Keely's Reviews > Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
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Nov 29, 10

bookshelves: science-fiction, novel, politics, reviewed, dystopia, america
Read in January, 1998

Farenheit 451 has been analyzed and reinterpreted by every successive generation to change its meaning. This is chiefly because the book is full of assumptions and vague symbolism which can be taken many ways, and rarely does anyone come away from the book with the conclusion the author intended, which would suggest that it is a failed attempt.

There are grounds to contend that even the title is inaccurate, since contemporary sources suggest paper combusts at 450 degrees Celsius, which in Farenheit would be more than 800 degrees. The truth is, paper combustion is gradual and dependent on many factors; even if some paper might combust at 451F, his title is at best an oversimplification, but Bradbury was more interested in a punchy message than in constructing a thoughtful and well-supported argument.

It's not a book about book censorship, but a book about how TV will rot your brain. Bradbury himself has stated this again and again, as evidenced in this article which quotes Bradbury and in videos from Bradbury's own website.

This book falls somewhat short of its satirical mark based on this cranky lawn-loving neighbor's message. Then again, it was written in the course of a few days in one long, uninterrupted slurry (mercifully edited by his publishers, but now available utterly restored). Contains archetypes, misconceptions, and an author surrogate; but can still be seen as a slighting view of authority and power, and of the way people are always willing to deceive themselves.

Unfortunately, Bradbury did not seem to recognize that reading has always been the province of a minority and that television would do little to kill it. More books are written, published, and read today than at any other point in history. Most of them are just redundant filler, but so is 90% of any mass creative output, books, art, movies, or TV, as Sturgeon said. And there's nothing new about that, either: cheap novels have been a joke since the Victorian.

Television is a different medium than books, and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Bradbury's critique of TV--that it will get larger, more pervasive, and become an escape for small minds--is just as true of books. As for television damaging social interaction, who is less culturally aware: the slack-jawed boy watching television or the slack-jawed boy reading one uninspired relic of genre fiction after another? I read a lot of books as a kid and watched a lot of TV, and each medium provided something different. Neither one displaced the other, since reading and watching aren't the same experience.

There is an egalitarian obsession that people are all capable of being informed and intelligent. We now send everyone to college, despite the fact that for most people, college is not a viable or useful route. The same elitism that values degrees values being 'well-read', and since this is the elitism of the current power structure, it is idealized by the less fortunate subcultures. Bradbury became informed not because he read, but by what he read. He could have read a schlocky pop novel every day for life and still been as dull as the Vidscreen zombies he condemns.

He has mistaken the medium for the message, and his is a doubly mixed message, coming from a man who had his own TV show.
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Comments (showing 51-100 of 118) (118 new)


Jakob Additionally I don't believe that the intention of the author is not important what I meant to say is that it should not limit a work. If an unknown diary of Shakespeare were to be discovered where he claimed that the intention of Hamlet was to illustrate the sublimity of farts then that would certainly be strange but it would not limit the artistic value of the play when looked at on its own merits.


message 52: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Keely I would like to contribute here but I will be off the air for the next few days (travel). Good points.


message 53: by Ech (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ech Your information is wrong. Paper ignites from 218-246 Celsius which averages to about 230 Celsius which would be about 446 Fahrenheit.


Keely I'm afraid I don't find you entirely convincing, since my data comes from a linked source contemporary with Bradbury's book and yours is not similarly backed up.


Jakob Here's what a quick google search brought up:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoigni...

Temperatures vary widely in the literature and should only be used as estimates. Factors which may cause variation include partial pressure of oxygen, altitude, humidity, and amount of time required for ignition.

Paper: 450 °C (842 °F) or 218°-246°C (424-474°F)

This article cites both your link and this one:

http://www.tcforensic.com.au/docs/art...

Which states that Paper ignites at 218°-246° (celsius)
--

http://www.prothermographer.com/how_h...
(Professional Thermographers Association)

457 K – 183 C – 362 F Paper Ignites.
-

And finally a nice explanation of the title of Fahrenheit 451

http://garydexter.blogspot.com/2009/0...

Instead of accusing Bradbury of dishonesty it gives him the benefit of the doubt that he made an honest mistake. Perhaps you might consider it...


Keely Instead of accusing Bradbury of dishonesty it gives him the benefit of the doubt that he made an honest mistake. Perhaps you might consider it...

I didn't accuse Bradbury of dishonesty, I merely pointed out how the error in the title indicated how rushed the work was, and how Bradbury was not comitted to accuracy.

Thanks for your attempts to bring in different references to solve this, but your sources point to a general problem: that the combustion of paper is gradual, difficult to measure, and highly dependant on the type of paper or method of combustion. So, even if Bradbury has chosen a temperature at which paper might combust, his representation of paper as having one, consistent temperature of combustion is a flawed oversimplification.


