Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns) by Ray Bradbury
I recently read this book after receiving it as a gift for Christmas (along with many other books I wanted to read after working in a book store for a month!) and it is certainly now up there with my favourites. Skilfully and imaginatively written, this dystopian science-fiction novel published in 1953 focuses on the life of Guy Montag, a fireman whose job is to burn books in a totalitarian society which is heavily controlled by the mass media.
The novel is separated into 3 sections. The first, The Hearth and the Salamander, introduces Montag as a man who has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, continuing to burn books for a living in a society which has banned them. Bradbury also introduces Guys wife, Mildred, who is said to be living physically but not mentally, having been controlled all her life by the media and therefore lost touch with herself and her own thoughts. She is the prime example of who everyone in Guys society has become, all the same without their own differences due to the conditioning they have been subjected to through the media.
The second section, The Sieve and the Sand, marks a turning point for Montag, who after encountering a girl named Clarisse starts to question what he is doing. He meets with an old English professor named Faber, and as he becomes more curious, begins to read books. This is a section I feel is most important in terms of the meaning behind the novel, because here, the importance of books are made clear. At the start of the section reading a book is compared to sieving some sand, the sand a metaphor for words and the sieve a metaphor for your memory. A lot of the time words you read will go straight through the sieve, but in some you find a dime, where words combine to create a meaning which sticks with you and enriches your life, providing you with a richer perspective and a more fulfilling outlook. Faber outlines 3 key reasons why everyone should read books;
1. The quality of information
2. The leisure to digest it
3. The right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the first two.
The final section, Burning Bright, highlights Guys freedom from the restrictive controls of his society. After being caught with books in his home, Guy manages to escape and join a small group of outcasts, who read different books between them, memorising them word for word and then burning the evidence. This way they continue their love of reading in secret, and pass it on to their children. In this section, the move from a city to the wilderness symbolises Montag’s transition from a controlled restricted life to a freer, more individual one.
Overall, this is a novel I thoroughly recommend reading to anyone and I have given it a strong 5/5* on Goodreads.
Similar reads according to those I have read include:
1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – the book burning was clearly influenced by that which happened in WW2. Hence the German references in Fahrenheit 451 through Faber and Montag.
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – focused on a controlling totalitarian government with the main character questioning this.