Batty about Fahrenheit 451

Batty About Books! 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


My Batty About Books partner Kathy and I are very concerned about the current state of our world and country. As part of speaking out against censorship, destruction of knowledge, and authoritarian government styles, we are resharing our Fahrenheit 451 posts and also choosing and discussing some other novels. We plan to start with 1984 and we'll see where that leads us. 

This snippet from our discussion below is so incredibly important right now....

"I love that Bradbury ends with hope. No matter how bad things become, there are always monks holding onto the knowledge in the hopes that the next age will want - will need - what we have learned.
Kathy: I asked that question in my responses: who is the keeper of knowledge? Now I know. "

We are the Keepers of Knowledge. Don't ever stop being a Keeper..

******* original post below *******  (Originally posted June 2012)

Check out my related
posts on science fiction
and my SciFiSummer!

It's Friday (okay, so Friday is almost over, but close enough). Kathy and I chose to read a classic, and we decided to devour it in a single week. Since I'm targeting science fiction this summer, we chose to reread a classic we've both read in the past - Fahrenheit 451 - as a homage to the incredibly talented Ray Bradbury.

The discussion was especially rich this week. I'd encourage you to read both my post (with my thoughts and Kathy's responses) and her post on The Brain Lair. She had some amazing thoughts about this book! Please let us know in the comments any other feedback you have on this book, or on how science fiction can be used to open the eyes of students to the world of today. 

We had a lot to say... my thoughts are in purple and Kathy's responses are in blue. 

Fahrenheit 451

First, I’d like to state for the record that it’s clearly been a long time since I read this book. I had a general memory of the tale – broad sweeps of plot and character – but I was still able to read it fairly “fresh”.  That was fun. I had questions, guesses, and reactions to the story the whole way through that felt almost like I was new reader.
Kathy: According to Goodreads, I read it three years ago.  It is so filled with nuances and information, you can’t remember it all. It was a refreshing read and a nice remove from my usual fare. Also, most of what I will say here is just me rambling emotionally. This book gets inside of you!

Bradbury as prophet: I found myself in awe many times as I was reading, thinking about how accurate so many of his predictions seem now. The seashells and communication device are just like our earbuds and the kind of tools the FBI uses. The televisions that surrounded them seem like our large screens. The “reality” shows she watches, the overstimulation and trouble sleeping, the fast paced lifestyle and ever present advertising – it all seems like it is either now or right around the corner. Chilling.
Kathy: NOW! Definitely. With Facebook selling more advertising so that when you are there you get “custom” ads.  These ads are geared to what you “like”.  That’s just like being put into one of the shows with the “family”.  He is so spot on. We have so many social media sites and so very little actual society time, it is Chilling! Montag asked Mildred if The White Clown loved her and she couldn’t answer. She didn’t know what the shows were about. But the noise and the music made her think she’d experienced something... Yes! As an introvert who needs a lot of quiet and low stimulation, I found his description of the intense barrage of sound overwhelming. 

Bradbury as poet: I don’t know if “poet” is the right word - but I was struck over and over again by the beauty of his language. This isn’t something that I notice in many books. I can love a plot, I can attach to a character, but when an author uses metaphor and achingly beautiful words - that is when I want to chase them down and kiss them. From the very first line “It was a pleasure to burn” (which I just had to tweet as I read it) to the descriptions of the devouring fire like “symphonies of blazing” and “swarm of fireflies” to his comparisons of books as beautiful birds... wow. Just wow.
Kathy: AGREED! He can turn a phrase. But not in a way that pulls out of the story. I loved all the ways he talked about fire, burning, light, darkness, even the way he described the Hound.  Beatty was one of my favorite characters. I picture him as Ernest Borgnine. Love the revisionist history of the Fireman.

I love how he turns things on their heads. The job of fireman becoming one who sets fires. The idea that the lack of agreement in books is what caused our anxiety - we can’t know what is right so clearly we need to burn it all. Again, it sounds so much like what is happening these days with the battle between science and faith. (For the record, I believe that science and faith can be reconciled, but that we just don’t know how or where they exactly fit together yet).
Kathy: I hate that we give up so easily and choose a “side”.  Like you, I think they both fit. We just don’t know how.  The thing that keeps the battles raging is our lack of information. Burning the books, or just teaching evolution or creationism, keeps students in the dark. Unless, like Clarisse or Montag, they have someone come along and “spark” an interest that leads them to digging deeper. They read all the documents. They make informed conclusions. Why aren’t schools doing more of that? What are we afraid of? Being wrong? Why do we continue to ban books? And not just about this, but about other areas. And with the lack of resources available in schools, for some students, they will continue being ignorant. They don’t have a place to go to get information. Here is yet another reason why science fiction can spark wonderful discussion. It’s not just a good story, it’s a way to debate things about our OWN society by looking at another one. Love it!

I love how he contrasts the devouring fire to the “gently flattering light” of a candle. Then he goes back to fire one more time at the end, when he sees the flames and warming and comforting.
Kathy: SAME! I mentioned about the fires in the beginning but I forgot about Montag learning that fire can be used to give! That it even has a different smell based on purpose. Bradbury = genius in his simplicity.

