Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another Thinker Gone

I had something else planned to post today, but it'll have to be postponed.

Every morning, I usually begin by catching up with the news of the online world. This morning, it didn't take long to read the news that well-respected American writer Ray Bradbury has passed away at the age of 91. While he may not be a famous household name, Mr. Bradbury's words have entertained his readers for several decades. One search of Bradbury's name will bring you to a million online writers talking about Bradbury's life and death, so I'll focus on my relationship with the writer.

Though I haven't read many of his novels, I have read his short story collection The Toynbee Convector and, of course, Fahrenheit 451. As a dedicated fan of 20th century American literature, more specifically experimental, satirical, and dystopian literature, Bradbury is a very easy writer for me to enjoy and respect. Naturally, as time goes on, we'll lose more of the world's great thinkers, inevitably to be replaced by generations of new thinkers. Luckily, geniuses like Bradbury left evidence behind with a wealth of novels that will likely endure past all of our lifetimes.

I first read Fahrenheit 451 when I was 17 years old. My older brother's friend gave it to me for my birthday. I didn't read very much in my teenage years, and he thought that the novel would awaken a love of literature and even teach me a thing or two. At the time, he was wrong. The first time I read the book, it didn't catch on. I wasn't ready for a novel like that yet, and couldn't appreciate it for the masterpiece it is. The novel sat on my bookshelf for a couple years, and when I officially became a Reader, I revisited the story. As a college student, I was more open to the words of the Thinkers, and I fell in book-love. Now, I've read it a total of four times, and news of Bradbury's passing has inspired me to go for a fifth.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future, where firemen no longer extinguish fires, they cause them. The novel's protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman whose daily task is to find any kind of literature (which has been banned by the typical Evil Government), and burn it to ash. In the opening chapter, Guy and his fellow firemen are entering a building with the intent of burning a book collection. A woman inside chooses to die with her beloved books, which inspires Guy to secretly steal a book to see for himself what makes a novel so special. From there, he begins to think for himself, setting the stage for a rebellion against the Man. For more information, find a Wiki or just read the book.

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury showcases his talent for characterization, social commentary, and dramatic tension. Most importantly, like any great dystopian novel, he makes a social commentary about government and the people it tries to control. It's a must-read for anyone who loves books, anyone who loves free thinking, and anyone who loves a good dystopia. I recommend that everyone reads it once a year to keep their minds fresh and keep Bradbury's words alive.  There's a film adaptation of the story as well, from 1966. I'm actually surprised no one has adapted the story for the modern generation, with the right director and cast, it could be amazing. (David Fincher all the way! And Jon Hamm would play Guy Montag quite well.)

I haven't been this shaken by a literary death since Kurt Vonnegut Jr. left us, and I only hope that as the old wise men leave this world, new thinkers are inspired by the words they leave behind and write their own stories that inspire and enlighten future generations. I hope to be one of them.

I'll leave you with a quote from the delightfully old-fashioned man himself:

'We have too many cellphones. We've got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now'

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