Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 34 (Ray Bradbury)

Fahrenheit 451
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

I hadn't read this book until a couple of years ago when Just Buffalo was chosen as one of the pilot hosts for a program by the NEA called "The Big Read." Basically, we were given a month create a series of events celebrating this book and also encouraging the million or so people in the Buffalo/Niagara region to read it. There were book club discussions and film screenings (I love the super-stylized and highly kitschy film version by Truffaut, starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie), and the big event was a talk by Sam Weller, who wrote Bradbury's biography. At that event, which took place at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Bradbury himself phoned in and spoke to Sam over the PA system for about ten minutes. He told a rather wistful story about the one time he had visited Buffalo as a young man. He was in transit and was only here for a day, but he had time to visit Niagara Falls. He recalled standing over the cascading waters, thinking about his future, wondering what he would do with his life.

Here's a famous passage from the book:

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.

Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.

He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man, burnt-corked, in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his face muscles, in the dark. It never went away, that smile, it never ever went away, as long as he remembered.

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