Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
(As with previous classics, I've withheld a star rating.)
This book exploded into my consciousness. Perhaps the reading of it was perfectly timed; perhaps it was a message I needed to hear about the world and the important of independent thought - even if, or perhaps especially if, it disturbs you. Bradbury responded vehemently to claims that the book was about censorship, and I would agree that it is only a small fraction of the subject matter. Rather than government censorship, Fahrenheit 451 looks at censorship from the roots up: tyranny of the minority, the fear of giving offense. It's a subject that it is terrifyingly topical nowadays, when everyone seems to be offended by something, when students insist that their professors not teach material that distresses or challenges them.
But even more prescient and immediate is Bradbury's assessment of the world of constant information, where there is too much of everything for people to be knowledgeable ... so the summary, the television show, the shortened attention span until it is hardly more than a blip. What could be a better description of the Internet Age? In these bland synopses there is nothing to trouble the individual, and society goes to lengths to keep people from thinking too much ... all in the name of making them happier.
I'm sure Bradbury didn't have homeschooling in mind when he wrote this book - during that time, I don't know that it was even a movement yet - but the text is also a compelling argument for homeschooling. Clarisse McClellan? I've known homeschooled kids like that. Arguably, I was a kid like that. There's a line when the Fire Chief is explaining how the book-burning came to be where he states that the government made the school age younger and younger to help prevent the risk of too much thinking. Hmm ...
Bradbury's lyricism and tempo of writing are unique. He writes in music - pace, pitch, rhythm are almost as important as what is being communicated. The beauty of his prose at first seemed inappropriate to the story to me, a jarring contrast. As the novel continued, I realized it was fitting precisely because it stands in opposition to Montag's dry, shallow world.
For me, I thought that the book ended rather abruptly: it had just started, I wanted to see Montag's growth in his new world, and then ... bam. (Literally.) Part of this may have been the fact that this edition has a lot more non-book text than I expected, so as I was reading, I could see more unread pages in my right hand ... but it did feel slightly incomplete.
A quick word about the other materials contained within this edition: the context, writing and Bradbury's own reflections on the novel are invaluable. I drew so much from understanding where Fahrenheit 451 came from, particularly his inclusion of elements from a previous tale, The Pedestrian. The rest of the materials, on the other hand, consist of various introductions and brief critiques for the novel, and I honestly couldn't see why they would interest anyone but a diehard Bradbury scholar ... your mileage may vary.
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