Monthly Archives: October 2011

Review: Fahrenheit 451

Honestly, I find Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 more frightening than 1984. Both are dystopian visions of the future (well, the future respective to the time they were written — now, it’s just modern times). Both have a protagonist that begins the novel as a cog in The System, but has an emotional and intellectual awakening that forces them to question everything. Despite their superficial similarities, however, Bradbury’s novel differs from Orwell’s in one highly important regard: the suppressed, unthinking state of society is a mandate of the people themselves, rather than a forced change by the government or Big Brother.

Bradbury begins Fahrenheit 451 by introducing us to a fireman named Guy Montag. Montag loves his job, though firemen are no longer the rescuers of the past; their job is to start the fires. They burn books, specifically, and those who read them. Books are banned across the board, due to the way they make people feel and think. Sameness is encouraged, mandated even, in Montag’s society. People spend all their time staring at screens that feed them endless stimuli. Not true entertainment, not stories or dance or music or art, just noise at outrageous volume and pictures at high speeds to keep a person’s attention hooked. People are addicted to their televisions, addicted to fast cars, to drugs, and to violence. Sound familiar?

Montag begins to break free of the chains society has willingly bound itself with thanks to a whimsical dreamer who lives next door to him. She encourages him to experience the world around him, to look for beauty in life, and most essentially, think for himself. Of course, society frowns upon this sort of thing. People around Montag begin to notice that he is different; this difference reaches a breaking point when the firemen are called to a house filled with hundreds of books. However, the books alone do not prove to be the catalyst, but rather their owner, a woman who refuses to leave her prized possessions to be burnt like garbage. She instead gives the firemen several seconds to leave the house before striking the match herself, making her books a literary funeral pyre. (Side note — this would totally be me. I’m not a huge fan of self-immolation, but there is no way I’d let someone burn my precious library.)

This particular burning starts a chain of events that Montag furthers as if in a feverish dream. As the story unfolds and the reader learns more about how society came to be this way, it becomes more and more horrifying. Eventually, Montag’s actions place him in a flight-or-fight situation, and he he chooses fight — to the extreme. Without giving away specifics, let me just say that Montag goes from aimless anger to focused hellfire in under five seconds. It’s unexpected and irrevocable. The fallout from this reveals yet another aspect of society that has indeed come to pass: crime as entertainment. The hunt for Montag is a television event, one that keeps every citizen glued to the screen.

As bleak as Bradbury’s outlook is, he does not leave the reader despondent. Instead, he paints a portrait of a society that is not ruined, only temporarily lost. In spite of the war, the government, and even themselves, Bradbury gives us light at the end of the tunnel for the people of Montag’s society. The story is not uplifting, by any means, but it is not without hope. In fact, the book serves as a reminder for why we must continue to fight for free expression in our own world, and allow for freedom of intellect and choice. And so, as a solid recommendation for this novel, I raise my fist for the salvation of literature in the face of adversity, even when the adversity is ourselves.

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I PROMISE I’ll post a review soon.

I have been seriously slacking recently in terms of this blog. However, as I mentioned, I had kind of a lot going on. Excuses mean little, I know. Hence my promise to finish one of the two books I’m currently reading in the next couple of days and a get a review posted.

I am am three-quarters of the way finished with Fahrenheit 451, a book I’ve read before but am falling in love with all over again. Like some other dystopian visions of the future, it sometimes scares me how much of authors’ bleak portraits have in fact come to pass. It blows my mind how much certain authors correctly guessed (feared?) about the future — from the perishing of the written word to the state of seemingly perpetual warfare. Most of the authors were only a few years off in their assessments, too.

On a somewhat lighter note, I’m also progressing through Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I’m really enjoying Berendt’s portrait of Savannah, Georgia, and its unique and colorful inhabitants. Having visited Savannah several years ago myself, I really appreciate the image-driven, evocative nature of the writing. Of course, I’m also looking forward to the murder mystery aspect of the book; but since no one has died yet, I assume it must still be forthcoming.

Being that it’s shorter, I’ll probably finish Fahrenheit 451 in the next day or so. I really like all the characters in it, especially since they’re fighting the good fight. A good literary revolution never gets old!

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I miss reading…

I am currently pouting. This is because I have been very heavily book-deprived for the past couple of weeks. I was studying for the GRE, which I took on Sunday. So, instead of being buried in quality literature, my nose was deep in the bleak pages of a GRE study book. Now, I know that the GRE is a necessary evil in my quest for a Master of English degree, but it really was hellacious.

On top of my misery caused by allowing my beloved books to languish, unread, on my shelf, I had to deal with the horrible study program. The study book, while admittedly useful, was positively riddled with typos. I whipped out my red pen on a regular basis to correct misspellings and malapropisms. It made me feel very superior to the people at the Barrons editing desk.

Now, I’m done with the test, so I’m looking to dive back in to reading. However, there is a pile of work that I skipped to study for the test that now has built up and is unavoidable. I spent close to four hours grading student work last night, and I’m facing the same prospect for this evening.

Of course, to de-stress the day before the exam, I went to Bookman’s and spoiled myself with some new purchases. I am now back up to 30 books on my “unread” shelf, and 7 books in my queue on my Nook. So what shall I read next? I started Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil about a month ago, but then haven’t touched it in weeks. I might just restart it completely. I may also read Word Freaks, a nonfiction book about competitive Scrabble. That should be fun.

Ahh, books… how I have missed you.

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