Monday, May 16, 2011

Fahrenheit 451–Reality Imitating Fiction

I haven’t written a book review in forever, nor was I ever good at writing book reviews even though I’m an avid reader. The first time I read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, I was a kid; it was a translated pocket book edition. I remember liking it and thinking it was so very weird. It didn’t make sense to me then, but then I was only a kid with pigtails and could not grasp where the world was going. Earlier this year, a 50th anniversary edition of the book was released and I could not help but buy it. I’m not a fan of rereading something but all I could say is that “it called to me”.
Note: I just want to add that this may contain spoilers so continue with caution at your own risk. In addition, the book is still a pleasure to read, as I’ve put it before: “Fahrenheit 451 is like a really good bar of chocolate, I’m reading it slowly to keep the taste in my mind” and in my humble opinion, I think we should teach this book in school, maybe it would save us its grim fate!
In a futuristic view that seems to be where we are now in part, and where we’re going in the not so far future, firemen burn books instead of put out fires. They had to put the fire departments and fire engines to SOME kind of use after all the buildings have been fireproofed. So instead of water, they used kerosene and instead of fire alerts they got book alerts. They went out to burn the books and arrest their owners. Guy Montag is the hotshot fireman who enjoys so much the sight of fire and feels like kerosene is like perfume. He runs into Clarisse, the young 17 year old new neighbor of his who is very odd and probably crazy. On their first encounter, she so simply shatters all what he thinks is real by asking a few simple questions and making some remarks that we may take for granted now. He sees how truly miserable he really is because he has finally come to realize that his life doesn’t seem real anymore. The times are too fast, everyone’s jumping from place to place and from action to action. The motto of the world around him is to keep going on and on as fast as you can, and be happy through buying stuff, driving at high speeds, crashing cars or even by living inside the TV show where the people actually talk to YOU! It’s a world where no one takes walks anymore, people don’t talk to each other anymore, and Jesus has become an advertising technique. He goes on another burning mission, this time he comes home with a book because he has to see what’s in those books and why they are banned. The more he reads, the more he realizes how the world is turning in all the wrong ways, and that’s when his captain finds out about him and the hunt begins for him and his books.
Montag tracks down a retired literature professor whom he had run into before. The professor tells him of how the world really became the way it is. At first, people stopped buying books, then stopped reading any. They stopped caring for beauty or art. Life was moving too fast and they had to catch up, there was no time for all that. One day, the professor went into his class and found only one student enrolled. This was when he realized that it was the beginning of the end. Colleges of arts and literature started to shut down all over the country. It wasn’t the government that was doing this, burning books wasn’t what the regime was about then, it was the people who did this to themselves; not caring and not wanting to care. They held on to a culture that was so shallow and so void and seemed to forget that they should be discovering depth instead of just living. Eventually, the world Montag lived in was the outcome of it all, because books made people think, and thinking made people unhappy. They only want to be happy, so they shouldn’t think. They shouldn’t have options, and they shouldn’t see silly ideas in poetry, fiction, or politics. As a result, away with the books as long as the people are happy!
I won’t give any more spoilers so maybe I haven’t completely ruined the book for its future readers (I’m crossing my fingers). The book is nicely written, poetic and thought provoking. Even though I’m not completely convinced with the characters’ ways of thinking since they seemed too complex for their uncultured backgrounds that were more “let’s not think and be happy”, I believe he did that to serve the purpose of the story. Bradbury may not be the best storyteller out there but this is definitely one of the greater books in 20th century literature.
My own analysis of the book’s philosophy
It stunned me how Bradbury’ view of a future world 50 years ago resembles so much the direction our world is moving in. The pop culture is taking over! We’ve lost so many of the ethical values that we were born to define instinctively during our interactions with an ill world, and we’re losing a lot of the acquired taste in the different forms of culture. I know a few of the 16 to 20 years old age groups and no matter how hard I try to convince them to read, and I’ve been trying to convince them to read way before they got to 16, they just seem to stick to TV and video games as their only sources of entertainment. I remember as a kid, it was never difficult to find books; they were at every supermarket or kiosk, bookstores were all over the place, not to mention the tons and tons of books spread on the streets. They disappeared little by little and out came the major bookstore franchises, and up went the book prices because no one was buying anymore. In addition, most of the books are written in language so simple, it’s almost slang. I’m not saying that all books should be Akkad’s style, I just hope that they pose some sort of literary challenge to the readers. Today’s books have cheap style and shallow content, making it difficult to enjoy reading anymore. In my opinion, reading contemporary books (books written within the last 20 to 30 years) feels like eating stale food; it completely takes all the flavor out of reading, and consequently, a lot of the fun. At bookfairs, people go to buy cooking guides, religious books with controversial names, and joke books. In addition, they care more about silly toys and whatever else is there on sale that is not made of paper. The other issue is that I cannot imagine how a young person’s imagination could ever grow into a thick web of ideas that could be used to build a better future for the country and the world without reading! If everything is an image bare of emotions and ideas that do not provoke the mind to think, then where will the imagination work? Moreover, those who dare call themselves cultured in this world in general and in this country in particular are few, and I honestly feel that when offered with strong literary material, they would stumble and fall, unable to comprehend the meanings behind the strength of the words put against them.
Maybe I’m not in a position to judge because I probably would not comprehend the strength of the words were they put against me, but at least I am aware of that. I don’t go trying to pose as a cultured person, and I am working on adding to my culture. Hey, I’m young enough to continue a life of continuous learning in the topics that count. But what I’m seeing now is that when the best seller lists are filled with books that do not have or add value to people, then we’re definitely heading into Montag’s world.
What do you think?

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  1. I enjoyed reading your review, as if I've read the book itself...

    you should do something with this talent..

    thanks and I'll search for this book to read it as your way in writing made me interested of doing so, and also trying to have time for these things to stop the same thing happening in reality [i mean people stop reading :)]

    thanks and hope to see u soon.

    Joe Hatem

  2. well my dear sis , yr book review is very good , have you been studying literature behind my back ?
    no about the issue itself we're there more than you think , i had an encounter with some ppl @ work and they r convinced that they shouldn't think anymore instead have a sheikh to do all the thinking for them and decide how their lives should be , i fear for our country that if ppl continue to go where they r going we will be in a world far worse than Montag's world , we'll be heading to the medieval ages . ironic isn't it ? after we were the cultured ones , we were the enlightened ones when europe was in the medieval ages , it's going to be reversed, hopefully rabena will protect us from this fate keep going @ it , every effort counts!!!