Saturday, June 9, 2012

From the Bookshelf....

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.  With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.

What an opening to a wonderful that I try to read at least once a year.

In it we meet Montag, who is a Fireman in the distant future... a future in which books are outlawed and those found hiding and reading them are dealt with harshly.  These Firemen, however, do not put out fires; they are summoned to the scene to find books and then incinerate them with flamethrowers before scattering the remaining ashes.

One day on his way home Montag is approached by his neighbor, Clarisse, an impressionable and silly girl who is on probation to become a teacher, but is sure she isn't going to be accepted as she 'didn't say the right things in her interview'.  She begins to pepper him with questions about his work and just what it is that he does.

"Is it true that a long time ago, firemen used to put out fires and not burn books?" she asks.

Montag laughs and wonders why should firemen ever put out fires.  She asks if he has read any of the books before he burns them, but he can only wonder at why she would ever even consider reading a book.  After all, history has shown that books cause people to be unhappy and antisocial.  It is understood that the only way the people can be happy is to be exactly the same as everyone else.  In theory, anyone who has read Socrates must think themselves better than anyone who hasn't, and fiction is just a way for people to be unhappy with their lives and want for it to be more.  Biographies are even worse as they are nothing but people saying "look at me, look at me, look at me" and philosophers can do nothing but argue that they themselves are right while everyone else are idiots.

Instead of reading, society is now a group of video watchers, with people striving to add more and more video walls to their homes so they can watch without interruption. The population is turning into mindless drones who not only can't think for themselves, but are addicted to painkillers and stimulants.  Suicide attempts are a daily part of life; one that is taken rather lightly as med techs just stop by, swap out your overdosed blood and you awaken the next morning completely refreshed and with no memory of what you had done.

But Clarisse gets him thinking.  At a raid he is horrified to find an old woman who would rather be burnt with her books than to stand aside and let them be taken from her.  What is it in these written pages that could inspire such devotion?  Montag's curiosity gets the better of him and he smuggles home a book he saves from the flames and hides it away.  Curious, he begins to read it late in the night when his wife is asleep. 

Montag still goes to work in order to keep up appearances...and to smuggle home more books.  He begins devouring them at an increasing rate and begins to form opinions for himself, rather than what society says he should think.  Montag is surprised one day to find that the next stop for the Firemen is his own house.  His wife has informed on him.  Montag is forced to pull the books from the walls, heating vents, etc before he is handed the flame thrower.  To everyone's surprise, Montag not only ignites the stacks of books, but the very house itself, burning away his old life.

A book one could easily say as being against censorship (and in a sense it is), I believe this is more against the complacency of humanity to allow such things to happen in the first place, throwing all of our rights away and allowing a hard won democracy to become a dictatorship without complaint or thought as to how those rights came to us in the first place.

Ray Bradbury created an intriguing world, one that has lasted since its original publication in 1953.  The beauty of his writing still pulls you in to this day.  It is no wonder that the world mourned with his death this week at the age of 91.  He attributed his long life to a carnival performer touching him with an electrified sword when he was 12 and announcing that young Mr Bradbury would live forever.  Inspired, Ray began a lifelong habit of writing something every little day.  From those young writings came great stories, including "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "The Martian Chronicles".

An engaging author with rich prose, Mr Bradbury is someone worth remembering when you are searching for that new book to read.

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