Jakob I see you edited your review. I do find it much more agreeable with the description you added, not that I'm an arbiter of agreeableness :P

To me the novel was first and foremost a story with some subtext rather than an essay on society. That perhaps explains some of our differences of opinion about this book.


Angie Fahrenheit 842 - I can't believe someone takes issue with a book title because it might not be the the temperature at which books actually burn. You know in 1984, it might not actually be 1984. I guess Orwell should have called it 1980 something - you know, for accuracy. Oh and if you love the Wizard of Oz, book or movie, tin doesn't rust.


Keely That single error was hardly the crux of my review--though I do think it helps to demonstrate that this book was a rush job. The case of '1984' is different, since picking a suitable far but not-too-far date is standard practice for sci fi writers. Additionally, it is not uncommon for authors to use the '1980-something' form that you mention, often written '19--' (particularly in the Victorian) or '20XX'.

We could hardly expect Orwell to actually know the future to the degree that he could predict the precise year his vision would come about, but it would only have taken an afternoon's research for Bradbury to get his title correct. But since 451 was written in only a few days, he hardly had the time to get things right.

And no, I have never been particularly impressed with The Wizard of Oz.


Angie Keely wrote: "That single error was hardly the crux of my review--though I do think it helps to demonstrate that this book was a rush job. The case of '1984' is different, since picking a suitable far but not-to..."

The problem with the internet is lack of context. You couldn't read my light-hearted tone. You obviously haven't read 1984 or understood my comment. It is clearly stated in the book that the actual year is not known and the best guess is 1984.


232 C or 450 F was used in studying library safety. 451F isn't a random number and has basis in science so to nitpick it is just unreasonable. He must've done some research and I'm sure his editor did too. I'll now refer to Fahrenheit 451 as "Farhenheit 842 or Maybe Fahrenheit 424 - 474 Depending on Paper Composition." I wonder why Bradbury didn't use that title in the first place, it is so much more becoming!

http://www.unesco.org/webworld/ramp/h...

I do agree it's disappointing that the book was an attack at tv and not at censorship. I alo agree there are plenty of inane books that are probably worse than some good tv and it does devalue the premise of the book a bit. I still liked it and I'll have to appreciate it like a good song lyric that you take meaning from that relates to your life even though you know the songwriter was talking about something else. Bradbury unintentionally wrote a great book about censorship and poor book about disliking tv. Unfortunately for him, art is left to be interpreted by those who experience it.


Keely "The problem with the internet is lack of context. You couldn't read my light-hearted tone."

It's a challenge in writing in general, and one few people are practised enough to do well. I've found I have to put fairly straightforward disclaimers into many statements to ensure they won't be misread, lest I fall athwart of Poe's Law.

"He must've done some research and I'm sure his editor did too."

I'm not convinced either Bradbury or his editor bothered to do much research, since the book was supposedly written in one long marathon session in order to meet a contract deadline with a publisher.

"Unfortunately for him, art is left to be interpreted by those who experience it."

I'm afraid that as a New Historicist, and don't hold with the Post-Structuralist notion that 'the author is dead'. I have seen plenty of ill-founded interpretations that are easy to discredit through argument and evidence, and while such wild guesses may sometimes prove entertaining, they hardly constitute a good methodology for criticism.

Perhaps it suits some critics to take vague works and develop theories about them which, while not supported by the text, are not directly contradicted by it, but this type of 'analysis' could hardly be mistaken for a rigorous, well-researched progression in literary understanding. Certainly, anyone can write a critical essay about how Shakespeare's characters are all cross-dressing robots, but it hardly improves our understanding of the work.


Angie How does a robot cross-dress?


Keely It's refuge in audacity: if a critic is already committed to writing an unsupportable conclusion, adding another impossibility on top of it hardly makes it any more ridiculous--if you quote enough Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault, you can obfuscate anything.


message 65: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger Thought maybe your reviews might be interesting (and some are), but my problem with this one (sorry) is you didn't review the book really. Now it is good I read it, because if I was trying to understand it without prior reading-- eh, yeah. Somehow you got talking about everything but the book (TV, authors opinion, college, something about zombies). Your smart and a good reader, but I don't want to be impressed by how smart you are do I? Tip then: just review 'em for me, all that is between the two covers and words... unless otherwise very significant.


Keely It's a book about increasing cultural stupidity and TV-watching (metaphorical) zombies. If you don't see how those things pertain to the book, I'm not sure I can help you. I also think authors may have some relationship to the books they write, so I don't feel it's inappropriate to discuss them in a review. In this instance, I'm mentioning Bradbury's intention because I think modern readings about censorship are not justified by the text--if the author, himself doesn't see it, it may be a case of reading too far into an idea which is not fundamental to the book.

