This is not the first time I've read Fahrenheit 451, but it has been, oh, about 30 years, and you can forget a lot in 30 years. I had. In fact, I had forgotten what a wonderful book it is and, actually, how relevant it remains, now, 60 years later. It's also amazing to see all of the foresight Bradbury had into the world that would be, which is now the world that is. [It was not amazing to see how much of Fahrenheit made it into Snow Crash and not in a good way. Not in an homage way. In a "I really like this and am going to take it and use it in my book" way. Like the mechanical dog. I didn't think it was possible for my view of Snow Crash to fall any farther than it already was, but Stephenson surprised me yet again. Not in a good way.]
The thing that stood out to me most is the true nature of the dystopian world of the Firemen. I'm not a fan of dystopians, but that's because I'm not a fan of current dystopians, which are not dystopians at all. Almost across the board, they are post-apocalyptic. The Hunger Games is not a dystopian story; I don't care how it's marketed or what publishers say or whatever. [And the distinction and where it went wrong is a post unto itself, so I'm not going to go into that now.] But Fahrenheit is in no way post-apocalyptic (although you could say it's pre-apocalyptic, I suppose). It's not even a government imposed dystopian. No, the Firemen and the book burning is something that came from the people, and that's what makes the book so scary.
And, possibly, real.
There are so many things in our current society that Bradbury was only glimpsing when he wrote the book, but they are so much worse, now, than then. I'll focus on two things:
1. We don't like to make people feel bad. About anything. This has been a growing trend over the past few decades with our movement toward positive thinking and making everything "politically correct," but it doesn't stop there, because we've started to stop allowing kids to experience losing. Losing feels bad. Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend in kids' sport teams (like my daughter's old softball team) to not have any losers. No scores. Just two teams of kids who are all winners. And many schools have begun adopting grade-less systems, because bad grades make kids feel bad.
In Fahrenheit, one of the reasons that people don't read is that reading makes them feel bad. As a society, the people want to have fun, and they can't get that through reading.
2. Thinking is hard work. And it makes people feel bad. If they read, they will think. If they think, they will realize just how not very special they are and how much they don't have and that makes them sad. Thinking about anything for too long becomes a bad thing; it's thinking they're really trying to get rid of, not the books. And I'm not talking about the government; I'm talking about the society. Books get shorter and shorter because no one wants to think (and we all know about the current TL;DR crap). Eventually, books become anathema to the society, so they start burning them. They burn them until it becomes a law.
I was looking over a survey recently dealing with people and whether they like to have "intellectual conversations" and 80-90% of people responding say no. I think the numbers where slightly higher for women, but that could be cultural (men want to appear smarter and women want to appear less smart than men). The most common response to the question was, "I don't like to think that hard."
That Bradbury was tackling these topics back in '53 (actually earlier, because Fahrenheit was based off of a short story he wrote in the 40s called "The Fireman") says a lot. It says that we've been struggling over the loss of books in our society for much longer than we normally think. It also says that, although these issues have grown in the decades, books, even if not physical, are still a strong force in our society, and that's a good thing. Of course, the metaphor that Bradbury is making is that the loss of books, the loss of knowledge, the loss of thought will lead man to his doom (a fiery apocalyptic doom in Fahrenheit), and I don't think that he was wrong. His warning is still as applicable today as it was then, just before the greatest wave of censorship the United States has ever seen would was across the country (something the Tea Party would like duplicate, I'm sure).
All of that aside, the language of Bradbury is superb, his language exquisite. Things like, "...under an ancient windmill that whirred like the sound of the passing years overhead." I can hear that sound in my head when I read it, and it gives the passage a weight that just isn't found in a lot of modern books. And my favorite passage:
She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it had to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darkness, but moving also toward a new sun.
It's full of foreshadowing and beauty. Very evocative. And the book is full of that stuff.
There's a reason this book is considered a classic, but many books that are no longer relevant are classics. This one surpasses those in that it is a classic and still relevant. I'm quite sure this is a book that more people should still be reading.