Friday, June 15, 2007


I decided to reread Farenheit 451. Reread is, I suppose, a misnomer, since I read this book so long ago that I remembered very little of the actual plot. As I was driving home today, I considered how I liked the book.

I decided that I didn't like it, that it was not really all that great, and I started to feel sorry for those poor, poor kids that had to read this thing (I purchased it in the Summer Reading section at Borders). Why, I wondered, would anyone consider this book art?

After about 30 seconds of that assessment, I remembered the lesson I tried to teach my students this past spring about difficulty. I questioned my initial impression and thought about what I saw as the book's weaknesses--its brevity and strident speechiness (because we can all now create newer/better/truthier words, can't we?).

The brevity was good, since it kept the speechiness at least short in duration. And the speechiness worked in the context of people desperate to break out or hold in by controlling words. But the ending, wholly unsatisfying. The protagonist, so flat. The other characters, such props and cardboard cutouts. The terrible moments not nearly as awful as that bleak setting, particularly at the end.

And then I thought about the style. I found myself most annoyed by passages where Bradbury eschews actual sentence structure and goes for a choppier delivery. Like this one:
One drop of rain. Clarisse. Another drop. Mildred. A third. The uncle. A fourth. The fire tonight. One, Clarisse. Two, Mildred. Three, uncle. Four, fire. One, Mildred, two, Clarisse. One, two, three, four, five, Clarisse, Mildred, uncle, fire, sleeping tablets, men disposable tissue, coattails, blow, wad, flush, Clarisse, Mildred, uncle, fire, tablets, tissues, blow, wad, flush. One, two, three, one, two, three! Rain. The storm. The uncle laughing. Thunder falling downstairs. The whole world pouring down. The fire gushing up in a volcano. All rushing on down around in a spouting roar and rivering stream toward morning. (18)

It occurred to me in the car that I needed to read those passages aloud, something I'm not inclined to do when I read before bed (which is when I read "fun" stuff). So I read it aloud. Perhaps, I thought, the whole book should be read aloud. For a book about book burning, this one takes the view that the books worth remembering will be memorized, that people are walking books, that in the absence of being able to read, being able to listen will do just nicely.

Dystopian fiction is not my favorite thing these days, I suppose. And I'm just not a big fan of Bradbury's writing style; I think that's the reason why I was annoyed by the book. But the scenario? Well, let's just say that I'm thinking a bit differently about my books, my two television sets, my headphones and my Zen, my Bluetooth, and my front door. I need to make it less a wall and more a way.