Friday, June 22, 2012

Batty About Books - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In tribute to Ray Bradbury, who died June 5, 2012, Maria and I decided to read Fahrenheit 451 one week and watch the movie the next week.

We read the book in its entirety then shared our thoughts.  It was a powerful book and it elicited some powerful responses.

YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS MARIA'S THOUGHTS OVER ON MARIA'S MELANGE.  I'M TELLING YOU, IT'S GOOD STUFF!

Batty About 

Fahrenheit 451

Part 1 - Hearths and Salamanders
This part is all about light and darkness and the pursuit of happiness.  In the very first pages I love how Bradbury invokes fire/light by introducing the symbols of the phoenix and the salamander.  I also love the various ways he describes light: “the hysterical light of electricity”, “comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of the candle”. There is also much darkness - the bedroom, the time of the fires, the Hound.  And the realization that noise and action and ignorance does not make you happy. In just 68 pages he introduces you to everything he’s going to discuss later. You start to slow down and pay attention and listen.  Something the people in Fahrenheit rarely do.
Maria: I also commented on the imagery and symbolism in his description of light and fire. I found it breathtaking. I kept speeding up to read more, then slowing down and rereading so I could savor it.

Part 2 - The Sand and The Sieve

“Nobody listens anymore. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense.”(82)

Having a hard time articulating how this makes me feel.  I feel like this sometimes - when I’m puzzling out a problem and If I just keep repeating it, the pieces will come together. Also, though, it reminds me of how our society uses social media.  We have this stream of followers/friends but is anyone really listening? We want to be heard. Desperately sometimes. So we keep talking. And we RT things, and we share, and we like, and we comment. And all the while we are hoping that we get this same courtesy in return. We want to be heard.
Maria: Yes! I mention this when I discuss how prophetic he sounds in this book. I’ve found my voice online. Yes, many times I’m talking to hear myself talk (or tweet) but I’ve found so many more like minded souls online than I could ever find in person near my house. I want to be heard, so I try to also remember to hear others... and talk back to them the way I want them to talk back to me.

Also, though, it’s what I fear will happen to us if we continue spending so much time in front of the computer instead of with actual people.  Will we be able to communicate - which goes both ways? Are we just putting things out there and not really listening? We can’t see a person’s body language, we can’t read their sarcasm or their levels of joy or pain - because we have levels.  It’s like Montag mentions - the sand and the sieve, you keep putting it out there but it seems to just fall through the holes.
Maria: Yes, this is a legitimate fear. This is why we can’t live our lives just behind a screen. And it’s why I think people also love things like Skype. It gives us a better glimpse into the mind of those across the screen from us. I loved that image of the sand and the sieve. So powerful.

Part 3 - Burning Bright
Here we are at the end. This part was a little confusing. A little sad.

I was a little confused about Beatty and his wanting to die. His quoting of books - though it kinda reminds me of the extreme radical “christians” who use obscure and out of context quotes from the bible to justify their actions - he’d obviously been reading, but why was he still in charge (disregarding the afterwords).  Did he want to die because people he knew were now getting hurt? Did he want to die because he saw what the lack of real knowledge was doing to the people?  This scares me because I see it so much today. People argue online with no real knowledge of the underlying issues. They often are just responding to something without looking into themselves. There used to be “reliable” sources to turn to. Now you turn to Google and, depending on the metrics they are using for their search engine, they return the search they want you to see or that someone paid to have come to the top. And it’s the same for all search engines. We don’t know who the experts are anymore because anyone can publish a book or create a webpage. And we have books! Imagine if we didn’t.  BTW, have you read FEED by MT Anderson?
Maria: Okay, can I just say how wonderful it is how deep this book pushed us? That didn’t happen with World Without Heroes or Dragon Castle. And yes, I agree with you so completely here, too. I feel like I never know enough about an issue to really push back and people or argue a point, but I’m in the minority. People can twist and turn any words to fit their own preconceived notions. Yet I wonder if relying on “experts” is always that much better? Yes, at least in the past people generally had to prove some level of knowledge before they were published... but there was still a lot of wrongheaded crap published, right? (and still manages to get published now.. And no we shouldn’t just rely on “experts”. That leads to a different level of trouble!)
And no, I haven’t read FEED. I’d love to hear about it! (Remarkable YA SF read about a future where chips are implanted. They “feed” us advertising, shopping, school, etc.  A definite one for us to read!)


“But that’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again because he knows very well it is important and worth the doing.” (153)
It saddens me that this is the attitude, albeit a good one. We will do it again. But the underlying meaning for me was we will screw it up again. We will fight again. We will destroy again.
Maria: Hmmm... love this quote, but I both agree and disagree with it. SOME of mankind keeps the hope alive, and some gives up. I guess that’s like in the Dark Ages. Sometimes the struggle to survive is all, but there are always some who keep that fire burning for us. Thankfully.

Yes, we WILL screw up again. Destroy again - and then build again. Have you watched any Battlestar Galatica? That is the underlying theme of that tale. “It has all happened before, and it will all happen again”. We can only hope that each time we rise a little higher, and don’t dip quite as low.

(I just started watching the new (2004-2009) Battlestar Galactica! And this was going through my mind. )


On the other hand, I like that they were each books, or poems, or essays.  That you could meet with someone and they could recite something to you. That it could all be captured again. But, that is because they took the time to learn the knowledge.  This makes me want to read more classics and history books. Who is the keeper of the knowledge right now? I was going to discuss reading habits but decided that’s a rant I want to do some other time.  I’m bookmarking some studies though!
Maria: Yes! This is a point I intended to make but didn’t bring up. We can’t rely on the internet being our “keepers of knowledge”. Yet we can’t ignore the new knowledge either.

Overall
You can’t read this book too many times. I do think you can be introduced to this book too young though.  Bradbury switches around in the book between thoughts and actions and characters quickly and you must be paying attention. Maria: Yes, yes! I think if you are too young when reading this book, it just won’t “click” for you. There’s not enough action to hold a very young reader, I don’t think. High school or college is perfect. It’s not a hard read, but you really need some life experience to appreciate it. I’ll tell you what, I want to go roll in the grass right now (but it’s dark and raining). Your wrap up sounds an awful lot like mine did.
Which, is  part of the overall message I took from the book. Slow down. Pay attention. Listen. Remember. Be present above all - turn off the computer/television/smartphone and be in this moment.





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