What I find interesting about books is their relationship to ideas, philosophy, and the world, and I consider an investigation of the ideas the book explores and the methods used to explore them to be a review of the book. I'm not sure I can think of a better way to define a book review.


message 67: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger I would say that whatever is justified by the text stands alone, and I believe a novel should... no other author input needed, otherwise it would not be complete. (ie I should not have to read an introduction to enjoy a story, I would consider it a flaw if I had to read abstracts to understand it). I do comprehend the book, it deals with ideas not just about TV or cultural stupidity (a troublesome and unclear combination of words in itself), but about the reduction of media, and human knowledge for the greater good. It toys with the ideas of a world were people don't have the responsibility to acquire knowledge, were the common is valued (communist connection here)... and to protect that equality, one must eliminate the source of fiction and non-fiction (thus the story). I am not sure censorship is a big issue tackled here. The reader is supposed to make their own inferences into the ideas explored in this book, even though their maybe some sway. At the end, when the world ended I felt even the people guarding the books didn't really "win" in the story, in a way it is unclear as to what is the right way, or the right philosophy for the reader to gain. Bradburry does a good job not getting didactic on us, at least as far as I can tell between the covers. And I think it presents a story with depth and interpretation when, and like any good science fiction, it doesn't give us answers, but instead asks good questions.


Keely Certainly, a book is what we find in the text, but can't we be aided in our search by understanding the political, historical, philosophical, and literary traditions that surround the book? Is it folly to go to the person who wrote the book and see if their intention reveals anything about the text?

"I am not sure censorship is a big issue tackled here."

I don't think it is, but that has been the primary reading of this novel in literary criticism for a very long time, which is why I respond to that larger discussion in my review. I don't think there is a robust enough argument in the text to support this reading, so my argument is textual, I'm only bringing in the author's intention because I think it highlights a textual concern.

"Bradburry does a good job not getting didactic on us"

I think the one-sidedness of the presentation leans toward didacticism. We are not given a very good alternative personal philosophy to defend the choices of those who prefer the vidscreen to books. Certainly, there is the communist parallel, where the government might prefer vids because they are a method of social control, but in a dystopia, we're hardly on the government's side. Bradbury isn't showing books and vids as two equal competing types of media with unique strengths and weaknesses.

The vidscreen is equated with dull people who have given in to social controls, while books and art are presented as the choice of the intelligent rebel. I don't think there is a good argument that a thoughtless ignoramus could be read as 'sympathetic', while a rebellious iconoclast is often the romantic 'heart' of modern literature.

In a story about rebelling against a totalitarian, inhuman government, books and art are associated with rebellion (human thought and emotion) while the vid is associated with giving up identity and rejecting understanding. I don't see that portrayal as promoting informed interpretation or stressing 'questions' over 'answers'.


message 69: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger "Is it folly to go to the person who wrote the book and see if their intention reveals anything about the text?" YES!!! if it is art, that is the golden rule of art!!!

"Bradbury isn't showing books and vids as two equal competing types of media with unique strengths and weaknesses." Irrelevant, Bradbury has TV in the book, it just isn't used in the way of art, this is explained. It is just Bradbury has a fascination with books that manifests, with only a slight bias debunking TV. But the message is clear.

"but in a dystopia, we're hardly on the government's side. " This is not a dystopia though, people are happy.

"The vidscreen is equated with dull people who have given in to social controls, while books and art are presented as the choice of the intelligent rebel."

I would say it that the vid is for "reality TV" (a relative unknown at RB's time) not TV as art. At least that is all the TV we see in the novel.

"In a story about rebelling against a totalitarian, inhuman government, books and art are associated with rebellion (human thought and emotion) while the vid is associated with giving up identity and rejecting understanding."

I looked at the books as the intelligent media, and the art (which I think RB mentions), and this is one way to look at it too (your right). most TV is awfully mindless, especially reality TV. Also I think during Bradbury's time (keep in mind), the TV being broadcast in the early 50's was far from the quality of literature in books. (most of it not at a level to be considered art really, rather mindless)


message 70: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger In the novel I never made the connection of the rebels being the cool outcasts, because they had to mindlessly suffer as well, memorizing page after page with low enjoyment, as well as being hunted and away from society. While the other people in the society were happy, still emotional and capable of love, but at the same time devoid of any complex thought, which was assumed to lead one to depression (which it does, thus the conundrum). And that is how I read it, I guess we see things differently lol, I suppose that's the best conclusion.


Keely "YES!!! if it is art, that is the golden rule of art!!!"

The fundamental rule of art is that an artist can demonstrate nothing about their work? The pieces Eliot and Joyce wrote about their works don't help us to understand them?

"It is just Bradbury has a fascination with books that manifests, with only a slight bias debunking TV. But the message is clear."

The message is clear. That's what makes it didactic instead of a matter of interpretation.

"This is not a dystopia though, people are happy."

