Sunday, May 18, 2008

Still Burning Bright – Ray Bradbury's Classic Novel, Fahrenheit 451

Imagine a world without libraries, without books, newspapers or magazines. Now imagine that if you owned such things that you would be arrested and all your possessions burned and you'd be carted off to prison. In the early 1950's that's exactly what Ray Bradbury did; he imagined a world like that and the result was his now classic novel, Fahrenheit 451. The premise is pretty simple, in the not so distant future, people have gradually become so apathetic toward books that the government eventually outlaws them, burns all the libraries and makes it a crime to own and read books. Firemen now start fires instead of putting them out, as they are the enforcers of this law. For one Fireman, Guy Montag, everything changes when he steals a Bible from a house that he's supposed to be helping to burn and his witnessing of one woman who refuses to go to prison and burns herself alive with her library when the Firemen come to arrest her and destroy her books. He becomes an outlaw and discovers a group of underground outcasts who have dedicated hundreds of books to memory in the hopes that one day they'll be able to help get them all printed and restored again.

I won't go into a long drawn out summary of the book. I really think you should read it for yourself. I've written in the past about my own personal library and how much I enjoy reading and how much I wish I had more time, or more discipline to make time, to read. What prompted me to read Fahrenheit 451 was a pamphlet I picked up at the local Books-A-Million. The National Endowment of the Arts has a program called The Big Read and Bradbury's novel was being featured. After reading a little bit about the book, which I had heard of but had never read, I decided to read it. While I have to admit, I find Bradbury's writing style a bit choppy and abrupt, the themes he presents in dealing with censorship and the apathy so many people have toward reading and books and our dependence on technology to the point that we never seem to take time to observe the things around us is spot on. It's almost eerie how a novel originally published in 1953 so accurately captures attitudes and technological advances that we have or on the verge of now. While it's doubtful, in this day and age of mega-bookstores and, not to mention the constant whining about freedom of speech, press and religion that comes along every election year, that a future like the one presented in Fahrenheit 451 could ever come about, it's still a very thought provoking novel. It's also made me want to read more of the classics (not that I'm about to give up my fantasy and science-fiction novels – come to think of it, Bradbury is a science-fiction author, so with Fahrenheit 451 I got both sci-fi and classic literature in one; SWEET!)

Read a book. Any book – even the trashy romance novels will do. We spend so much time wasting away in front of televisions and computer monitors these days. I've found so much more joy in reading at times. The stories are more compelling, the characters more well developed, no commercials, and you don't have to have a VCR or DVR if you're going out of town because you can take the book with you. Find something you like; romance, science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, westerns, horror, biographies, history, et cetera, ad nauseum. Anyone can find something to read that will interest and inspire them. I hated to read when I was younger, now I almost prefer to read than watch the crappy reality shows on TV. So, check out your local bookstores and let's not let the future in Fahrenheit 451 ever come to pass.

~ JC

Next week: no catchy title yet, but I plan to talk a little on how I went from Pentecostal to Pagan, became a ULC minister and the weddings I've performed

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