Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fahrenheit 451


When I first started reading this one, I was pretty certain that it was going to be one that I didn't like. It seemed to be more of a 200 page epic poem than a novel to me. Every single thing was talked about as a metaphor or a simile to something else. It seemed like nothing was happening at all in the story, because so much time was taken up with poetic speech.

If you don't know how I feel about poetry, then you should take a look back in the Dunesteef archive, and you'll find that I admit that I really don't like it. It seems to be meaningless froufrou to me. All ornamentation and no substance. But if that was truly the case, wouldn't it have died out and gone away years ago? Yet it continues to persist, despite all of society's disdain.

A guy at work has one of those tear off desk calendars that has a new thing for each day. His is by the parody news site theonion.com. Each day, there's a new fake news article, and they're really very funny and there's a lot of caustic jabs at people's failings. Anyway, the other day, the onion story was about a poet who had just finished his most recent work. After finishing, he took another pass to "obscure up" his poem, removing words that were necessary for it to make sense to normal human beings. The last line of the story said that the poem would be completely ready once his 5 year old nephew wrote the last stanza. That's the kind of disdain poetry gets these days. And I pretty much completely agreed.

Then I read Fahrenheit 451. In that book, society outlaws reading books. Not because some totalitarian Nazi-like hardline government came into power, but because people became too lazy to read anything. They watched TV all the time instead, filling their lives with meaningless chatter in search of fun. And since their minds were so empty, they felt bad when others, who did read, would point out their stupidity. They'd show those snobs, books were outlawed. Firemen didn't put out fires anymore, they started them. They went to the houses of those that hid books, and burned them.

Montag, the book's main character, is a fireman who has a change of heart. He turns from bookburning to a book advocate. There is a particularly powerful scene in the story where Montag forces his wife and two of her friends to listen to a poem from a book he has squirreled away. One of the women is left in tears, another flies into a rage. They cannot handle the words at all.

The scene made me stop and wonder if I haven't been wrong all along. Is poetry more than froufrou? I have said before that I must not be smart enough to understand poetry. But this book gives me a more accurate excuse. It's not that I'm not smart enough to understand it, it's that I'm too lazy. I'm one of those people in the book who chose to fill his life with meaningless chatter in search of fun, instead of trying to grapple with hard subjects. Perhaps someday, someone will come along and take that stuff away, because no one will really mind anyway, right?

What other things will they take away then? What other things are too boring or intellectual to be forced to deal with? What about mathematics? Nobody likes math in school anymore. Will those bright kids from other countries be the only ones that understand math in the future? Will the western world sink back into poverty because they were too lazy and bored to learn about math or science? What else will go, I wonder.

As you can see, it's a very thought provoking book. It's interesting too, because the plot in the book is really only enough to make into a short story. But, Bradbury goes out of his way to make every line sound poetic. Supposedly, that hammers home his point. It worked for me, I think I got the point...or at least one of his points. I'm still not interested in poetry, unfortunately, but I have been making an effort to read more and more recently, so I don't think I'm totally lost.

Anyhow, up next: Cory Doctorow's short story collection Overclocked: Stories Of The Future Present. I've read a few of Doctorow's short stories and I've enjoyed them. I also really liked Little Brother, so I'm looking forward to this one.

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