Maybe it’s time to review Fahrenheit 451

Despite smoked salmon and bagels, a visit to good friends, a bowl of green cabbage and lentil soup (perfect for a chilly day), the conversation took a wrong turn. Within minutes, unwittingly, we were mired in gloom and unhappiness.

It doesn’t take much these days: politics, disenfranchisement, impending war. Make your choice.

Sensing what was happening – it wasn’t our first rodeo – we turned things around pretty quickly and moved on to Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s second chance at a Super Bowl victory after years with the Detroit Lions. toothless, books we were reading, video of a 10 year old’s birthday party, waiting for nieces and nephews to visit.

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But something in that conversation must have persisted. These things happen. Later that day, while browsing my bookshelf for something to get into, I found an old paperback edition of “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury.

It’s dystopian, which kind of matches my mood. It’s short, 179 pages. It’s accessible. It’s relevant, reappearing as it does every few years on those dreaded, predictable, and ridiculous lists of books banned from schools.

Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which the pages of the book catch fire.

Guy Montag is the main character. He’s a firefighter. He is part of a team that burns down books and houses where books may be illegally stored. He doesn’t put out the fires, he starts them. Like everyone else, he also lives in a house with a “grill fan” who hears and knows everything. (Can you say Alexa? Or Siri? That’s from a book written in 1953, mind you.)

Montag is the type to get along. He is a conformist. He does not question what he is doing. It’s against the law to read books and that’s fine with him. A book, Montag learns, is “a loaded gun.” It is dangerous and should be avoided. (Sound familiar?)

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The first line of Bradbury’s book is, “It was a pleasure to burn,” to see things darkened and changed. Then he meets Clarisse. She is 17 years old. She walks. She looks at the moon. She loves birds and butterflies. Neither she nor her family pay attention to the soap operas or the propaganda broadcast on the “fans”. She and her family were known as “intellectuals, crackpots”. The higher-ups at the fire station watched them because they deemed them “different.”

This girl makes Montag think. She reminds him of Faber, an older man he once met who loved books. Realizing his own misfortune – a no-no in this world – Montag begins to question this fear of books, he begins to question his job as a firefighter.

This is where my memory of the book changed. I remembered it was about banning books because books could lead to insurrection. I couldn’t remember the next chapter in Montag’s life, how it evolved.

Spoiler alert here: Montag, aware of his discomfort, begins to visit Faber, seeking advice, comfort. Faber, attempting to talk to Montag, tells him that books have pores.

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“The more pores, the more sincerely recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. So now, do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. Comfortable, conformist people, he explains, only want “wax moon faces. They are poreless, hairless, expressionless. So few of them dare to challenge the status quo.

Science fiction author Ray Bradbury made a book tour appearance at BookPeople on November 20, 1996. The store's name refers to Bradbury's dystopian novel.

At this point Montag, visibly confused, catches the attention of his boss. He has no choice but to escape, not easy when those responsible have helicopters, a “fan” who knows everything and a whole network of devices intended to catch subversives like Montag.

Spoiler alert #2. There is a somewhat happy ending. Through Faber Montag meets thousands of other rebels like him, people who remember the books (they have memorized them and hope to one day reprint them). They camp in the woods. They follow the train tracks, hoping like the phoenix to rise again.

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This is exactly what we need to do. Forget the gloom and unhappiness, stop complaining, stay the course. We have no choice but to regroup and keep rolling.

I am on it. Are you?

Jane Fishman is a lifestyles columnist. Contact her at [email protected] or call 912-484-3045. See more of Jane’s columns at

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