Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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December 29, 2015
December of Classics ends on a weird note because I have so many mixed emotions about this book. The writing is so choppy, but the message is so important! There was such insight and depth, but the main characters were just so unlikable! It’s a beloved classic and though I came away with a myriad of quotes I want to write all over my walls, I was still a little underwhelmed by the whole experience.

The book begins with the main character, Guy Montag, at work. He’s a fireman, but not the kind you’re familiar with. No, in this particular future firemen don’t put out fires but start them, and their main targets are books, as they are considered to be the source of a lot of discord in society. Because of the need to “keep the masses happy”, the government is in charge of information and its dissemination, preferring media outlets such as radio and TV for their easiness to control what’s broadcasted, and banning books altogether. Anyone found with a book suffers the consequence of getting a visit from the fire department.
It was a pleasure to burn.
Montag seems to enjoy his life and his job of burning books even though he doesn’t really seem to know the reason why books are so bad; it’s just the way it’s always been for him. Then he meets Clarisse, a girl who makes him question his own happiness (is he happy or is he just being told that he’s happy?), and he witnesses a woman who prefers to burn with her books than to part with them, and he begins questioning a lot of things. These experiences are so eye-opening that he starts realizing that not just him, but everyone around him seems to be mind-controlled by radio and TV and people move so fast they don’t have a moment to sit down, relax, think.

And that’s where this book gets me. Written in the 50s and still relevant to this day. Fahrenheit 451 seems to make a big deal about books and how important they are, but as Capt. Beatty explains to Montag, it’s not actually about the books but the knowledge in them. It’s just that the printed word is harder to keep in check than broadcasted media and setting fire to them is the easiest way to solve a problem. Knowledge is scary because it makes people think and gives them opinions and opens the door to many arguments, which in turn makes them unhappy and dissatisfied with life. People don’t want that. They want to be happy! That’s why they watch mindless TV and listen to mindless music and read mindless books, because being invested in the fake lives on their screens or pages takes away from worrying about their own lives and problems.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with mindless media and wanting to binge-watch Teen Mom during Labor Day weekend while eating pizza (there’s not!!! Don’t judge me). Everything in moderation, though! And that applies to everything. I dare you to go a whole month reading nothing but classics or academic papers or, I don’t know, the Bible, and then tell me you don’t wanna take a break and watch Gossip Girl for at least a week. You’d be lying! Gossip Girl is awesome.

But I digress.

To me, this book is about the importance of knowledge, as well as a warning about the dangers of forgetting the “everything in moderation” rule and letting mindless media take over, and the scary part is that it is very accurate in its portrayal of today’s society. We’re a society that takes things at face value; no independent thoughts, just people letting others do their thinking for them and parroting what the TV or the radio or the books tell them (if you don’t believe that’s true: Donald Trump is running for president and he is leading the Republican polls. If that’s not a result of ignorance, I don’t know what is). It’s sad and scary and dangerous and it spreads like a disease.

I’m glad I read this book even though I struggled to finish it. It might be another case of good premise, terrible execution, but the writing felt like it was all over the place, like maybe Bradbury was overflowing with ideas and he was rushing to get them all out on paper. There were whole paragraphs where he would go on these stream of consciousness rants that just seemed like rambling to me and had me re-reading parts to make sure I was still following along. And then, there were the parts that made no sense, like Montag reading a book on the subway when owning books is supposed to be illegal.

Adding to that, it was lacking suspense. There is no buildup, no time for you to get used to one thing happening before you’re dealing with the next, like he was just telling a matter-of-fact story about how to get from point A to point B to point C without taking the time to talk about the journey. I like details! More details and less nonsense conversation!

I can see why this book is a classic, though, and I admire Ray Bradbury for the vision he had of this not-so-far-fetched dystopian future. Fahrenheit 451 was a very thought-provoking novel and while it won’t make my all time favorite list, the message it delivered will stay with me forever.

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