I believe magic still exists in the world and it lives in the books. There is something special about being in a library or a bookstore, with so many stories around, waiting to be read, to be rescued from the shelves and taken home.
It strikes me how very like Zafon’s “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” (a concept I’ve read about in two of his novels, Angel’s Game and The Shadow of The Wind) the whole process of choosing a book is. You go into a bookstore and all the books on the shelves are waiting patiently, waiting to be touched, opened, read. Waiting for you to choose. The air is heavy with the scent of anticipation and the joy of discovery. And every time I’m looking for that special book, the one that will tell me more than all the other books around, the one that will take my hand and never let go.
This time it was Fahrenheit 451 that caught my eye. I have heard of it, of course, but never knew what it was about and I opened it and read the first sentence. Need I say more? The book had cast its spell on me and I was lost, couldn’t resist, didn’t want to, so I sat down there near a shelf and began reading, feeding on the words, that first sentence revolving in my head over and over again: It was a pleasure to burn.
At almost 200 hundred pages (including the interview with Ray Bradbury at the back) the book is a quick read and the prose is wonderfully charged with emotion. The reader is introduced to a world where books are hunted down and burned like witches at the stake, where people are more or less machines going through motions, a life without meaning and individual thought, with lots of visual distractions and repressed anger. And Guy Montag, fireman, fits the pattern beautifully. That is, until one day he meets Clarisse, who is different, who likes to think and walk outside and look at people when she talks to them. Their encounter has the effect of a spark in Montag’s soul, igniting his curiosity, making him wonder and question and search for answers. But it’s not easy breaking away from the neat monotony of life, and this he finds out soon enough. With the help of Faber, an old English professor, Montag is determined to find out more about the long lost world of books and as memories come back to him and he starts feeling again, his actions have terrifying consequences, making him a fugitive, running to stay alive.
The more I read the more I thought of OrwelI’s 1984, a novel describing a dystopian world where the communist regime controls everything and where everyone has its specific place. But whereas Orwell’s novel dealt on a larger scale, Fahrenheit 451 is more concentrated, focusing on books, the consequences of their disappearance from the world in favor of the media. Visuals versus thought. Readily made ideas versus imagination.
The end is reminiscent of “The Book of Eli” (the movie), in which the main protagonist carries a book with him and then loses it, but it’s not really lost. I’m afraid saying more will give away too much so I’ll stop here and just add: it was a pleasure to read.
Read in May, 2011