surface. They haven’t learned to look at a book with critical eyes and see what’s not so obvious.

Adults, however, have the skill to analyze a book, to get the hidden meaning of it, to use it as a tool to make them ponder about bigger issues. Adults have the ability to discern what they do or do not like about a book, and they understand the true value of it.

So go, grab a book and read it. Go to your local library or bookstore and get a new book. Set a goal for yourself to read a certain amount of books and do it. A book a month? A book a week? A chapter a day? It doesn’t matter. What really matters is to read something. And if you need recommendations, ask the librarian, ask the internet, ask me. There are millions of books out there just waiting to be discovered, to be devoured.

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Ray Bradbury (photo courtesy of pcorreia)

 

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