Friday, September 20, 2013

Beloved Books on Banning: Fahrenheit 451

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"There is more than one way to burn a book." - Ray Bradbury

I was originally debating whether or not to review my experience in rereading the story behind Ray Bradbury's iconic work, or to discuss a tome with more modern concerns.  As it were, since I forgot that I had signed up for Friday, not Saturday, I am going to write my unorganized thoughts on the book, as well as my experience in rereading it as an adult.

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"It was a pleasure to burn."

Fahrenheit 451 was THE book on how pervasive censorship could become, while finding new employment for firemen in the future. With houses that wouldn't burn down, even in the event of wildfires, what are you going to do with those athletic public service agent? Pay them to enforce the law. Make sure the kids aren't thinking for themselves. 

This Bradbury yarn enthralled me as a kid, not the least because it featured a world where the written word was forbidden. Fahrenheit 451 also features a grown adult stuck in a loveless marriage, changing for the better because he meets a young girl. Clarisse has ideas about responsibility, living in the moment, and trying a new thing once or even twice. The young, idealistic me immediately sided with Clarisse and her whimsical games, opening her mouth to catch raindrops and rubbing flowers under her chin. And like Montag, her disappearance surprised and shocked me out of the established world this novel had set.

The power of words also stayed with me. When Montag saves a book from an old woman's scorched library, he reads out the poem "Dover Beach" to his wife's friends on a whim. They're just as shallow as she is, and yet the words touch them. Having never had such an experience with poetry, the idea was foreign until I read some of Bradbury's verses and recited them for a middle school contest. The fact that words have so much power when assembled together made their mark on me, and I can only strive to do the same with my own craftsmanship.

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As an adult, the power that oppression gives to a law enforcer also has a delicious thrill that the hero Guy Montag feels. The first line admits to that pleasure, to seeing organized destruction in the air. The human race bans books for a reason, after all; books provide the gateway to learning more about the world, about its harsh realities and potential for strong communication. We see how a man like Commander Beatty revels in his job as head fireman, why he laughs about the history of how books entered the incinerator.

Is the book still relevant, regarding books, censorship and book burning? Heck yes! We live in a world where Pakistan tried to execute a girl for burning the Koran, where school libraries fire employees for bringing book challenges to the press, and where several states in the United States want to erase evolution from the science curriculum. Humans desire to destroy access to powerful words, to crush others seeking to rise with knowledge and opportunity. Selfish individuals and fearful souls wish for happiness and will sacrifice the questioning mind to do so. That is a fact, that we intellectuals have this ongoing battle with censors, with the books that offend us -- A Song of Ice and Fire for me-- and with ourselves, understanding why reading is a liberty that we should allow for our fellow men.

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There is only one thing we can do to persist in this battle: draw attention to the fire departments. Use the words they seek to burn to rebuild new pages and minds.

Note: first person to comment here receives one of my original comics, seen here, as well a a free watercolor of their choice. That is the giveaway for Banned Books Week!

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