That's part of what makes it a dystopia. A dystopia is a representation of a totalitarian regime which uses methods of social control while pretending to be utopic. Outwardly there is peace, there is a lack of want, there is a strong economy, and people tend to be pacified, if not actually satisfied with their lives. People are similarly pacified by drugs in Brave New World, which is another classic of dystopian literature.

"most TV is awfully mindless, especially reality TV."

So are most books, as I mention in my review, and they always have been. The majority of any medium is always mediocre.

The fact that Bradbury demonstrates only the negative aspects of television as a medium means that this is not a fair and balanced work interested in asking questions of the reader, it is one-sided and didactic.

". . . (keep in mind), the TV being broadcast in the early 50's was far from the quality of literature in books."

Didn't you just open by saying all that matters about a book is the text, and now you're bringing in social influences on the author's opinion into your analysis? If it's good enough for you, why protest when I do it?

In addition, there were a number of extremely sophisticated and artistic programs on television in the fifties, from cutting edge sci fi like The Outer Limits or The Quatermass Experiment to live productions of modernist plays.


message 72: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger "YES!!! if it is art, that is the golden rule of art!!!"

The fundamental rule of art is that an artist can demonstrate nothing about their work? The pieces Eliot and Joyce wrote about their works don't help us to understand them?

NO: the rule is you can't ask for the meaning from the artist.

The dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one. --Oxford. I would argue that only some of the things the government does in this novel are bad or malicious. Providing overall utilitarianism in the value sense: greatest amt of good for most ppl-- ie the environment is healthy, the people are, and most are not oppressed and are willing to be there and support it. A dystopia is not a extreme communist state (since all that is point of view).

The majority of books (mostly fiction) are of a higher standard usually then TV. Why? Most are manifestations of individual creativity and ideas, unlike TV. Which are more often company ideas. BUT: Bradbury doesn't debunk TV really, he debunks a form of mindless reality TV: the only kind that exist in his novel. Because all the artful TV was obviously banned. And since he leaves it at that and only explores books, the argument is irrelevant; unless you think reality TV was misrepresented.

"Didn't you just open by saying all that matters about a book is the text, and now you're bringing in social influences on the author's opinion into your analysis? If it's good enough for you, why protest when I do it?"

yeah I make this up as I go...

"In addition, there were a number of extremely sophisticated and artistic programs on television in the fifties, from cutting edge sci fi like The Outer Limits or The Quatermass Experiment to live productions of modernist plays."

I agree, my slip. But it is not part of Bradburys novel, since like I said, that kind of TV is not presented or interpreted in his novel.


message 73: by Traveller (last edited Mar 14, 2012 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller Jakob wrote: " You make a good point but I find that when a person creates art that art exists on its own independent from whatever purpose the artist had for it. Many artists and writers find that when they look at a completed work they often feel like someone else created it. That's how I like to look at it at least. I prefer not to be bound by the interpretations and intentions of someone else even if that person is the author..... [and ] ......Additionally I don't believe that the intention of the author is not important what I meant to say is that it should not limit a work. If an unknown diary of Shakespeare were to be discovered where..."

Keely wrote: "Certainly, a book is what we find in the text, but can't we be aided in our search by understanding the political, historical, philosophical, and literary traditions that surround the book? Is it f..."


Ah... the Formalists vs the New Critics. Personally, I see a bit of merit in both approaches. But certainly a work of art has merit beyond the intention of the creator thereof. (Which is the circumstance under discussion here- the author's comments, and nothing else about him, just his comments alone).

If you think carefully, you will realize there is truth in that.

Also, artists and writers can change their minds, and can also act in a way that obfuscates what their true intention was at the time of creation of their work.

*Traveller gets out her box of popcorn again, and continues to enjoy this thread.*


Keely "NO: the rule is you can't ask for the meaning from the artist."

Why?

"The dystopia: an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one."

That's a rather reductive definition, check out the wikipedia page on the term for a more in-depth analysis, which specifically mentions this book several times as an example.

"The majority of books (mostly fiction) are of a higher standard usually then TV."

This is a common misconception. If you took all the books published and selected one at random, chances are it would be a romance novel. Even in the Victorian period, there was already an idea of the 'trashy novel' which were on the whole more popular than the 'great books'. These sensationalistic books even prominently featured themes of sex, violence, and 'real life stories', so the notion of 'reality entertainment' is hardly a new idea.

"since he leaves it at that and only explores books, the argument is irrelevant; unless you think reality TV was misrepresented."

Television was misrepresented because he only showed one side. I don't recall him talking about the 'great educational shows' being banned. Also, he doesn't address the fact that most books are equally bad.

"yeah I make this up as I go..."

If you're going to hypocritically contradict yourself within the space of a single comment, that's your business, but I have no interest in having a discussion with someone who reverses their opinions whenever it's convenient. It invalidates everything you've said and it's insulting to both the books you discuss and the people with whom you discuss them.

". . . that kind of TV is not presented or interpreted in his novel."