I swear, I’ll get to his ideas on books in just a moment... first, I’d like to compare his conception of robots to the Asimov I read last week. In I, Robot Asimov describes the way robots are created to be helpers - with the three laws of robotics built into every system. Even when robots have a problem, they can be trusted to obey those laws completely. Bradbury sees humanity with darker motives - and their creations follow that same pattern. The Hound is designed purely for destruction. Montag knows that it is the fault of the masters, “all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that’s all it can ever know.” Guy would much prefer Asimov’s future, I’m sure.
Kathy:  But what about Clarisse and her family? What about Montag (why does his wife call him that?)? What about Faber and the men we meet by the river? Maybe we put our “hunting finding and killing” into our creations to keep it out of our own systems.  Even though the robots have those laws, they can be worked around. Bradbury accepts who we are and tries to help us see that. While I think Asimov also sees our darker sides because he knows we won’t help each other, so another race had to be created. We couldn’t be trusted to care for each other.  Bradbury says we need to connect with each other, that’s how society will be better. Not bringing in robots or “the family”. Really connect with each other. Learn from each other. Talk. Read. Touch. Montag (or I) can get behind a future where that happens. Good points. I think Asimov wanted to reassure the world that robots wouldn't have to take over the world. *grins* Bradbury’s points about simple joys - experiences - and connecting with real people are vital to the future of humanity... helping us KEEP our humanity. I agree.

Okay - back to books. After all, that’s a key theme of the story, right? Not really, but books do become a symbol for a key idea - living life to the fullest. I love (and didn't remember) this idea. It isn’t the book itself. Books give us a way to see places, have experiences, and meet people that our short lives wouldn't otherwise give us exposure to. But it is the living, the experiencing, that is the goal. Clarisse is the human embodiment of this ideal. She strikes me as much younger than the “seventeen, and insane” that Bradbury claims. Maybe that’s why she seems insane, right? She’s much too busy living to be sucked into the constant clamor of her world.
Kathy: I’d forgotten that it wasn't the books that were important too. Though I read Clarisse as OLDER. Her questions and comments seemed designed to get a reaction from Montag. She was waiting for him. To help him. I found her calculating - in a good way. He had to think about someone other than himself. She “saw” him. He craved that. We all do. But, her insane is exactly how I hope to be and what I think Bradbury would want from us. Why do you think he made her seventeen? Because they still believe they are immortal? She was way too young for Montag.  Is that why? So we wouldn’t have to worry about adultery clouding the works? I like that! Yes, I think that is a great reason why he makes her 17. That and teenagers ARE insane. *chuckles*

I love that Bradbury ends with hope. No matter how bad things become, there are always monks holding onto the knowledge in the hopes that the next age will want - will need - what we have learned.
Kathy: I asked that question in my responses: who is the keeper of knowledge? Now I know.

There is a reason this is a classic. This book needs to be on the list of must reads for science fiction fans. I remember adoring it as a high school student - but something tells me that I didn’t suck all the marrow from the bones. I hope that people who did read this as students will take the time to read it again. Then, I hope they will turn off the television, go outside to catch a raindrop on their tongue, and help prove that we know better than to create a future like this.
Kathy: Unfortunately it’s read in 9th grade “regular” classes. Or should I say “taught”. Two of the girls I took to the beach almost threw up when they saw me reading it today. They hated it. They didn’t understand it. They couldn’t understand how I could read it for fun. I think if it’s used in high schools, it should be read in its entirety first! Then let the discussion be open before we revisit it for lessons. Too often schools take the classics and further turn students off to reading. Students feel that classics are just for learning our lessons. Not for enjoyment. One of the guys at the river reiterates that we shouldn’t become self-important. That the knowledge is more important than the carrier. I think we forget that, and we want them to see what we like about the book (sometimes I can’t tell if teachers actually like the book they are teaching. Or if they’ve read it just to read it) so we underline every metaphor and simile. We ferret out all the imagery. We turn the book into parts. We miss the story. We miss the hope - or it becomes just another theme to uncover and write about. Too often I see this. One girl only reads Twilight Saga. Over and over and over. First book she read that wasn’t preachy. Now afraid to read anything else. Of course, she’s of the mindset if the book isn’t knocking your socks off in the first two or three pages, why Anyway. I think it should be read. Maybe paired with another book on censorship - which is what they were told it’s about - then compared. Or something. I don’t know. In some ways, students are so young nowadays. Even though they have all this information at their fingertips. All this news. And these videos. And everyone’s every thought and action. Transparency. But no way to understand it. Gah! Must.Stop. Depressing self! Ok, must end on high note. My book had an Afterword and a Coda and a Conversation with Bradbury. Lots of good reading. In the conversation Bradbury is asked about his favorite genre and he replies “I love everything!” He also says he had a great life. And that the best thing teachers can do is hand students a book. My life motto. 

You said it, my friend. Life life. Read. Connect.
I think Ray would be proud if that is the enduring legacy he left for us.

Did you see that Neil Gaiman had a Bradbury short story? Here is the page with the audio file of Neil reading it. (Have I ever mentioned how much I adore Neil Gaiman’s voice? Serious author crush here.)
The text version is here: It will be published in a book, but was released early as a tribute to Ray Bradbury after his death.

Next week we'll be watching the movie version and chatting about that. After that? More science fiction! What would you consider the best way to read and/or teach a classic? 


  1. I don't normally chime in here but when I saw the topic I couldn't help myself. I love this book! It was great to read your discussion and made me want to revisit Bradbury's world. Thinking of this book makes my mind wander to which book I would want to hide out and memorize (outside of the Bible or Koran, ect.) to preserve if our society ever went to this extreme.


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