This one has been sitting on my shelf for quite some time, along with a number of other classics, and I just needed something a bit shorter to read before launching into an Obernewtyn Chronicles re-read in preparation for The Red Queen. And it proved to be a really good choice. I was quite impressed with it. I’m always apprehensive reading a ‘classic’ as some of them can be really dry and a pain to read. But I found myself liking the writing style here, and was enjoying reading it.
The story, which was included in both the introduction and the afterward, of how Bradbury came to write Fahrenheit 451 was really interesting. Bradbury had several iterations of the novel, slowly growing in size, and ended up writing most of it in the basement of a library on a 10cent/hour typewriter. And then the story was serialised in, of all places, Playboy magazine. These interesting tidbits outside of the actual story are always nice to find out about.
So the actual story centres around Guy Montag who is a fireman, not in the traditional ‘puts out fires’ fireman, but one who starts fires. And not just any fires, book burning ones. In fact, it is widely said in this world that firemen always started fires, they never put them out. And this captured my attention right away. This dystopian world, where the inhabitants aren’t living in poverty (or as far as we see), they don’t seem to being used in some fight to the death, they’re free to do as they please. Obviously that last point doesn’t include reading, though actually, I think there might be some books that are okay, cause I believe there was mention of a list of books which weren’t allowed. But then I also get the sense that books in general were just completely banned. So not too sure there. Most inhabitants just seem to spend time watching their TV walls. And oh I love these, especially the little thing about the ‘fourth wall’, which made me laugh a little.
But one day Guy meets Clarisse, a girl who is strange in this society, she asks questions, she doesn’t watch the TV, and she wanders around. She opens Guy’s eyes to the world, and starts him on the course to dissidence. Which inevitably is found out, and results in his run for his life. And it’s actually really thrilling, which I honestly don’t think you say too often about the ‘literary’ novels. Come to think of it, beyond dystopia, I’m not sure how to classify the book. Literary dystopia? Science fiction? It feels a little wrong.
The entire question of how this society is in the place it is, is very interesting. Was it a governmental decision to try and contain the society, and stay in power? Or, as is hinted, was it also about the fact that people just started to get further from books, with movies and TV shows, and new media, which condensed more and more. And this idea is really interesting in for our society. We have an abundance of information and things grabbing for our attention, but very finite time and mental energy. How do we divide our time, and how do we stay in control of where our attention is going, as opposed to letting governments and corporations dictating it? In this world, the TV has an upgrade where you can get the shows to insert your name into the scenes, so it makes it feel like you are part of the show. And they ask you questions, though not quite at the point where your responses make a difference. But this is quite like a video game, or indeed where I think entertainment may lead into the future. Including books, like an enhanced e-book where it becomes a choose your own adventure, with you as the main character. So I think this book is perhaps more timely than ever.
I am now unsurprised why this book, along with Nineteen Eighty-Four, is held up as one of the great works of our time, and prime examples of dystopia. Definitely worth reading, and it’s really easy to read, I managed to finish it in just two days without trying too hard.