And that's what makes it one-sided.

Traveller wrote: "Formalists vs the New Critics. Personally, I see a bit of merit in both approaches. But certainly a work of art has merit beyond the intention of the creator thereof."

New Historicist, but yes, same idea. I also value New Critical approaches like close reading, but I think it's foolish to ignore information about a book that might help us develop a better understanding.


Traveller Keely wrote: "New Historicist, but yes, same idea. I also value New Critical approaches like close reading, but I think it's foolish to ignore information about a book that might help us develop a better understanding. .."

Interestingly, a while back in another thread, I was actually defending against the New Critics approach of ONLY looking at the text itself, since I myself like to look at a text in it's historical and sociocultural context.

But the bottom line where I agree with the New Critics, is that if a text deals with purple monkeys and the author comes along 20 years later, at the age of 87, and says no, the text he wrote 20 years ago, actually deals with green grapes, I am going to digest the author's comment with at least some pinches of salt, and I'd first look at the text, if the text accommodates any "green grapes" interpretation.


Keely Definitely. It's silly to take the author's word over what is actually supportable in the text. At best, all you could say at that point is "if he intended to write a book about green grapes, he failed entirely".


Traveller Keely wrote: "Definitely. It's silly to take the author's word over what is actually supportable in the text. At best, all you could say at that point is "if he intended to write a book about green grapes, he fa..."

..or, barring that there is some magical surreal connection somewhere between purple monkeys and green grapes, that he's now rather old and its a long time since he wrote it... :P


message 78: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger Well I still got beef with some of what you say Keely, I just can't keep fighting this war of attrition, as reality called and wants me for college finals. But I'll have one last go before calling it in:

""NO: the rule is you can't ask for the meaning from the artist."

Why?"

It is a philosophical rule that doesn't always have to be true but surly think of it this way (or take a art appreciation class someday)... art is a medium of interpretations, spreading ideas through revelations of an artist's eye/image and often one who is dead, as good art must transcend the message through time (thus is why books are the chosen focus of F 451, as they carry/transcend better than TV, as least in this authors time of writing. Now if all art was to absorb the artist's idea and such information without the interpretations and revelations of looking or reading it yourself, then one could simply just hammer through a encyclopedia and never need the medium of the arts all together. That is the basic idea, so asking a artist what is about-- is doing just that in a way, you see. It might seem silly, but its the basic principle of art, which is in a lot of ways is a medium of persuasion, provoking, or coming to views by yourself. Otherwise why have art, I ask then?

"This is a common misconception. If you took all the books published and selected one at random, chances are it would be a romance novel. Even in the Victorian period, there was already an idea of the 'trashy novel' which were on the whole more popular than the 'great books'. These sensationalistic books even prominently featured themes of sex, violence, and 'real life stories', so the notion of 'reality entertainment' is hardly a new idea."

That is good notion, but the same could be said for TV, if I pulled an episode of any random show. I would probably get smut. (or maybe something quality like porn :) -- but, still the medium of literature is kept alive by the works that are great, and they are far more numerous and greater than the great works of TV (you have to admit that). Even so a romance smutty novel will usually offer more than a bad smutty TV show, just as a quality nature program will look not as literary significant next to a classic novel. So I still stand by books being a better medium on the hand that they can be less mainstream and an individuals ideas.

"Television was misrepresented because he only showed one side. I don't recall him talking about the 'great educational shows' being banned. Also, he doesn't address the fact that most books are equally bad."

I think he briefly covered, that all the good shows had left... I might be mistaken. Although I don't consider this to be very criminal mainly because of what I said above (and because he didn't know of star trek yet). And I don't think Bradbury was out to show TV a good one, I think his message was about media's reduction in a broader sense.

"It invalidates everything you've said and it's insulting to both the books you discuss and the people with whom you discuss them."

Well good sir, I'll have no discussion with someone who is so hasty to judge me on such accounts. I was merely trying to narrow are arguments topics alas... I didn't mean to hurt your feelings or any books.

". . . that kind of TV is not presented or interpreted in his novel."

And that's what makes it one-sided."

Leaving out elements doesn't necessarily make a book one-sided. It is hard to make the call that omission means that Bradbury didn't give something a fair trail. We can't pull words or arguments that aren't there.

And although we disagree, I respect your arguments, you may have as many final words as you like. I know have to study for finals... a bid you well. Sorry to end, for you and for those watching lol.


message 79: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger "That's a rather reductive definition, check out the wikipedia page on the term for a more in-depth analysis, which specifically mentions this book several times as an example."

Thank you, I did. However I stand by interoperation. And I think one must recognize that the term is relatively new, strictly made up 200 years after the word utopia came and was to mean the reverse of that words meaning. Thus it is interpretive, a dystopia can vary greatly depending on the society or even individuals point of view.


message 80: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger interoperation = interpretation


Keely "take a art appreciation class someday"

I have, and I am familiar with modes and schools of critical analysis, I just don't think the New Critical or Post-Structuralist philosophies are entirely defensible--particularly as New Criticism was trying to turn criticism into a science yet wanted to detach it from historical analysis and other methods of gathering pertinent data.

