Like paper in fire

13 08 2009

‘Do you ever read any of the books you burn?’

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. Not until today, in my forty-rdth year—have I read Fahrenheit 451.

It’s a very good bad book.

Not a very bad good book: It’s not very bad, and it’s not a good book. No, it’s a very good bad book.

Very good: The idea itself, that fire fighters are there to burn, rather than to prevent burning. The burning of books itself is not, unfortunately, original, but the premise startles.

Bad book: Speeches! The speeches of Captain Beatty and of Farber and Granger and Montag himself. (Clarissa ex- and declaims, but her thoughts wander rather than congeal into pontification.) What is this, an Ayn Rand novel?

No, thankfully, it is not. For one, it is much shorter and, two (because of one), you don’t get the bullshit characterization you find in Ms. Rand—where all the heroes are trim and handsome, and the bad collectivists shifty and flabby.

No,F451 is not a tour de force of characterization, either, but you need only latch on to Montag enough, be captivated by Clarissa enough, to care as you careen through the plot.

And the plot is basic: thinking is bad, and reading, because it prompts thinking, is bad. Since thoughts are evanescent, and errant thoughts tough to track down, the government has to make do with the destruction of the proxies of thinking, i.e., books. Since few people care either to think or to read, the majority are more than happy to turn in those suspected of harboring the printed word.

And when Montag himself begins to wonder what it is he’s burning, well, that’s when the fun begins.

There’s much for a crusty lefty to love—his take on the barbarity of this thrill-seeking culture, its disdain for individuality and creativity, the ever-present demands for greater distraction—and, for that matter, much for a crusty righty to love. If you love books, and think that thought matters,F451 will satisfy your sensibilities.

It did mine. But it also didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know. Book burning: bad. Stupefaction: bad. Intellectual endeavor: good.

It’s a tract. A mighty fine tract, but what makes it a mighty fine tract also makes it a bad book.

A very good bad book.



One response

24 08 2011
Home away home « AbsurdBeats

[…] from burning, is marvelous, and the action moves swiftly to its logical conclusion. As a short (very good bad) book it works, but stretched out to a Galtian thousand pages? […]

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