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Book Club Reflection: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

7 Dec

I’m so sorry it took so long to get this post to you all. NaNoWriMo got in my way. About a month ago, my book club met to talk about Fahrenheit 451. I read the book for the first time in school and was surprised to see the group was split 50/50 of those who had read it before and those who were reading it for the first time. One new reader went as far as to say this is now probably her favorite book! The copy provided by our library had an intro by Neil Gaiman which many people really liked. I almost wish I’d had that copy.

A little background information on the book. The idea first came out as a short story called ‘The Fireman’ in 1949 which was serialized over a few years in Playboy magazine. The book as a single work was published in 1953. Bradbury says he got the idea from reels of Hitler burning books but in the same breath will say the book is not political commentary. We felt it had a very ‘Cold War’ feeling, especially at the end when the whole world ended in a split second like it could have with nuclear war. Turning in neighbors (and husbands) reminded us of McCarthyism. Very interesting timing.

Most of our discussion about the book was about themes, we didn’t talk much about characters. The one person we did talk about was Millie. She acted a lot of the time like she was out of it and didn’t realize what was going on around her, but there were two times when she did something to let the reader know how affected she was my Montag’s actions. The first was when she tried to kill herself. It let the reader know early on how unhappy she was and this was followed up by her turning in her own husband at the end of the book which let us know she knew what he was doing and was conscious enough to know it was dangerous.

The other person we couldn’t help but talk about was Beatty. He and Faber were the ‘smart’ people in this book and it’s interesting that Bradbury put them on opposite sides of the censorship debate. Faber sees book burning as a loss of ideas and Beatty wouldn’t disagree, but he’s afraid of what the wrong people will do with those ideas in their head. He thinks it’s safer to control who gets those ideas. There’s usually an intelligent person on the side opposite your own so it was refreshing to hear what he had to say.

At the beginning of the book, Clarisse says to Montag, “Nobody has time for anyone else,” and this is proven to us over and over in ways that are frighteningly similar to today’s world. There are three inventions in Bradbury’s book that we have today: the Walkman, ear radios/Bluetooth, and panel TVs. The mechanical dog was a lot like a modern drone. In addition, we see family TV shows, much like reality TV today. People will feel connected to the ‘real’ people on reality shows, sometimes more so than to their real families. The characters in the book are distracted by the seashells in their ears the same way we’re distracted by our smartphones and tablets. Everything from the government was in a soundbite and the short, easily avoidable aspect of this made the war that ended their lives seem far away and untouchable. Millie was abusing prescription drugs to get a high, something our society battles today. In the end, the characters were back to oral traditions and memorizing stories.

In my review, I argued that Bradbury would like the internet and the free exchange of ideas. When I proposed this to the group, most of them disagreed. The Internet enables us to connect with friends but it also provides us with highly artificial relationships and ways of making us feel less alone when we are completely alone. This is the same comfort Millie feels with her TV family. We are connected and can share thoughts, but a lot of what we are sharing is mind-numbing garbage like cat videos or memes. The upside to the internet is that it’s harder to get rid of than books. Try burning the internet.

Those who had seen the movie adaptations felt the books were more timeless than the films. With the film, the idea of ‘the future’ at the time it was made still seems dated while the book is vague enough to let you come up with your own ideas.

One of our members pointed out that Montag is a paper manufacturer and Faber is a pencil company. When Bradbury was asked about this, he said it wasn’t a conscious decision to do so, but maybe it was somewhere in his head when he choose the names.

I’ll have another reflection up soon for my other book club. Both are taking breaks until January so look for some more then.

Until next time, write on.

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