"good art must transcend the message through time (thus is why books are the chosen focus of F 451, as they carry/transcend better than TV, as least in this authors time of writing."

Once again, you have revealed a fundamental conflict in your own analysis. You say works must transcend time, which is why we cannot go to the authors to understand them, and then, you try to support your claim by going directly to the influence of the period on the author and his writing.

You are not following your own 'golden rule'. You are trying to use an argument based on period and author intention to explain why books must transcend period and author intention. It does not 'hurt my feelings' that you would try to make such a self-defeating argument, it hurts my brain.

I'm used to running into people on Goodreads who naively make such mistakes, but when I confronted you and you said "I make this up as I go along", it suggests that you are being willfully self-contradictory because you do not have a solid basis for argument.

"if all art was to absorb the artist's idea and such information without the interpretations and revelations of looking or reading it yourself . . ."

Do you really think it's possible not to have your own interpretation of the text? Do you think that a person who sat down and talked about the book with the author would actually understand the book in the same way the author does? I'm not talking about taking on the author's entire understanding--I don't think that's possible--I'm talking about using the author as a guide to analysis.

We talk about books. We talk about their meanings, about what is supported by the text, and what is not. We look at books based on the period when they were written, the things the author experienced, the social and economic spheres that produced them--we are already going to the author when we look at a book.

Since we can discuss books and make arguments about what they mean, we can also have people who are experts and who teach us. These are people who have spent a great deal of time going over the book, thinking about it, analyzing it, and building arguments about what it represents. If we allow them to be authorities on the book, then surely the author is also an authority on the book, since he has also spent a great deal of time conceptualizing and rereading the text, and he is bound to have some notions and insights.

I'm not saying the author is the same as the text, or that he can replace the text, I'm saying that he is a source for us to tap, a teacher who can help to guide us in our approaches--to realize connections we might have missed.

"still the medium of literature is kept alive by the works that are great, and they are far more numerous and greater than the great works of TV"

In terms of pure volume, sure, but that's only because there are more books, period. They have been around longer so people have had more time to make good ones. Yet I maintain that the percentage of bad to good is similar for television and books, that there is something like 1 good book for every ninety-nine bad ones, and one good show for every ninety nine bad ones.

So if there were a hundred million books, there would be one million good ones and nine hundred million bad ones. If there were comparably a hundred thousand television shows, there would be a thousand good ones and ninety-nine thousand bad ones. So looked at this way, there are more good books than good shows, but there are also more bad books than there are television shows, altogether.

"I still stand by books being a better medium on the hand that they can be less mainstream and an individuals ideas."

Actually, that is precisely the reason that I would say that a bad book is likely to be much worse than a bad TV show. A work that is solely made by one individual will only be good if that individual is extremely talented. If they are not talented, then it will mean their work will be wholly terrible, and the average person is not very talented.

Imagine an average person has a story they want to tell. It's unoriginal, it has an author surrogate protagonist, it goes off constantly on opinionated tangents, it is full of plot holes. If this person pitches the idea as a tv show, there are going to be a lot of people who see it and make judgments on whether or not to make it. If it does get made, the script doctors, directors, and actors will each add their own interpretation and try to mitigate the author's flaws.

If that person decides to write it as a book, then it will just be full of their bad judgments and preconceptions. The fact that it is an individual work means that few people will second guess it (just the editor). This is a great setup for the one percent of genius writers who have a driving vision, but it's terrible for the average author.

An author might get published if their book has a good chance of selling five-thousand copies, which is a pretty low threshold of success. A TV show, on the other hand, requires much more time and investment and has a much greater cost for failure, so the people who make them tend to be more wary.

"It is hard to make the call that omission means that Bradbury didn't give something a fair trail. We can't pull words or arguments that aren't there."

No, it's easy to argue that he doesn't give them a fair trial, because we can't pull arguments that aren't there. In a fair trial, we get unbiased witnesses for both sides who give considered testimony. Take away the witnesses for one side and you get an unfair depiction of events. It is precisely because he leaves things out that we can call the depiction one-sided.

Bradbury is a speculative author looking at the future. It is his job to see trends in the history of human growth and expand them. He almost certainly knew that the medium of the novel was originally considered trashy, and novels were only written by below-average writers motivated by sales and mass production. He should have recognized that television was a young medium, and was limited only by the talent of those who made shows.

Perhaps he did realize this--after all, he did have his own television series (if you'll excuse me for going to the author)--but if so, he failed to represent it in this book. Either he failed to write what he intended, which is possible, since he wrote the book in a marathon session to make some money, or he wrote precisely what he meant and purposefully created a one-sided case. Either way, I consider it a failure when a speculative author, writing in a medium only recently freed from the gutter, then goes on to condemn the next upcoming medium because it's in the same position.

