Reading and getting lost in the storylines of fictional characters has always been a favorite past time of mine. I was young when I learned to read and once it clicked I never stopped. Dick and Jane books (I still have 2 that I never returned to my Kindergarden library) came and went along with the Little House on the Prairie series, The Boxcar Children and the Nancy Drew mysteries. In 9th grade, books began changing my perspective as opposed to merely entertaining my psyche. The first of these was J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. I deeply related to Holden Caulfield's isolation. His overwhelming struggle with the "phonies" and their pretentions made me strive for consistent sincerity in my own life. Similar to how I once connected and was challenged by Salinger, I recently found myself relating and being convicted by Ray Bradbury's socially aware 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451.
Guy Montag, Bradbury's protagonist, is a firefighter in the future--a very different job than the heroes of now a days who risk their lives to put out all of our unwanted flames. In this book, Bradbury's firefighters have one task and that is to burn the homes of anyone who dares to read a book. Reading is outlawed. It has been several generations since reading was deemed acceptable, and when it was it only seemed to bring discontentment. Everyone was unhappy with at least one book out there, and this problem was solved by taking away books and the individual thought that ascends from reading. The chief fireman, an older member of society, recalls:
"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? Me? I won't stomach them for a minute...You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these. Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer in the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean (18)."
This explanation of how the shallow world that Montag lives in--a world where television is only to entertain and lacks any depth, literature is rejected, and conversations are kept to the surface because contemplation and intellectuality is both discouraged and punishable--caused me to ponder over our own society and how it has shamefully influenced my own mind. Is our current society all that different from this future society that Montag inhabits? The majority of present TV is "reality" based where brawls, gossip, and backstabbing are flung into our faces with one press of the remote control. Rarely is anyone chatting about last night's National Geographic special at the water cooler or a biography that they caught about Robert Kennedy. Conversations are instead geared toward discussing last night's episode of The Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, or The Bachelor. The consistently shocking lives of reality stars have not only diminished our desire to view programs that are educational or at least not damaging to the subconscious, but they also have cancelled out our energy and time for literature. The only books in recent years that the general teen population have even been inclined to read are the Twilight series and those are written by a woman who constantly misuses vocabulary. Canonized literature by wonderfully insightful authors who have profound ways of seeing the world and hold an ability to change or at the very least challenge perspectives are being tossed by the wayside. When I'm out and men come up to me in hopes of a date, I often ask them if they read. The most common response? "Does Maxim count?"
Perhaps my thoughts sound like the rantings of an English major, but Ray Bradbury's prophetic novel has genuinely convicted the laziness I have fallen into since graduating a year and a half ago. It has become all too easy to come home from work and flip on the TV to whatever reality show is on and believe that it isn't affecting my mind. I've realized that not only has it numbed and jaded my heart to the crassness and selfishness it promotes, but it has also robbed my evenings of possible intellectual highs or laughter that is not directed toward another's tragic drama. I'm not becoming a more compassionate person. discovering something about myself, or gaining wisdom by watching contrived reality shows. My time and life need not be wasted any longer. Instead, I've made a conscious choice (I have to daily remind myself) to fill my time with intellectual progress. Evenings of understanding foreign subjects, opposing perspectives, and differing values will make me an interesting woman who will only discover clarity in my own voice.
Bradbury argues that by rejecting the writings of any author leads to the rejection of literature in itself and the loss of individuality. As a people, we were meant to be in community, share our thoughts, the wisdom we've gathered, and the complexities of our hearts. Montag is finally able to do this when he is welcomed by a group of train hopping ex-professors as long as he can share a memorized book with the group. A book that spoke to him. One that he thinks has the ability to enlighten. One that he doesn't even realize is memorized but that is lodged deep within. He brings the Book of Ecclesiastes from The Bible. I don't plan on memorizing any novels in their entirety, but I do plan on reading more now that I have been shamed and convicted by Mr.Bradbury. I want to expose myself to as many books as I possibly can so that I will continue to have something to add to a conversation. After all, I'm a vintage girl that has no desire to be in a future world devoid of one of mine and the world's oldest forms of entertainment and leisure.