Genre: Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Farenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so as I started on my first reading of the book I wondered if it would feel dated. After finishing it, I've decided that this book is even more relevant today than when it was first written.
Farenheit 451 is set sometime in the future (Bradbury wisely chose not to set a specific date for his story), and is the story of Guy Montag, a professional book burner, or "fireman." In Montag's time, American society now focuses primarily on constant pleasure seeking without inhibitions of any kind. Intellectual pursuits such as reading or writing are strongly discouraged, and those found owning any banned piece of literature (which by this time includes almost any piece of literature) are punished by imprisonment, while their homes are burned with the offending books inside. It is a time of apathy and lawlessness, and most of the population spends almost their entire lives focused on vacuous entertainment which massages the minds of the masses into an intellectual sleep. Montag's contentment with this existence is disrupted one day when he meets a young girl, Clarrise, who engages him in a conversation that begins to awaken in him the desire for a more meaningful life. Ultimately, Montag rebels and finds himself a fugitive from the very society that has created him.
To be upfront, I will admit that I hate modern television, specifically the drivel of reality tv that consists of watching the antics of dysfunctional individuals in all their horrific glory. I will be the first to admit that I enjoy television shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica which actually seem to have a story driven plot, and are delightfully complex. Still, I am blown away by a recent statistic that states that the average American spends 7 hours a day watching television. At this point, you are probably wondering, what does television have to do with Farenheit 451? This is not a novel about censorship, although that certainly is present in the novel. Bradbury has stated that the novel is primarily an exploration of how the obsession with television and mass media can or will destroy our desire to read. I find Bradbury's idea of the future frightening, especially when I consider that so many of my own acquaintances can't even remember the last time they read a book for enjoyment. In fact, that is the reason I was primarily attracted to book blogging. I wanted to find a place to share my love of books with others, and I couldn't seem to fill that need in my local community.
I found the coda that Bradbury added in a later edition to be especially interesting. As I was listening, it was spooky when I considered how many aspects of the novel have an equivalent in our modern society. One example that jumps out to me is the "seashell" device that Montag's wife Mildred is wearing almost continuously throughout the novel. Bradbury later wrote:
"In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction."
This book is a classic, and it deserves to be. If you haven't ever read this book, or if it has been a while, give it a try. If nothing else, it will give you plenty to think about.