"Thus it is interpretive, a dystopia can vary greatly depending on the society or even individuals point of view."

I don't think you're going to find many people who will agree that 'dystopia' is that open to interpretation. If you define it as a place where 'everything is bad', you end up discounting at most of the canon of books that make up the subgenre. In foundational books like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World, they are depicting the terrible reality that no matter how bad things get, some people are still going to be oblivious, and people will start getting used to it. The fact that they aren't miserable in no way lessens the emptiness of their existence, it's just representational of the psychological control the tyrannical government forces. In that sense, the fact that people are happy with it is bad.


message 82: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Ruhsenberger Keely you are very intelligent, and insightful; and I like that. I would also recommend you read The Beautiful and The Damned (Fitzgerald), it's a good book, if you haven't read it yet. It was life-changing for me in a lot of ways.

I try not to contradict myself, and I would explain why I believe I am not, but all human language is up for interpretation, so any valid argument can be made for any side, and thus we could cycle for the rest of our lives :)...

Goodnight... tomorrow I take a trip to go see the Grand Canyon. (Still got some packing to do.)


Keely Thanks for the suggestion. I'll keep an eye out.

It's true that there is a lot of leeway for interpretation, but I think you'd agree it's not entirely open. It would be nonsensical for someone to claim a 'dystopia' was a children's book about learning the alphabet, so there is clearly a baseline for what is reasonable, and from that, I've found it's possible for two people to come to agreement on a subject by testing various interpretations and seeing which is the most valid. There are certainly some arguments which could cycle for a lifetime, but I don't see the definition of the dystopian genre as being quite that fraught.

Enjoy your trip.


message 84: by Traveller (last edited Jul 27, 2012 10:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller Keely wrote: "Actually, that is precisely the reason that I would say that a bad book is likely to be much worse than a bad TV show. A work that is solely made by one individual will only be good if that individual is extremely talented. If they are not talented, then it will mean their work will be wholly terrible, and the average person is not very talented..[...].. An author might get published if their book has a good chance of selling five-thousand copies, which is a pretty low threshold of success. A TV show, on the other hand, requires much more time and investment and has a much greater cost for failure, so the people who make them tend to be more wary. "

..and that is precisely the reason why good TV shows tend to be just average; - since they need to be viewed by a lot of people to "make it", they also have to cater to the lowest common denominator. Books can get away with catering for niches more easily, for the reasons you mentioned.

I'm not disputing, however, that it also means that bad book can be worse than bad TV shows, I'm just saying it makes it possible for more variety when we get to literature (printed material in general - "books", literature, and other printed material) as a medium, as opposed to television as a medium.


Keely Certainly true. A book adheres to the vision of a single person (except for the changes the editor suggests), which means that an author with a singular and powerful vision will be difficult to translate to a medium like television which requires the cooperation of many different individuals, but a book whose vision is already somewhat limited can be much improved by the added depth of different creative views.

Thanks for the comment.


Chuckaknight I feel obligated. It was a good book and I had fun reading it.


Nathan I feel as though the evidence you present in regards to Mr. Bradbury's "intended" message is inherently flawed. Although it comes from the lips of the man himself, I think the Ray Bradbury of the 1950's would take issue with the points made in the aforementioned interview. I do not contest that he did not intend the book to be about censorship (although obviously his afterword was, which probably is what causes much of the confusion).

Furthermore, the flashpoint of paper has been shown to be 451 degrees fahrenheit in various studies, however it is a highly inconstant figure overall due to variances in paper's components and additives. In any case pointing this out at the start of your review is a bit of a strawman argument. In other words, who cares? It is not as though the novel is hard sci-fi, in which the author would explain to you the exact principles of thermodynamics behind the way a fireman's fire consumes a library.

As to Bradbury "(mistaking) the medium for the message", he speaks of the masses moving away from books of learning and insight, regressing to unimportant texts, and then finally to no reading at all. And when the novel talks of the books lost to the blaze, I see the like of Shakespeare, Faulkner, Thoreau, Marcus Aurelius, and Plato. I don't see the likes of Fifty Shades of Gray upon the pyre, do you?

I will also point out that your own message appears to be "doubly mixed" as you both point out that TV isn't all bad, while criticizing the author for having a TV show. I'd much rather watch Ray Bradbury's Theater than the thousands of "reality" programs which form the miasma that we know as popular television.

On top of it all, Bradbury's novel carries with it many messages, including the tragic pace which most of society could let knowledge slip from its collective grasp.

The question is are you reviewing the novel in light of itself? Or are you perhaps viewing it by the strange luminescence of a interview conducted over a half-century after the book was written?


