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Book: Fahrenheit 451

November 4, 2010

I just finished listening to Bradbury’s classic cautionary tale of bookburning and mindless TV viewing. Hmm… timely, much?

Wow, can I just say how thought-provoking and scary this book is? It took me awhile to get through it because it was pretty intense and I had to stop a few times to think about what I had just heard.

If you haven’t read this, I would like to just say that EVERYONE should read this book. In this particular edition (1982, I think), there was a great afterword and coda.  (here is some of it, but it’s worth reading in full) This made me think a lot about political correctness and how sometimes we get so worried about not offending anyone, that we take away any meaning, depth or value out of the art. I’m all about being kind and thoughtful, but there is a line between being respectful to a person or persons and going all out and possibly offending those persons to make a point. There isn’t, and shouldn’t, be a law against offending someone, and I think that’s part of the point of this book. Sometimes you need to get riled up in order to see clearly.

Bradbury talks a lot about how condensed books are a scourge in schools:

Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.


The reader of my version (who I can’t remember, and I already returned the CDs, sorry, anonymous Reader!) took a little getting used to. I thought at first that his voice was like a robot — deep, measured, slightly gravelly, extremely well-enunciated. But then as he continued to read, he brought out amazing nuances among the characters and I grew to really enjoy his reading.

I had also read an interview with Bradbury somewhere in which he said that his main cautionary point was not so much the book-burning, but the mindless drive for pleasure and entertainment — the all-encompassing presence of the television. Which I thought was interesting as all you ever hear about in connection with this book is about the book-burning and censorship.

In the book, television screens are wall-sized and programming is personalized. You can choose to have all four walls of your parlor televised, and the people on the screen all speak to you. “Hello, Mrs. Montag! How are you today? We have a great story to tell you.” I was not entirely clear, but I think they had gotten rid of fiction as well, so all the programming was, in essence, reality television.  Let’s see. Giant flat-screen TVs: check! Personalized information (via Facebook, cookies, etc.): check! Reality TV: check!

Oh, another thing: snail-shell earpieces, transmitting entertainment whenever you want. Check! I found it incredibly ironic that I was listening to this book on my iPod. Vague sense of guilt: check!

In this future, society has been so sanitized that no one wants to feel any genuine emotions. All they want is bland happiness. Even when one’s husband goes off to war, no one cares enough to really be worried. You can just get another husband. After all, your real friends and family are the ones that show up hourly on your screens, keeping you occupied and happy for hours on end. It’s not so much the books themselves that are dangerous, but what’s contained in them. Things that make you THINK! Things that make you FEEL! No one wants that. Society started to ban the books well before it was against the law to have them. As the fire chief says, the firemen are just enforcing what the people want. No one wants to be upset. Having all those books with all those troublesome thoughts laying around is just dangerous.

When the shift starts to occur for Guy Montag, when he starts to come awake, it made me think about all the ways I routinely “turn off.” And about how good it feels to actually be aware of things. Sometimes of course it’s nice to just zone out with a mindless movie or TV show, but I will definitely be thinking more about my TV time after reading this. Ever since we moved, I’ve kept my laptop out in the other room, and I spend WAY less time on it, which is great. I am reading a lot more, getting outside and doing more, and spending less screen time. All of which is a huge relief. I’m trying to keep my TV time to shows that I actually really enjoy, which is just a small handful. Having a DVR helps.

The end of the book drags a little and gets a little confusing. The first half of the book is electrifying. I was riveted and horrified. I read this ages ago in high school, but I think it didn’t quite sink in as much as it did this time around.

Of course, in this day and age we are on information OVERLOAD as opposed to Bradbury’s vision of next-to-no-information, but the incessant call to view screens and have sensory input is ever-present, and it’s more important than ever that people actually stop and think for themselves, and not just go along with what’s easy and the most entertaining.

Oh yes, and read as many books as possible. We can all be carriers of these important books, of good thoughts, of troublesome thoughts, of things that make people uncomfortable and therefore aware of life.

