Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Best for: Everyone. All of us should read it.
In a nutshell: In the future, firemen don’t put out fires – they set them. Specifically, they set books on fire.
“You weren’t hurting anyone, you were hurting only things! And since things really couldn’t be hurt, sine things felt nothing, and things don’t scream or whimper … there was nothing to tease your conscience later.”
“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal.”
Why I chose it:
I figured I’d take the opportunity to finally read this book. I can’t believe I haven’t read it.
Oh holy shit. This was written in 1953. SIXTY FIVE YEARS AGO. And yet it is super relevant today. Damn, that’s depressing.
This is an extremely quick read. I started it yesterday and ended it yesterday. It takes place over just about a week (or less) in time at some point, in some place, in the US. People don’t read anymore because they aren’t allowed to. Books are banned, and firemen (I’d normally say firefighter because gender neutral, but that literally doesn’t work here) respond to people tattling on their neighbors who are suspected to have books. Because books aren’t necessary — the stories and ideas in them conflict with each other, and that can lead to harm, so it’s better to just watch stories with no plot that take up the entire living room, work a few hours pushing buttons or making widgets, and fall asleep with earbuds in playing pleasing music.
As someone who loves books, this was hard to read. But beyond that, the idea of government telling us that we aren’t allowed to read anything, a government that seems only interested in pleasure, but superficial pleasure. And look, I loves me some superficial pleasure. But for me, that’s not the only purpose in life. And in this version of the US, that’s the only goal. That’s all people look for.
I think what hit me the hardest was the discussion about how people slowly stopped registering for liberal arts courses (drama was the main example) until such colleges simply shut down, and people were only taught to push buttons and manufacture things. I see in that a bit of the push to move EVERYONE to STEM education. I 100% want people who haven’t felt supported in pursuing a STEM education and career to have access to it, and I don’t think we’re there yet. At the same, I see people slamming liberal arts degrees — things like philosophy, sociology, women’s studies, literature — as useless. You should get a degree in engineering, not history! And I think that is such a dangerous way of looking at things. There’s value in it all, and there’s definitely value in the ability to think critically. One can obviously learn to think critically without being a philosophy major (or going to college at all), but books and other ways to access discussion and knowledge are necessary.
The ending feels a little abrupt, but that’s okay. I’d recommend this to everyone, if only as a reminder of where things could go, and the dangers that accompany that.