Last night, I thought about all the kerosene I’ve used in the last ten years. And I thought about books. And for the first time I realized that a man was behind each one of the books. A man had to think them up. A man had to take a long time to put them down on paper. [ . . . ] It took some man a lifetime maybe to put some of his thoughts down, looking around at the world and life and then I come along in two minutes and boom! it’s all over.
~Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
I had a fantastic discussion with one of our work-study students this week about books. One of those discussions where I lose track of time, and suddenly, forty-five minutes has gone by and we’re still talking. I mentioned The Book Thief to her, and she in turn asked if I’d read Fahrenheit 451. She was shocked to discover that I hadn’t, and I checked it out that afternoon. I finished it this morning.
The book is quite good. Very 1950s, but that’s okay. At some moments, I had to suspend my disbelief and remind myself of when the book was written. Some of the ideas seem farfetched from my 21st century perspective, but Ray Bradbury was revolutionary decades ago (much like Richard Matheson with I Am Legend).
Imagine a world where books are essentially banned. Imagine firemen who set fires to burn books instead of putting them out. Imagine a woman dying rather than parting with her beloved books. Imagine the great works of literature existing only in the minds of a few scholars who are on the run, who realize that knowledge is both sacred and dangerous and has the power to restore humanity to an eroded civilization.
Ray Bradbury created a world like that. And the result is powerful and poignant. It made me want to read even more and soak up every ounce of knowledge I can.