My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are a lot of things that can be said about this book and given it’s almost 70 years old at this point I’m sure most of what I have to say has been said before. Nevertheless, in trying to keep up the habit of reviewing what I read, here we are.
The first thing that struck me about Fahrenheit 451 was how lyrical it is; I was not expecting a dystopia about burning books and controlling knowledge to be so beautifully written. Bradbury did an excellent job in composing some brilliant prose that still managed to feel light and easy despite the dark topics it explored.
In addition to this, Bradbury has woven in quite a few literary references in the telling of this tale that it feels exciting to pick up on when you spot something not in quotation marks. It doesn’t feel like he was trying to be too ‘high brow’ about it either, moreover it seems like an extra dimension to a story about how and if literature is worth saving from destruction. It was also interesting to wonder why exactly Bradbury picked the references he did, how they are related to the story of Montag and what extra depth can be eluded to.
The second thing that I’m sure everyone notices is how prescient the content of the book is: personality politics, war, inundation of information, control of information, valuing the sciences over the arts, TV, social media, even down to the little ‘green bullet’ that sounds awfully similar to Bluetooth earpieces! There is a lot to unpack in such a short book and you will end up thinking about it long after you finish. While we now have greater access to books than ever before that isn’t to say that Bradbury was wrong about other aspects of Fahrenheit 451.
Lastly, though I could talk for quite some time on this book, if you haven’t read it let me highlight that this is not just a story about burning books vs saving books. It explores censorship, yes, but not simply in the forbidding of the printed word. Who controls the information you are fed? Who controls the ideas that are allowed out into the open? How do we censor ourselves within a society even without a government to do it for us?
Fahrenheit 451 will certainly make you think, if nothing else.
This was book 54 of 2020.
This was also the first choice of a Book Club I started at work and below are the discussion questions I went through with our participants:
- Have you read the book before? What are your impressions, whether you are reading it for the first time or re-reading it?
- Were there any parts of the book you found disagreeable?
- Is the book’s title a good one?
- On the 50th anniversary edition there is a quote from Barack Obama on the front cover: “Ray Bradbury’s gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world.” Would you agree?
- Montag comes to learn that “firemen are rarely necessary” because “the public itself stopped reading of its own accord.” Bradbury wrote his novel in 1953; to what extent has his prophecy come true today?
- What other prescient elements did you notice in the book?
- Aside from directly quoted passages, did you spot any literary ‘Easter eggs’ woven into the story by Bradbury?
- As Montag is on his way to see Faber, he is trying to memorise Matthew 6:28: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.” Do you think this was a significant choice?
- How can Beatty’s knowledge of and hatred for books be reconciled?
- Do you think Montag’s assessment was correct, and that Beatty wanted to die? Why might he have wanted to die?
- If Bradbury had written Fahrenheit 451 today, what do you think would be different about the novel?
- Are there any circumstances under which the banning of a book might be a reasonable or beneficial action?
- If you had to memorise one book (or risk it’s complete loss), what would you pick and why?
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