If there is a book everyone should read, this book is it. Especially people who live in America. Especially people who watch TV or listen to the radio or have an email account or like to stay connected on one of those social networking sites. Especially people who have children. Especially people who are busy. Okay, that's got to be you, right? At least one of those especiallys.
This book is a frightening book, but it is also a beautiful and hopeful one--or it can be.
Ray Bradbury first published the book in 1953 (he just died, did you know? 91 years old, and he still wrote every day), and it was meant then to be cautionary. Today, it still is, but it is also eerily prophetic.
This is the world he created: Nobody reads anymore. In fact, if a person is caught reading, he is turned in to the firemen who come to his house and burn it down, with all the books inside. He is then arrested and taken to an asylum, for surely a sane person wouldn't do something as pointless as read a book. Instead, most people spend their time with their Seashells in their ears. These are little portable devices that keep people tuned in to their favorite radio broadcasts. Some people even leave them in their ears while they're sleeping. Another favorite way to pass the time is watching shows. Most people are addicted to television, which they watch in their living rooms on huge screens that fill the wall or--if they are really rich--that fill all four walls. If they buy a special converter box, they can even interact with the shows. People drive super fast on the highway, nobody walks anywhere anymore, nobody talks about anything of consequence, parents don't communicate with their children, and schools are a place where kids learn just enough to move them out into the work force where they can perform mindless jobs. Crime is up, suicide is up, and apathy is up. A war is coming and nobody even knows why or cares what will happen.
This is Ray Bradbury's future. Doesn't is sound a bit like our today?
And yet, in an interview he gave for the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book, he said America hasn't become this troubled yet. There is hope, there is a movement for change. And this is where I find optimism in this rather dark book.
Yes, it is depressing to look around today and watch people texting instead of talking, to think back on an evening and consider I've spent more time looking at a screen than I have spent looking at my family's faces, to shake my head at the apathy of the youth. But in this novel--and in real life--there is more than just the hopelessness. The hero of the novel, Guy Montag, is a fireman who has never questioned what he does. He is a fireman just like his father and grandfather were firemen. But once he meets a young girl who is exactly unlike everyone else, a girl who wanders outdoors and thinks about the smell of leaves and the man in the moon, a girl who challenges Montag to wonder about those things too, he begins to change. Or truly, he begins to realize that he has already begun to change. For he has a secret: hidden in a vent in his house, this fireman has exactly that which no fireman should have--he has books.
And when Montag begins to read the books, when he begins to open his eyes and look at what life has become, he longs for change, for meaning.
This is why I really love this book (aside from the sentences, which are long and twisted and beautiful). For every apathetic, technology-addicted person I see around me, I know that there are also a few--as there are in this novel--who love the world, who look about them with clear eyes that are wide open in wonder, and who write and think and sing and believe and create. Because of these world changers, the future is never as bleak as some think it is. There is light, and they make it.
Read the book.