Recommended Reading: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

Yes, it’s another installment in Books Carolyn Is Utterly Embarrassed Not to Have Read by Now.

Image courtesy of Manostphoto/ Freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Manostphoto/ Freedigitalphotos.net

As a voracious reader and lover of sci-fi, it’s pretty amazing that Fahrenheit 451 has missed my to-read pile for so long. Maybe it’s because the contours of the story are so familiar; I felt going in as if I already knew the plot.

Something that startled me was the sheer number of technological advances that Bradbury saw coming in 1953 (because of his long career, I’d always assumed that Fahrenheit was a late 60s/ early 70s book — quite wrongly): wall-sized TV screens, in-ear headphones, drones. I wonder if Suzanne Collins was thinking of the Mechanical Hound when she created some of the monsters in The Hunger Games trilogy.

I’ll skip the plot summary, since you’ve probably got the gist of it, and instead highlight my favorite section: Montag’s meeting with Grayson and the other people of the book, who remind themselves, “we’re nothing more than dust jackets for books, of no significance otherwise.” Grayson goes on to tell Montag how great works of literature are preserved: “Why, there’s one town in Maryland, only twenty-seven people, no bomb’ll ever touch that town, is the complete essays of a man named Bertrand Russell” (179; the grammar’s a little off, but I can’t tell if that’s Grayson’s overexcitement or a faulty edition at work). I found the work of memory, the instinct to preserve ideas and language, deeply moving.

I wonder, though, if regarding oneself as merely a dust jacket for a book is entirely admirable. Certainly there’s a sense embedded in this idea of taking a larger, longer perspective (I’m reminded of Carl Sagan and the blue dot, or Rick’s speech at the end of Casablanca), a way of realizing our individual insignificance over the span of time. On the other hand, one person with a great deal of insight, or fortitude, or kindness, can change the world for the better. But I suppose you do need the world.

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7 thoughts on “Recommended Reading: Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury

  1. Oh, there are so many books I am too embarrassed to admit I haven’t yet read…

    I read this one a long time ago in high school and can’t remember it…the vision of the future technology sounds eerie in a most fascinating way. I should probably re-read this.

  2. I always took that “dust jacket” metaphor to mean that these people realized that the books were so important, that they must be preserved somehow when they were all being destroyed, that they subsumed their lives in preserving them by memorizing them. Think about all the ancient knowledge that was lost when the library of Alexandria was destroyed. Lucky for us, we can just enjoy our books, not become dust jackets for them! 😉

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