Monday, December 10, 2012
Published 1953 by Ballantine Books
Source: my audiobook was purchased at the Friends of the Omaha Public Library's weekly book sale
Set in the 24th century, Guy Montag takes pleasure in his profession as a fireman, burning illegally owned books and the homes of their owners. Montag begins to question the value of his profession and, in turn, his life after a chance encounter with a young neighbor. Afterward, Montag begins to struggle with his job, his wife, his entire existence in an oppressive, censored society. Eventually he is forced to flee, joining an underground network of intellectuals. With his new found friends, Montag witnesses the atomic destruction if his former city and dedicates himself to rebuilding a literate and cultural society.
Fahrenheit 451 has long been hailed as the poster child against banned books. However, as I listened to this one, I felt like it was more a book about what happens when people willingly give up their right to think. Books became taboo because they were the last bastion of intellectual thought. In a 2007 interview, Bradbury said the book is actually an exploration of the effects of television and mass media on the public. In fact, Montag's wife and her friends are hypnotized by their "parlor walls" (flat-screen televisions) and absorbed in their seashells (essentially a radio Bluetooth), refusing to believe there are any problems in their lives and even believing the state news reports that the upcoming war will be brief and victorious. How many people do I know who tell me they have no time to read but can converse for long periods about what they watched on television (in fact, their flat-screen televisions) for hours the day before? As televisions and computers become even more ubiquitous, how far from Bradbury's vision of the future are we?
Fahrenheit 451 evolved several times before it became the novel I listened to. Ray Bradbury original wrote a short story titled "Bright Phoenix" which he expanded, in 1951, into the novella The Fireman. Bradbury wrote the novel in the basement of UCLA's library on pay typewriters for which he paid ten cents per half hour. Shortly after it was published, the novel was serialized in a men's magazine (you know, the one started by Hugh Hefner but which I don't want to name here for fear of the kind of traffic it might attract). Maybe there actually were men who read the magazine for the articles.
I picked this book up on audio because I thought it might be something both The Big Guy and I would enjoy while driving recently. We were both impressed with the idea that Bradbury himself read it but as it went on, I was wishing for a more dynamic reader. I did, however, enjoy the book being read in the cadence intended by Bradbury. It is slow going at first, with Bradbury's descriptive writing and long passages of inner thought. Once the action picks up, though, things move along rapidly and I'm afraid I may have been a bit of a hazard on the road as I tried to focus on what was happening.
In middle school I read Bradbury (although I can't now recall exactly which stories) and recall liking him very much. For some reason, though, I never again picked up one of his books. Having very much liked Fahrenheit 451, I will not let that happen again.
Posted by Lisa at 1:30 AM