*kicks down door*
Okay, it’s time to put the pedal to the metal this Banned Books Week, by talking about a book about banned books, that has itself been banned! I am, of course, talking about the science fiction classic, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury is an absolute master of craft, and this book was my gateway drug into his deftly-written work. He is able to pack so much into his stories with just a few careful strokes. With only a single sentence, he can evoke entire worlds. This is what astounded me the first time I read Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury doesn’t dwell on details—a sharp contrast to the richly-detailed fantastic worlds I was used to reading—and yet he can convey so much.
He didn’t need to spend whole pages describing the malignant robot dogs that chased down our protagonist; he only conveyed just enough that I knew they were terrifying. To my young imagination, they were lethal shadows, they were ghosts, and my mind could fill in all the details on its own.
As for the story itself, it’s famous enough: in an unspecified future, the world passively consumes shallow media that’s high on petty drama and low on substance, while books are contraband, fit only to be burned by Firemen. Our hero, Guy Montag, is one such Fireman, but defects when he is introduced to books and learns to slow down and start paying attention to the world.
Much can and has been said about this book’s reflection on real-world trends: the speeding up and dumbing down of media, a 24-hour cycle of nonstop sensation at the expense of quieter reflection, and the slow atrophying of our connections to ourselves and others. Make no mistake, this book’s world is a dystopia and it reflects the very worst of ourselves back at us. I’m not going to belabor its points here, because this blog entry would go on forever and turn into a book report.
But suffice to say that while I believe some media trends are cause for concern and even active pushback, I am also seeing positive trends in how we tell stories and the sort of stories we are telling. The human thirst for stories that move us is a bottomless well, deep and full of starlight.
And I will leave you with this: the most powerful image this book left me with is the image of people who have become books. Memorized every line, every word, and carried the books with them into the future. I’ve often wondered what book I would choose to become, if I had to. Or even if I just wanted to.
We don’t need to memorize books word for word. But if each of us takes at least one book into our hearts and carries it with us into the future, I think there is hope for us yet.