I seem to be on a roll with the dystopian fiction. It might have something to do with reading short fiction? It seems like the rate of dystopian fiction among novellas is on the high side. Or this is all just a coincidence. Well, whatever the reason, I landed on Fahrenheit 451 for my very last Book-a-Day.
(Have you ever thought about the spelling of the word “Fahrenheit.” It’s weird.)
Guy Montag is a fireman, except in the future America, firemen aren’t needed to put out fires; they light up houses which harbor the enemy of modern society: books. In insular cities where people turn inward with the help of media, entertainment, and sport, every one is kept happy through constant stimulation and no worries about politics or relationships. Then one day, Guy meets a girl who is different, and wonders, are they happy? Is he happy?
I’m going to give you my rating right off the bat: this is a great book and I wouldn’t miss it, yet it has some issues.
Maybe the best part is reading what an imaginative author in the 1940s thought the future–however dystopian–might look like. I love noticing what actually has come to pass, and what hasn’t (at least not yet). And then heap onto that all the ways in which our society has totally lived up to his critique and his warning. It makes me want to leave a complete pile in every high school classroom across the country.
Positives? It’s entertaining. You don’t want to put it down. It’s brief but full of tidbits. Insightful. Ray Bradbury is known as perhaps the author who did the most for influencing science fiction, as it launched up and forward in the 1900s. He wrote a handful of different genres, as well as many short stories and screenplays. Farhenheit 451 is among the most important books of American fiction.
Negatives? The occasional monologue (which should have been lengthened out into more story). Sometimes metaphor and changing POV get in the way of the reader understanding exactly what just happened. (I’m still not sure if the other firefighters were dead or knocked out, and how.) And it can be difficult to root for the main character (which is understandable, since Guy has not had his character fed at all, as part of his culture). I would sort of love to see this story re-written, drawing out the dramatic elements and filling in character holes.
All in all, Fahrenheit is a fascinating look at where we’ve been and where we might be doomed to go. A musing on the difference between titillation and living, between diversion and joy. A classic.
Other famous books by Bradbury:
- Dandelion Wine
- Something Wicked This Way Comes
- The Illustrated Man
- I Sing the Body Electric
- The Martian Chronicles
Further reading: Ray Bradbury wrote an essay about Fahrenheit 451 and writing. It is included in his book Zen in the Art of Writing and is titled “Investing Dimes: Fahrenheit 451.” It’s a great, little piece about process and gives some background and insight into the novella.
“‘Where’s your common sense? None of these books agree with each other'” (p35).
“‘Was I given a choice? My grandfather and father were firemen. In my sleep, I ran after them'” (p47).
“‘If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one'” (p55).
“‘The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us'” (p74)
“‘The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are'” (p77).
“‘Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents'” (p80).
“‘If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn'” (p94).
“‘But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up under them. It can’t last'” (p136).
“‘”Stuff your eyes with wonder”, he said…'” (p
“‘Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal'” (p140).
“We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation'” (p146).