Ray Bradbury?s Dystopia

| June 6, 2003

Imagine firemen coming to your house to start a fire when they find out about your stash of books and being hunted down for the crime of reading. Ray Bradbury imagined such a world 50 years ago when he wrote Fahrenheit 451. The title refers to the temperature at which paper will ignite.

Half a century later, the public is still on fire for the book. ?Last year,? writes John J. Miller in WSJ.com?s Opinion Journal, ?Fahrenheit 451 reached No. 1 on the Los Angeles Times best-seller list after Mayor Jim Hahn made it the centerpiece of a citywide reading program.? And in honor of its upcoming golden anniversary, Ballantine Books will release a special edition next month. Although he?s written 30 books and hundreds of short stories, poems, essays, and screenplays, Bradbury may best be remembered for this work of science fiction that Miller says is appreciated by teachers and librarians for its ?celebration of literacy as the hallmark of civilization.?

Forget burning books, today Bradbury?s biggest concern is that people just aren?t reading them. ?The education system in this country is just terrible, and we?re not doing anything about it,? Bradbury says. Interestingly, Miller points out, the censorship described in Fahrenheit 451 was not initially forced upon the public by a harsh government. ?Rather,? Miller writes, ?it seeped up from the indifferent masses.?

In the book, the protagonist ends up on the run from the law, ultimately discovering a no man?s land where social outcasts spend their days as living, human books, each person having committed to memory the entire contents of one indispensable volume of literature, determined to keep it alive. Reminds me of some degreed intellectuals I know, writers and the like, who spend their days and nights working the bookstore aisles of Bones and Nibbles for just barely more than minimum wage, all for the love of books.
?Anne Geske

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