Monday, June 23, 2008

Jaye Wells's Celebrate Reading Pick: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

Today, we welcome Jaye Wells as our Celebrate Reading Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Jaye Wells is a stubborn Aries with a penchant for tomfoolery and a love of all things arcane and weird. Her debut novel, Red-Headed Stepchild, is slated for an April 2009 release from Orbit US & UK. Also, her short story, “Red Life,” will appear in Weirdly II, an anthology from Wild Child Publishing which will be published on June 24. Some people call her work urban fantasy. She calls it Crypt Lit.

Thanks to Moonrat for inviting me to join in on this celebration of old friends. The only problem with it is: How does one choose a favorite out of hundreds?

I sat down and tried to remember every book I’ve ever read. Good luck, right? What happened instead is nostalgic walk through the influential books of my life. The “Choose Your Own Adventure” books and Chronicles of Narnia of my elementary days. The romance novels I discovered at my aunt’s house at the age of 13. My love affair with the vampire Lestat in high school and college. The time I came to terms with the idea it was okay to love Dorothea Benton Frank and Bret Easton Ellis equally. Then there was the book that introduced me to urban fantasy, Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking.

These memories are as real and cherished as those of my childhood pals and college confidantes. How could I choose?

But I kept coming back to one book.

High school reading does one of two things to people. It either cements their love of the written word or turns them off books for life. Thankfully, I fell into the former group.

As a side note, I have to admit one stumble. Like Moonrat, I was person chosen in my junior year to tackle The Sound and the Fury. Let’s just say the term “stream of consciousness” still makes me break out in hives.

But I did love a lot of the books I was assigned. Animal Farm, which I read totally innocent of the political parable—that all came later in class discussion. To me it was a heartbreaking story about the death of a horse. A Tale of Two Cities still remains a favorite, as does The Odyssey and everything Mark Twain.

But a man by the name of Ray Bradbury wrote the book that haunted me, challenged me, and inspired me.

When my teacher assigned Fahrenheit 451, I was skeptical. Science fiction? Dystopian themes? No thanks. But I soon changed my tune to “yes, please.”

Looking back, I suppose it’s not surprising that a book featuring a hero who hoards books and risks his life for them would appeal to a future author. Bradbury has sworn up and down this book isn’t about censorship, but to me—back then and today—that’s exactly what it’s about. But it’s also about rebellion. And heroism. And hope.

Before Hannibal Lector’s silent lambs, Bradbury introduced us to another Clarisse. She was an outcast, a rebel, and she changed the course of one man’s life by asking questions no one else dared. Is it any surprise this book appealed to my rebellious teenaged soul?

But Clarisse isn’t the focus of the book. She’s merely one catalyst for Guy Montag’s transformation from book burner to fugitive to vagabond. And I’m not afraid to admit that I developed a crush on him. Or perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn’t really a crush, but a passion for what he represented.

But the book isn’t all about heroism. Bradbury paints a grim future as a backdrop for Montag’s transformation. An old woman martyring herself before men with flamethrowers can destroy her books. Mechanical dogs chasing down a man for the hungry eyes of sheep masquerading as people. The roar of unmanned jets as they wipe out entire cities. Without a doubt, this is a cautionary tale, and a powerful one, at that.

Overall, I suppose Fahrenheit 451 isn’t exactly what one would call a “happy story.” But, in the end, it is a hopeful one.

Or am I the only one who’s fantasized about life as a highly literate vagabond who roams the countryside sharing stories?


Bernita said...

A beachcomber for me!
Thank you, Jaye. 451 impressed me too as both cautionary and poignant.

JES said...

No idea where Ray Bradbury falls on (or off) the scale of those who identify authors as canonical. But the man can tell a story -- LOTS of stories. I loved F451 and also SOMETHING WICKED, DANDELION WINE, and, and, and...

Finally, loved the memory and loved the connections you drew between the "life" of the book and the life of the reader's mind. Thank you!

Merry Monteleone said...

Ack, I hate to admit it, but I never read this one... I loved Something Wicked This Way Comes, I don't know why I didn't follow up with more of Bradbury's work... sigh, another title to be added to my ever teetering list to be read... moonrat must be trying to kill me.

Great revue, Jaye.

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a great book, and one that strongly influenced me. Probably the most influential for me of Bradbury's works other than The Martian Chronicles.

Brian Jay Jones said...

Good post, Jaye. And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who missed the allegorical readings of a number of great books on first reading. To me, Kafka's Metamorphosis was a really cool sci-fi book about a guy who got turned into a bug! Sorta like The Fly, but without Geena Davis.

cindy said...

clan of the cave bear was assigned to me as a freshman. can you imagine? wooo! i learned a lot from the sequels!

neer read this. will have to put it on THE LIST as well. thanks for sharing, jaye!