Book Reviews
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Burn Baby Burn – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is about books being burned by firemen. In the period when this book is set, the firemen’s job is not to save houses from being razed to the ground but to burn books as soon as the concerned citizens report suspicious neighbors who are in possession of books. However, we see one fireman, Guy Montag, slowly break away from his fiery job as soon as he discovers the importance and pleasure of reading through encounters with various people acquainted with books.


I was really looking forward to reading this book. It’s my first Bradbury and I’ve heard a lot of good things about him especially after the news of his death hit my feed reader with frenzy. I don’t mind that it’s dated; it actually makes it more interesting. It’s like salvaging a piece of literature from obscurity.

But after finishing it, I felt something was lacking. I don’t think that the book only persists because of hype; if ever there is, it is much deserved. I just feel that whatever it was that Bradbury was thinking wasn’t fully executed. I still think though that it has the elements of good science fiction bound to be a classic. And I love the premise of the novel. Tell me one bibliophile who wouldn’t like to read a book about books. If you can name one, you’re either lying or that person is a phony.

Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

I was surprised with the prose. I was expecting the tone to be suspenseful and action-packed. That is true at most parts. However, there are also times when it shifts to a somber mood with the dreamy inner monologues. These are poetic attempts; I’m not sure if these are often found in science fiction. The novel is both an exploration of that dystopian place where books are unwanted and a dissection of the protagonist’s head where you see a tangle of confused thoughts.

[Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.]

Montag is often at a loss on what to do. Ironically, he’s also quick to act on his impulses. He is not what you’d label a likable character, but you like him in the end because of his dynamism and his ability to surpass the struggles that he goes through. Although we see him develop into a different character at the end, the novel itself doesn’t seem to catch up.

[How strange, strange, to want to dies so much that you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then …]

It has to be considered that the novel was born from a novella entitled The Fireman. Before that, it was a short story. The novel that we can now see at book stores is the result of a doubly stretched short story drafted on a rented typewriter. Does that explain the sudden shifts in tone and mood? I daresay yes. Can the expansion of the short story to a novella to a novel a good thing to do? Could be, but it has jarring effects.

[I feel I’m doing what I should’ve done a lifetime ago. For a little while I’m not afraid. Maybe it’s because I’m doing the right thing at last. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a rash thing and don’t want to look the coward to you. I suppose I’ll have to do even more violent things, exposing myself so I won’t fall down on the job and turn scared again.]

The novel still felt like a short story to me. I wanted more of this book burning and memorizing, but it was abruptly cut short. I felt that the latter parts of the book could have been explored more. Maybe if it was never a conceptualized as a short story and it was a novel right from the start, all the themes and ideas that the author had in mind might have been synthesized in detail.

[And when they ask us what we’re doing, you can say, We’re remembering. That’s where we’ll win out in the long run. And someday we’ll remember so much that we’ll build the biggest goddamn steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up.]

It’s easy to think that the book’s central theme is censorship. It is. We read about people with repressed ideas and who are easily fed with lightweight information thanks to technology. I’d like to say though that the more important theme of the book is the destructive power that the television has on us. Think about it, why are a lot of people so hooked on mindless soap operas? It’s because they are easier to process than any of the books out there. They can provide us with easy entertainment without the heaviness of the heart that books tend to give.

I should know. I was once a soap opera addict. I’m very glad though that I’ve gotten rid of the affliction. I am a proud non-owner of TV. I’m not saying that TV is bad and that we should ban them. TV is still vital for delivering important news. It’s not at all destructive. It’s the choice of TV shows that make it a little dangerous.

Since I don’t have a TV and I still manage to read, albeit slowly, I guess Bradbury can rest in peace.


Dates Read: January 7 to January 11, 2013

No. of Pages: 179

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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13 Comments

  1. I always thought that there was something lacking in Fahrenheit 451. It was cut short and its themes were not explored thoroughly especially the ones regarding censorship. It was a novel that attempted to give a message but fell a little bit short. However, I still enjoyed reading it especially the afterword and the coda which, in my opinion, provided additional depth to the novel.

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    • I’ll let you in on a secret: I just sped my way through those parts. Heh. It is from my insistent belief that they are not parts of the novel. Ergo, I shouldn’t feel obliged to read them, hahaha.

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  2. Helena says

    I tried to read this book, but I found the narrative of Ray so silly and he described some parts with so many sofisticated words that it sounded like he just wanted to write beautifuly…….but I have to give another chance to it.

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  3. Cool…I didn’t know that history…that it started as a short. It does explain a lot, too. Nice call!

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  4. Monique says

    As always, very astute and articulate review, Buddy.

    Did you observe the rules on writing a “good book review”? :)

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  5. Hello, Angus! I read this book last year and enjoyed it. I can’t say that it’s my favorite Bradbury. That book would have to be Dandelion Wine; I guess I read DW when I was more or less the same age as the main character, so I was able to totally relate to the characters’ emotions and thoughts.

    Anyway, back to F451. I totally get you when you say that there are bits in the novel when Bradbury’s writing turns poetic. (Don’t you just love the opening line — It was a pleasure to burn.) I don’t mind this at all.

    I read a lot of genres, and I usually have a craving for science fiction every now and then. And when I do, I go back to these SF “masters” such as Asimov (Foundation), Bradbury, Clarke (2001: Space Odyssey), and Herbert (Dune). I don’t think I’ve ever felt unsatisfied with any of their books yet.

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    • Hello, thanks for the recommendations. I have only read Bradbury (not a big fan of sci-fi). I wonder why Philip K Dick isn’t there? I’m looking forward to reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Did you find it unsatisfactory?

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