On a slight tangent, I am noticing a distinct trend with my bookreading lately. Lots of unintentional overlap:

  • In the afterword (coda?) Bradbury mentions that the robot hound in F451 is modeled after the Hound of the Baskervilles, which I read a few weeks ago.
  • In Dracula in Love, Mina and her friend go to a show featuring Nan and Kitty (from Tipping The Velvet, which I read a couple years ago)
  • In Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman has a story in the style of, and dedicated to, Ray Bradbury (I believe it’s October In The Chair, but I could be wrong)
  • Also in Fragile Things is Gaiman’s take on a Holmes story, A Study In Emerald (or whatever it’s called)
  • There were a few more overlaps/coincidences in the past few books. It’s kind of interesting.

Anyway, who knows what that means, except that clearly I am experiencing some kind of wacky book synchronicity.

Next up for audio is the next “Girl Who…” book, I think it’s Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. And I’ve decided to listen to Drood at some point — that should keep me happily occupied while I drive for awhile. Wait — am I becoming a F451 character? Or is it OK because it’s an actual book that I’m listening to? Oh, so many questions to consider. I think that’s the point: carefully consider everything. Better to be alive and bothered than numb and empty.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2010 12:17 pm

    I’m not a Bradbury fan, but my husband has read this (and about a million other audio books) on his 1 1/2 hour one-way ride to work each day. Personally, I can’t imagine a day with reading at least a few chapters of a book before nodding off.

    • November 5, 2010 7:21 pm

      I know, right? Book-reading is integral to my day. I actively look forward to it. It’s making my commute actually enjoyable.

  2. November 5, 2010 1:06 pm

    Love F451! I’ve read it a few times and so has James. The Tv stuff is terrifying, isn’t? And oh so close to real life. I think you are just fine listening to books. Good use of time in the car and much better than listening to horrible talk radio and divisve poltical doo-doo.

    • November 5, 2010 7:22 pm

      I know, it was actually really quite scary. I’m glad I read it again. The book time in the car is becoming seriously addicting. I had to talk myself out of just sitting in the car to finish listening to the chapter this morning.

  3. November 5, 2010 3:35 pm

    such a good review.

    i havent read this book but apparently i need to!

    ive cut back on a lot my screen time too. the tv is off most of the time unless there is something that i actually want to watch and ive cut back on my computer time. this wasnt intentional-i just feel sort ‘done’ with it all at the moment.

    • November 5, 2010 7:24 pm

      You really do! At first you might be like, hey, this is kind of dry, what’s the deal? But pretty soon it’s extremely good and the parallels to today are astonishing. And I think anyone who likes to read and has a brain in their head should read this. It’s amazing.

      I feel so much better without so much screen time. In our apartment, my computer was next to the bed because we were in the bedroom all the time. Waaaaayyyy too easy to pick up at a moment’s notice and look up whatever random crap. Totally distracting. Sometimes we had TV, internet, AND books/magazines all going, or one of us had headphones in for music. Craziness! Things feel much more sane now.

  4. November 5, 2010 7:16 pm

    Sounds interesting…

    I’m not a big tv person. Well, not fictional tv programming. We are obsessed with survival shows and of course, basketball. I love me some Anthony Bourdain. Meh…most of what’s on is shit.

    I really need to do the audio book thing. Houston traffic is hell.

    • November 5, 2010 7:25 pm

      Survival shows! Good stuff. I love Bourdain too. We have a small handful of shows we like but other than that, the TV is off or sort of on news in the background, but even then not so much.

      The audio book is saving my commuting life, I tell you. I just get them from the library, download them onto my computer, and then load them on the iPod. Easy peasy, and free!

  5. trapunto permalink
    November 8, 2010 9:26 am

    I wonder if I listened to the same reader; the way you describe him sounds a lot like what I remember. Probably not…I think mine was old cassette tapes. But I had the same experience of being drawn in slowly. I like the idea of the editor licking his guillotine! Wonderful review.

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