FAHRENHEIT 451 – Ray Bradbury (1954)

Fahrenheit 451There are many quibbles to be had with this book, but – aside from the ludicrous, unbelievable back story – its most important problem is that it tries too hard to convey a MESSAGE, and as such undermines the message it tries to sell: that imagination and independent thinking are important. Bradbury, however, doesn’t leave things to imagination and force-feeds his warnings about the importance of literature and beauty, and the dangers of mindless consumerism to the reader. In trying to warn against a thought police, he tries to police my mind a bit too much.

Books about books can be boring, gloating even, like a lot of meta-art. Explicitly political books are often boring too, as is most openly political art, since in most art like that, the art serves the message, and not the other way around. Sadly, Fahrenheit 451 falls in both categories, it’s meta and explicitly political, and doesn’t escape the pitfalls of either category. The only real merit this book has is Bradbury’s prose, which is often beautiful, and kept me reading the 150-ish pages.

The book is extremely elitist in its projections about mass culture and humanity in general. Consider this telling sentence from an English professor, a character that serves as a mentor to the protagonist: “The things you’re looking for [truth, beauty, etc.], Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.” An average chap??

While I can understand Bradbury’s eagerness to communicate his anti-totalitarian message loud and clear – the book was written not long after WW2, at the onset of the Cold War – that doesn’t excuse its simplicity, and surely not its elitism & cultural snobbery.

It’s understandable this has become a classic: it’s easy, and a fast read, yet it conveys a seemingly ‘deep’ truth about how books and their readers are special, and as such makes the uncritical reader feel special.

originally written on the 18th of March, 2015

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