May 22, 12
Read in March, 2012
I'm in the process of re-reading some classics. This book surprised me, not for it's excellence, but because of how it differed from what I remembered. Spoiler alert! The setting is the not-to-distant future, as envisioned from 1953. Passing reference is made to the fact that we, as North Americans, have fought (and won) two "atomic" wars. Part of this novel's charm -- and enduring power-- is Bradbury's view of the future. It's charming because even though he had remarkable insight into what the future may bring (with 24 hour empty soulless media entertainment, unfettered speed, burgeoning teen violence and death, heightened global conflict), his descriptions and language are inevitably shaped by his time. Characters use expressions like "That's swell", and technology is still based on cathode-ray tubes and transistors. As visionary as he was, Bradbury could not have foreseen a future with computers, mobile phones, and Internet (although he did foresee giant wall-sized flat panel TVs).
I had remembered this novel for the book burning and the ominous robotic dogs, but I was surprised to find out that I had remembered the core premise of the novel incorrectly. I had thought the book burning was State directed, à la Nazi Germany, and I had remembered the novel as having an anti-Fascist government and anti-censorship theme. I was only partially correct. There really is no reference to any "Big Brother" or state-directed oppression. The impetus behind the burning of books seems to be driven by popular sentiment, by resentment toward those who would seek to expand their minds, to think more deeply, and to express ideas that may make others feel uncomfortable. Indeed, there even seems to be a prevailing fear toward anything that evokes strong emotion, or critical thought, or true introspection. This is demonstrated most strongly by the central character's wife, who we learn early on has recently attempted suicide, and not for the first time apparently. Her days are filled with the empty cacophony of hollow melodrama projected over her 3-wall TV panels, and her nights are filled with similar empty auditory stimuli that she receives through her "seashell" (a tiny transistor radio implanted in her ear). Again, none of this is enforced by any laws or by the state. She chooses to engage in such media masturbation, just as Guy chooses not to, there is no overt reference to any government presence.
I learned after reading this that in several of his other works Bradbury had been asked/instructed to change certain characters or dialogue in order to avoid offending readers. This greatly rankled him, and I think this story is his response to editorial (and by extension, popular) censorship. It stands the test of time.