Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451
By: Ray Bradbury
Published: 1953
Audiobook Read by: Ray Bradbury
My rating: AMAZING

Wow! I had heard the title of this book from time to time but until I pulled it from the shelf I had no idea what it was about. This is one of the most powerful books I have found and it moved me deeply. The powerful imagery, that Ray so masterfully depicts,engulfed my mind and left me breathless! He reveals parts of myself and parts of the world in general that I never noticed before and the message that drives this story resonates today even more than 60 years ago when he was writing it.

Guy Montag is a character that I believe embodies parts of all of us. His confusion, passion, grief, hope, and determination are all parts of us, whether we know it or not. I was inspired by his revelation as he dug deep into his own soul and uncovered what was hidden there. I felt his pain as he realized what an empty life he had been living and felt tears well up in my eyes as he watched his world destroyed. There was no doubt in my mind that I too could fall prey to the complacency that had swallowed him up along with everyone else and I can only hope and pray that I have his determination and will power to wage war on the silent unseen attackers that try to take away my individuality and make me nothing more than a drone in a hive that does nothing. In the end, Guy loses everything but gains all.

Clarisse McClellan is a wonderful character. Ray brought to life, through her eyes, all of the wonders of the world around us and used her to inspire Guy, as well as myself, to take time for what is really important. She shows us how unimportant all the things that we as a society seem to strive for really are. The real importance is in the little things that we overlook every day as we rush around trying to succeed. We spend our lives trying to accomplish big things only to pass on nothing to those who come after us. This message is mirrored by Granger in the end of the book as he relates how important his Grandfather had been even though he did nothing more than be kind and give of himself to those around him. I had to stop and wonder, am I going to be remembered when I'm gone? If so, how? Would I rather build up mighty empires or huge corporations just to fade into nothingness, or give of myself everyday to those around me with love and compassion and be remembered forever? In the end, what good is anything we do? We struggle and strive to get to the top just to fall into our graves and be forgotten. If my children and grandchildren and great-grand children can't look back at me and say "he loved us so much" what good have I done?

The plot of this book is not the worlds greatest adventure or an epic saga, it doesn't top the lists for the most fantastic science fiction or fantasy either. Instead I put it at the top as the most moving and powerful. The story itself isn't really that important. Guy's discoveries along the way are what is important. As he travels through these pages from Fireman, burning every book he can find with fiendish delight, to outlaw hoping to help save his dying world, he finds himself, and realizes who he really is. The futuristic setting is by today's standards a poor attempt at sci-fi since the ideas and advancements were thought up in the 40s. They seem somewhat less than futuristic since today's technology has surpassed a lot of it. But here once again it isn't the setting that is important, the state of society and the horrible ways that things had changed is what is important. I fear that Ray's futuristic world isn't so far fetched when you think of the millions of people who sit like zombies in their living rooms, cars, offices, and many other places, inundated by senseless garbage from the TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, and internet. The idea that anything that is slightly offensive to someone else should be destroyed and outlawed is not that far from what we are starting to see. It is fearful to me to think how true this story might be very soon! We might not be burning books in the streets of America yet but we are told to be careful of every word we say lest someone else find offense. We are no longer encouraged to be individuals and stand up for our beliefs and speak out against injustice and the decay of morality in our society. We are taught that everything is alright as long as you are having fun. We are spiraling down a path that may very well land us in the future that Ray describes.

In the end as Guy watches his world going up in flames, Ray vividly describes the anguish that he feels. I feel some of that anguish now when I realize where we are heading. In the final pages, the rag tag group of men, the rebels against society, become the last hope for the world. They are determined to do everything they can to help the very people who cast them out and persecuted them. We need to start thinking like them now, before it is too late. We need to open our arms to help those around us with love and compassion, giving of ourselves without reserve, without expecting anything in return. Our children's children need to be able to look back and see us as pillars of strength and love and hope that inspire them to live better lives!

I listened to the audiobook read by Ray himself. At the very beginning I found myself thinking that he was too old to be reading this and that I was in for a dreary time listening to him. However, mere minutes into his performance, his passion became evident and that coupled with the power of the words made for a moving performance. I found myself swept away into that fictional time and place and lived the story rather than just hearing it. The last disc in the set was an interview with Ray and I was moved again by his passion. His life is a fascinating story in itself and I was very glad that I didn't turn the interview off early as my first instinct had told me to do.

Overall this was a fantastic book! I know that this review has morphed into more than just a review and is as much a philosophical journey as anything else, but that is the essence of the book. Ray's goal is to get us to examine ourselves and try to be better than we think is possible. He has succeeded in his goal, at least in me!

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