Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

With an intriguing plot and a 50th anniversary edition that involves an interview with the author regarding his writing’s “secret self”, I found Fahrenheit 451 as a book that is both disturbing, memorable, and hard to put down. I know that I recently had a saddeningly realistic political reading material in Jose Saramago’s “Seeing”. I read this immediately after. One warning: it’s not perfectly advisable for one’s emotional health to read these two books in succession. It might be best to squeeze in a light and funny reading material in between, just to be sure that you will not wallow in lethargy. Squeeze a joke book in between. I am not kidding.

I don’t know what I can make of the morbid fascinations that come out of my recent bedtime reading materials but Bradbury’s timeless classic still rings true in this present era of computers, selfies, and internet technology. I do promise to lighten my reading materials in the coming days. It has been intense for the last two weeks of my reading life. I decided on a light murder mystery thriller in Paris for my current read. I know that’s not light enough for some but I actually read a couple of chick literature for Christmas so New Year was all for the heavy and substantial.

One of the chief things that struck me in this novel is that crucial role of the oral transmission of literature. It was a world where people had to rely on memories of book passages to rebuild the world after war. As a reader, I am not so good in memorizing lines but I am very good in earmarking pages. I had earmarked my copy of this book to oblivion.The novel is quite action-packed, filled with quotable quotes and even with the shocking punch that you will not expect in such magnitude. It is as hot as fire itself. Previously, I wrote about Saramago’s universality in the midst of pulling off the trick of mastering the art of namelessly universal characterizations. With Bradbury, there are American names used but it’s as timeless. He could have written it yesterday or 50 years ago, and the effect is still the same for the reader.

Bradbury’s life story in creating this book is also spectacularly inspirational. He embodied the full concept of a struggling writer whose work is its own reward. In his own words, Bradbury described Fahrenheit 451 as one of those “dime novels” where he had to literally rent a typewriter for a few dime everyday just to get it done.Whoever said that writing is a mere product of talent is sorely mistaken; it’s really 98% hard work and 2% talent or genetics or natural endowments of prowess. The success of Fahrenheit 451 was a slow simmer. In his interview, Bradbury said that it did not sell as well in the first few months of release. Sometimes the audience is not ripe enough for one’s writing. And this happened to him, a successful author of a timeless piece.

The primary focus was initially on the character of the fireman, Guy Montag. Later it was aptly renamed as Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which book paper starts to disintegrate. His exploratory and futuristic stance on the future of printed books and the dark illiterate nightmares that can follow if it comes to pass is quite stark and affecting for book lovers like me. I remember last year when I made a pledge to “Read the printed word”. And after reading Fahrenheit 451 last weekend, I decided to mentally reaffirm this pledge to continue reading printed words even to the point of being considered as a candidate for extinction.

Another important aspect that he touched on is the price of living with knowledge, of actually continuing to live despite what one finds about life and its realities.Whenever the subject of reading comes up, I often hear people say that they are not into books. I just nod my head. But whoever said that reading books takes too much work and effort has not really grasped the reality that nurturing ignorance takes so much more long-term effort than leafing through the pages of a well-written piece of poetry or prose. Even if titles like Fahrenheit 451 run the risk of depressing me for a short while, I still believe that it’s a risk worth taking because there is no point in shielding one’s self from appreciating art just to avoid the emotional repercussions of appreciating it to the fullest.

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