Literacy 2021: Book 7: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

In a version of the United States where teams of firemen are sent to homes to burn the books contained inside, one fireman meets a young woman walking alone at night. Their friendship makes him question everything about his career and the society he’s grown accustomed to.

265 pages of Ray Bradbury writing angrily and with righteous conviction. Wonderful passages with all the qualities of Bradbury’s best writing: that combination of sci-fi, horror, and elegy for middle America, simultaneously prose, poem, dialogue, and sermon. Explicitly not about the supremacy of books, as I’d always assumed, but about the supremacy of ideas. Eerily prescient about social media — Montag’s impression of the incessantly clamoring TV walls is exactly my reaction to opening TikTok — and the parasocial relationships that result from them. The edition I read has a fantastic introduction by Neil Gaiman, which provides context for the elements that contemporary readers would find baffling.

Feels like an unsettling assault, as it should. As an AirPod-wearing defender of popular media who spends a lot of time watching YouTube, I can’t help thinking “I’m in this book and I don’t like it.” With its depiction of flighty, gossipy housewives, and seeming preoccupation with teenagers driving too dang fast, it sometimes threatens to go from “Universal Truth” to “Old Man Yells At Cloud.”

An essential masterpiece. It’s profoundly ironic that I never made a point to read this, assuming that “I got it” from the over-simplified popular conception of it, instead of what’s actually contained within. Yes, it is about censorship, but more than that, it’s about the kind of laziness, incuriousness, and aversion to challenge or even inconvenience that makes us choose censorship. It implicates us and explicitly refuses to place the blame entirely on an oppressive government, instead showing how we’re eager to embrace the things that governments use to divide us and keep us stupid and docile.