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a blank slate

Tag: banned books

Re-reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


Would it be crazy if I said that two weeks into being an English major has changed the way I see books?
Well, I re-read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 today; a book which I had first read only last year. In my review, if I remember correctly, I had written: “Imagine a world where books are burnt…”; which is probably the last thing you should say about this book, the part about “imagining”. We live in a world where books actually ARE burnt, metaphorically, of course… um, for the most part. It’s not only about censorship, the book, it’s about how the world is slowly just drifting away from books, banned or not.
(Oh, by the way, this post might be Long with a capital L. I am just so tired of saying (and hearing) “powerful message” and “complex underlying themes” over and over again; I am going to write about the message and themes, not about how powerful they were.)

Let me just say I am not against technology, even though I am almost entirely incapable of using most of it, or development, and I don’t think the book is against that either. Bradbury mentioned in an interview of some sort (I guess) about how he saw a husband and wife walking their dog; with the wife listening to a radio and with the both of them completely unaware of the actual life surrounding them. Haven’t we all seen that some place or the other? Two people in a hotel, both busy on their cellphones? The world of Fahrenheit 451 is just a blown-out-of-proportions version of what we live in. A place where books are burnt, and people are just bland faces staring at TV screens. Our protagonist Guy Montag is a fireman, in a world where firemen don’t extinguish fires but start them. Speaking of great beginnings, how about this one: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

I mentioned in my earlier review, that I would have liked to know more about how they got to that world. This time around, I felt that what he’s written was enough. It started with the minorities tearing out pages from books, until tearing wasn’t enough. If you think about it, it’s already started. And that’s where the part about censorship comes in. I heard that Bradbury said somewhere that “the world will get madder if we allow the minorities to interfere with aesthetics.” I agree, to some extent. Book don’t have to show how the world should be. Most books that are censored, don’t promote the things they are censored for mentioning (see: To Kill a Mockingbird, I don’t suppose the person who banned it actually read it!). We have to get rid of prejudice in the real world, sure, but that doesn’t mean we have to pretend in fiction that it doesn’t exist.

But the one thing that kept bugging me the whole time I was reading the book (not re-reading) was why this! Why books? What is it about literature that makes it so powerful, so seemingly dangerous? I may have to re-read the book a couple of times more to entirely answer that. However, I think I finally know what it is about books that I love so much, personally, what I love about reading. A book is not like a movie, that stays with you for only a little over the ninety minutes that it actually lasts. A movie or even a song makes you wonder and be awed, but it doesn’t make you think. I cannot watch a movie a hundred times and get something new out of it every single time. I don’t really think anyone can, not as much as with reading. It is as if books have a life of their own. If you know me, you know how I always say that books leave a lot more to interpretation. I guess it is because those few words can lead thoughts to any direction. The same few words can form entirely different pictures in different minds; the characters can relate in completely different ways to different people. And you never know where they’ll take you every time. Read a book on a beach and you are transported some place else, read it in a moving train and you feel something else entirely; reading the same book when you’re bored and when you’re happy can make you experience things completely different. You cannot read a book without really thinking about it; analysing it, without even realizing what you’re doing. You may later even forget what actually happens in that work of fiction, but those thoughts stay with you forever. And every book, every single book, gives you entirely different thoughts, opens up doors to newer thoughts and feelings.

(…and so they went ahead and banned this book…)

If you have actually made it so far, you wouldn’t mind telling me what you think about the book, would you? (And if you haven’t made it this far, well… then, you’re not reading this, so I don’t really have to write anything for you…)

This review is a part of the Back to the Classics Challenge as a classic re-read. 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Imagine a world where books are burnt and reading is out-lawed
Guy Montag is a fireman; but in this world a fireman’s job is to find books and burn them. In the society Montag lives in, people don’t think or feel, they just go on doing what they’re told. Teenagers drink and hurt/kill other for fun. There are virtual families, only television screens to interact with. Books are banned; people in possession of books are put in institutions, their books are burned along with their houses.
Montag lives a content life as a fireman. That is, until, one day, he meets his new neighbour, Clarisse McClellan – the seventeen year old, who is endlessly curious about all the things the world has forgotten to care about. In this bland lifeless world, she represents individuality and freedom. The young girl makes Montag question his happiness, makes him feel uneasy about the life he lives.

One day, on seeing a woman choose to burn alive with her house full of books, than live without them, Montag begins to wonder if the world is wrong about reading, after all. And that is when he steals a book to see for himself…
I haven’t read many dystopian novels, but I always wanted to read this book. The idea of a world without books is scary, fascinating and even after all these years (the book was published in 1953) very relevant. You hardly see kids playing in the park anymore, usually they just sit at home and play videogames. Reading is un-cool and the movies are becoming increasingly nonsensical. Don’t you think? And so the author shows us the future – a world where those who dare to think and feel differently, those who dare to think at all, are suppressed by the society.
“With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual’, of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”
The author doesn’t ask us to really follow books, because that would be as dangerous a statement as any. Reading makes us think (contemplate, whatever.) It is like food for the mind. The author wants us to be curious; remember why things should be done and not just how. Reading helps us hold on to the thing that makes each of us unique; our mind, our opinions.
It’s a beautiful concept, the theme of this book. What I didn’t appreciate, was the execution of the idea. The fast-paced, science-fiction-ey style of writing makes it an exciting read. But, the book is too short; Montag has his epiphany-moment, even before you understand this new world or its rules. The characters are strong and the novel, with all its metaphors and symbols, gives you a lot to ponder over; but too much is left to you. I would have liked a longer history of how society got to this point, or Montag’s life over the years, before this abrupt turn of events.
That being said, I do think it is a book everyone should read.

Happy Banned Books Week!

Banned Books Week started yesterday; the 24th of September, and goes on, obviously, till October 1. (So, I do realize, this post is a day late.) For this celebration, I have decided to read just two books (e-book format) that have been banned here in India, so as not to add too big a load to my already busy schedule and my already toppling to-be-read pile.


Banned Books Week is a time to celebrate the freedom to read, and that is certainly a freedom I wouldn’t give up easy. I’m not fighting for the freedom of expression here. When it comes to movies that show violence or anti-feminism or anti-religious views, or those that offend specific groups of people, the censorship, though not correct theoretically, seems like something I can live with. In particular instances of, say, animals abused for art, I am not that generous. But books – why do you need to ban books? When you take your kid to a museum, you have no choice but to let him watch that poor dog tied up on display! When you put on the television, you cannot help watching that scene where the man hits the woman. But you have the choice to not read a book. I mean, really, I can’t see how the Catcher in the Rye can hurt anyone? Bore them to death, may be, but hurt? I don’t think so.

There can be like a notice, at the back of the book, you know after the blurb – P.S: May hurt the sentiments of/bother ‘some people‘. Read at your own risk.” Or a parental advisory, say – “Warning! Explicit content, don’t read unless first read/reviewed by a parent.”

Now, I am not the biggest fan of Indian literature, and I haven’t decided which books to read. The first one that came to mind was Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, but let’s see. I’ll put up reviews once the week is done, of course! Happy Reading!