Yesterday, while shopping at one of my favorite thrift stores, I came across a book by an author whose work I have not read in at least ten years. This man’s literary canon saw me through junior high, high school and most of my college days. We parted ways when one of his stories scared the ever-living bejabbers out of me. Amazing, spell-check does not recognize bejabbers as a word!
To move along with the story, right before I left the store, I bent over a stack of paperbacks and discovered the 50th anniversary edition of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 staring back at me. This edition has an eerie illustration of a weeping fireman made of book pages that are on fire. Ah, now I see, it’s a mimeograph of the original 1953 dust jacket. Very clever.
If you have not read the story (and why not?), I won’t ruin it for you. I just wanted to comment on a few points made in the book.
Complacency–very seldom do we lose rights because they are taken from us forcibly. In the second section of the book, The sieve and the sand, Guy Montag (protagonist) and Faber (adviser) discuss how books can make a return. Faber relates three things that are necessary:
1. quality of information
2. leisure time–time in which we are not being bombarded with useless information (commercials, games, trivia)
3. “the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two”
The second point that really strikes a chord is that of creating something beautiful, something of quality that will last beyond my lifetime. That in itself really made me think of how I spend my time. I spend more time reading blogs than I do reading books. The fact that I read books at a freakish speed doesn’t excuse me. I could read ten books a week if I spent half my time concentrating on the paper. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading blogs. I have found so many great ideas and so much encouragement in them. But–do I want my children to remember me as a button-pusher or a page-turner, a gardener, a creator? There, I’ve answered my own question.
In the Coda of the book, I came across a statement from the author that struck me with the force of memory and of truth. As I read, I vividly recalled the last time I had seen this passage, the last time I had spoken the words. The paragraph hit me just as powerfully this morning as it had ten years ago…
The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist/Unitarian, Irish/Italian/Octogenarian/Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh-Day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/FourSquareGospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc-mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.
I could go on because every sentence is as wonderful as the last. But, that’s not the point, is it? The point is for you to pick up the book yourself, to read it and make your own decisions. Is it trash, is it treasure? Does it challenge you, say something you don’t like, inspire you or disgust you? Read it. Open a whole new world.