I'm a nerdy girl with too much time on her hands, and too many books on her to-read pile.
“It was a pleasure to burn”.
What would you do if reading and keeping books were suddenly considered terrible crimes? Would you use what little time you had left before they were destroyed to memorizing your favorite lines? Would you hide them? Would you surrender willingly, and turn to the next form of entertainment without remorse?
A while ago I had the opportunity to think about these questions while trying to save what I could of my grandfather’s library. He was a great man, fond of reading, and during his life he had managed to build a collection of books that went from Buddhism to the holocaust, with comics and all sorts of genres in between. After his death my grandmother decided to turn to Christianity for answers, and was convinced that books that didn’t explicitly worshiped god were tools of the devil and needed to be destroyed. So one day, with the help of a couple of relatives, she lit a bonfire and threw away most of what my grandfather treasured and loved, along with everything in her house that was considered “evil”. That included my uncle’s collection of Harry Potter books, works of fiction that my mother was saving for me to read one day, and even novels of Gabriel García Márquez, once admired and now detested for his profanity.
I felt comforted when I came home and saw my own little library, each book a pleasant memory, and thanked the heavens for the fact that my grandma’s fire could never reach them. But what if it could? That’s what scares me about “Fahrenheit 451”: The notion that the objects I love the most in the entire world could suddenly disappear because others don’t like them. Because they could make me unhappy, and nobody wants to feel sad, right? It’s so much easier to sit in front of a screen that tells you what to think, how to feel, what to do and buy…
That being said, I don’t entirely agree with the notion that all television is inherently bad. Most of it? Sure, especially when shows like “Jersey Shore” are at the top of the charts, right along with a deliberate attempt to misinform the public and manipulate news. But there is also good stuff, and an attempt to spread knowledge even for those who can’t read. I’ve seen documentaries that have expanded my views on a variety of subjects, from Alzheimer’s to euthanasia, and plenty enjoyable shows that heavily critic our society and our paradigms. I would hate to see them disappear, just as much as I hated to see the empty spaces in a once full library shelf.
That’s why I believe that “Fahrenheit 451” is important: You can agree or disagree, but it still makes you think, and that’s the best kind of book to keep around. It also helped to see characters I could relate to and that I found interesting (like Clarisse and Faber). Beatty was terrifying, more so because he used quotes from books to promote the destruction of any worthy piece of written word, and Montag was a fantastic protagonist. This is a great book, and it should be read by everyone.
(Oh! I also strongly disagree with comics being considered "safe": “Maus”, for example, is one of the most powerful books I’ve read about the holocaust, along with other graphic novels that address topics in a way that most books would fail to do. So if you're going to destroy anything that promotes individual thought, comics should definitely go too.)