Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Burnings, Technology, and Paying to Write

FAHRENHEIT 451 - ONE BOOK: THREE THOUGHTS

1. From our first long car trip, I've been packing books on "tape" for my kids. Yes, that's how long it's been. We started with tapes. Arthur the Aardvark, Magic Treehouse. They love them, and since I get carsick reading, it's a great way to pass the time and still get reading in.

This month, before heading out on 23 hour trip to the Keys, we stopped by the library and picked up a few books on CD - ones that were more grown up for my more grown-up kids, and ones I hoped I could also count towards my reading list for school. A double bonus!!

So we nabbed The Adventures of Huck Finn and Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, classics that are both literary and kid friendly. (Well, Huck had some dialectical and time-driven language that made for interesting conversations...). But it turned out, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde had seen better days, and the CD was unplayable. So the return trip home had NO BOOKS!! Oh no!!!

Enter... technology. I have a phone. I have a library card. My library now has an electronic resource center. In a matter of minutes, I'd found a book and downloaded it onto my phone and played it over the speakers in the car.

BRILLIANT!!!

The book... Fahrenheit 451. A classic I actually own but have never read. And one which, later, I was thankful my kids decided to not to listen to and instead put their own headphones on and read their own books, because they don't get carsick reading, and were currently engaged with Harry Potter (my youngest), Hunger Games (my middle), and John Grisham (my oldest).

So it was just the hubby and I who got to listen to Fahrenheit 451. And we both were totally taken in.

2. Have you read this book? It is FREAKY!! EERILY relevant. Crazy, absurd relevant. I felt the same I'd felt when I'd read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and realized Jules Verne wrote about submarines before there were submarines. Except this wasn't about machinery so much as society.

I've always thought of this book as "the book burning" book. That's what it's about, right? Book burning and censorship? But no. It's really not. In fact, as we listened to the afterward, Bradbury says that's not what it's about at all. It's about technology and media and how people want to be entertained and have no attention span, and how they get their news and knowledge from headlines and sound bites and pieces of information taken out of context and without context.

The characters walk around with earbuds in their ears, listening to radio and music all the time. They sit in their living rooms and watch wall-size TVs in which there is a false sense of interaction with the outside world. They only tune in to the things that please them, the things they agree with. They eliminate that which makes them uncomfortable or that which they don't fully understand.

Holy heck... this was written in 1953!!!! Blew my mind!!

If you haven't read this, you should. It is a book lover's book. A writer's book. If you want to fall in love again with the power of books, the power of the written word, with authors and imagination and knowledge, with what books leave to the world, read this book.

3. At the end, there's an afterward in which Ray Bradbury writes about the process of writing this book. This is essentially what he said:

I was a dad of two little kids. I had no place to write where they couldn't find me and bug me. I tried the house. I tried the garage. They still found me, pounding on the windows, begging me to play. I got nothing done.

So I discovered one day the library at UCLA had typewriters in the basement. For a dime, you could use the typewriter for 30 minutes. So I'd put my dime in the slot, and type like mad for 30 minutes. Then I'd take a break, and walk around the library, running my fingers over the spines of the books and drinking them in, and then I'd go back and put another dime in. 

(If you read the book, you'll see how the fact that he's in a library influences the story.)

It took $9.80 cents to write the first copy of that book.

I wonder, if we had to pay to sit at our computers, if every word cost us to write, would we be more efficient? Would we be producing more stories? Would we be more focused?

Just a thought.

So that was what I got out of Fahrenheit 451. Out of the vacation, I got some time away, a tan, a few pounds (courtesy of Key Lime pie), a new insulin pump, and a shaking away of the cobwebs.

Time to hit the keyboard again, and see if I can make it worth my dime.

14 comments:

  1. We just got back from vacation. I listened to A LOT of Disney Radio on XM Radio :)

    The best (and only, so far) book I listened to was called Packing for Mars by Mary Roach. It is non-fiction, but has some excellent, funny, and gross facts about what it would take to go to Mars.

    I have not, shamefully, read Fahrenheit 451 yet. This blog post moves it up a bit on the list.

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  2. I adore this book and re-read it a few years ago when my city picked it as a city-wide read. I was so struck, this second time through, about those who committed words to memory, literally became the books that had been destroyed. I also was haunted by the idea that the person who doesn't care about reading/books is really not much different (intellectually speaking) from the person who destroys them.

    Also, Guy Montag. Has there ever been a cooler name for a protagonist??

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    1. Caroline - that struck me too. The ending was so incredibly powerful. I wish Bradbury had just stopped with that ending. "You are now Ecclesiastes." Is there anything more moving than that?

      My husband and I loved the name, too. :)

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  3. The Mars books sounds awesome! I'm not much for listening to books on tape when not in the car. I don't have a very good listening comprehension. Huck Finn I had to keep pausing and asking my husband what was going on. But F451 had my utter attention. I think you would love it!

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  4. I remember how gripping this book was when I read it in high school. Sounds like it will feel even more prescient today.

    And wow, I don't think I could be so efficient writing in 30 minute bursts without losting the thread of the story. What a way to write!

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    1. I wonder if my story lines would be more cohesive if I wrote an entire book in 9 days. :) Mine drag out so long I forget why I started writing!

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  5. What an insight to ask if we had to pay for our computer time would we be more focused. I say yes. Hmmmm, maybe I should put on a timer and make myself put a quarter in every time I write nothing during that time. Give the money to charity or produce more.

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    1. I wish I was disciplined enough to put a timer on! Even when I turn my internet off to get writing done, I still know I can turn it back on... and often do. I guess that doesn't say much for me!

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  6. Well my mind is blown.

    I have seen the movie version, which is incredible. We watched it with our kids, and they were fascinated by the concept, the story, the visual. John read it in high school, so it was interesting to see it. The teenagers were rather freaked out that a movie made in the 60s featured a TV that took up an entire wall...

    I did not know about Bradbury's writing process for that book. Rather humbling.

    The way the story ends... Everybody is so plugged in and glazed over, except for these rebels who each represent one written entity... We can't forget our imaginations and creations. We have to value our art. We have to value our words.

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  7. Well my mind is blown.

    I have seen the movie version, which is incredible. We watched it with our kids, and they were fascinated by the concept, the story, the visual. John read it in high school, so it was interesting to see it. The teenagers were rather freaked out that a movie made in the 60s featured a TV that took up an entire wall...

    I did not know about Bradbury's writing process for that book. Rather humbling.

    The way the story ends... Everybody is so plugged in and glazed over, except for these rebels who each represent one written entity... We can't forget our imaginations and creations. We have to value our art. We have to value our words.

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    1. I have the movie on my Netflix queue. I can't wait to see it, although it's a little ironic watching the movie version of a book about how TV is the death of books. :)

      I know it's terrible, but I sometimes need books like this to remind me how powerful the written word can be. It's either not valued enough - or abused these days. When the character told Guy, "You are now Ecclesiastes," I about broke into tears.

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  9. I had completely forgotten about this book. I think I read it as a teen but need to re-read it, as I am sure it will have a more dramatic impact on me then it did in my 'it's all about me' years! And I love Key Lime pie, but been a long time since I have had any. Now you have given me two items I must dive into again this September. Thank you.

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    1. Well, you can count on me to encourage vices! :)

      I've recently re-read a few books I read in high school lit classes and they are like all-new books. It's amazing how little I got out of them as a teenager. F451, though, is a book that I think is also getting more and more relevant. There weren't many wall-sized TVs or earbuds when I was in high school, and no internet. I'll have to reread it now in 20 years!

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