Keely "It is not as though the novel is hard sci-fi, in which the author would explain to you the exact principles of thermodynamics behind the way a fireman's fire consumes a library."

No, he doesn't have to explain thermodynamics. He doesn't have to put in facts or numbers. That's one of the nice things about fiction, he can make up his own story.

However, if an author goes out of their way to include a fact that is inaccurate, I would consider that folly, especially because they chose to include it in the first place. For me, it is representative of how rushed and thoughtless this book is, written as it was over a few days to meet a deadline.

"I don't see the likes of Fifty Shades of Gray upon the pyre, do you?"

No, which is precisely the problem. He's putting books on a pedestal above other media, despite the fact that there have always been trash books, and more trashy ones than good ones. In his world, 'books' are only the good sort, and television only the bad sort. It's an oversimplification, and that's what I mean by 'medium for the message', we're being shown levels of inherent quality to forms of media instead of focusing on the real issue: their content.

"you both point out that TV isn't all bad, while criticizing the author for having a TV show"

I am judging Bradbury by his own standards. I think television is a perfectly good medium which creative people can use to make art. I do not begrudge Bradbury working in television, I am merely pointing out that a man who writes a book about how TV is evil yet who has a TV show would seem to be flirting with hypocrisy.

"are you reviewing the novel in light of itself?"

I found the novel to be vague, rushed, and lacking in insight. I do not think the theme of personal freedom is well-explored. It is easy for a critic to read into, but that doesn't mean it is actually well-supported in the text.

My discussion of Bradbury's own conflict with the book and how it has been received is meant to underscore my general view of the book: that it is vague and pliant and that its messages are muddied. If an author means to write a book about cats, but everyone thinks it is about dogs, that is a failure in communication, and a writer cannot afford to fail to communicate.

In my mind, the common modern analysis of this work is not well-supported by the text, itself.


message 89: by Will (last edited Jul 28, 2012 05:34PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV I don't think Bradbury was saying TV is evil, only that it could be. If everyone stopped reading, but TV still expressed differing opinions on the world and still provided insight, then that wouldn't lead to the dystopia of Fahrenheit 451. Yet if people stopped reading, and the powers that be seized upon this to stifle the intellectual curiosity of humans and to ultimately control the masses into dull, accepting drones only capable of thinking about the next thrill, then that would be scary, and a worthy commentary to think about. It's much the same way in which other works of Dystopia that are critical of certain governments don't say governments are evil, only that they could be if taken down a certain road.

I also don't think the time it took to write something is an indication of its value. Isaac Asimov averaged almost 7 books a year, and these books were much, much longer than Fahrenheit 451. I can't be bothered to do the math, but I wouldn't be surprised if it averaged out to be about a "Fahrenheit 451" equivalent in length every few days (and he kept this up for 75 years). Regardless, the initial point stands.

My last comment is on the title that you mention is incorrect. But from what I understand, the confusion comes from whether he's talking about the "flash" point or the "ignition" temperature.

From a graduate textbook on combustion:
http://books.google.com/books?id=-onC...

From a scientifically peer-reviewed journal:
http://nautilus.fis.uc.pt/personal/mf...

From a slightly less scientific journal for fire investigators:
http://www.tcforensic.com.au/docs/art...

So perhaps his title wasn't lazy, merely using a different method of measuring "combustion temperature." Your own link gives a much lower "flash point" temperature and all sorts of science texts seem to conflict each other on this, indicating a creative license to provide a number which rings catchy for the author. So, in light of this, I think it's unfair to call the title an "oversimplification."

(As an aside, I promise I'm not stalking your reviews, haha. Your reviews just happen to be at the top of the goodreads page of the books I've recently finished.)


Keely "Will Iv I don't think Bradbury was saying TV is evil, only that it could be."

I never felt that the fairly straightforward presentation of TV in the book allowed for this more nuanced implication. I agree that it's possible to take that message away, but I don't think it is well-supported or fully-explored within the text itself. I feel readers tend to give this book more credit than it deserves, and that if those arguments are there, they are only lightly referenced and not as central as they should be, considering that the role of books and television are primary to the story.

. . . in light of this, I think it's unfair to call the title an "oversimplification."

I might point out that my textual reference for the burning point is contemporary with Bradbury's writing, while yours are from recent years. Bradbury must have gotten his number from somewhere, and the popularity of the book has perpetuated the idea that '451 Fahrenheit' is correct. I do not dispute your references, but they also do not lend credibility to Bradbury or his process.

"Your reviews just happen to be at the top of the goodreads page of the books I've recently finished."

Well, blame the voters for that. Just goes to show that you can't trust the results of the democratic process.


message 91: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV Keely wrote: "I feel readers tend to give this book more credit than it deserves, and that if those arguments are there, they are only lightly referenced and not as central as they should be, considering that the role of books and television are primary to the story."

Yes, he left much unexplored. I think that might actually be why I felt so moved by it. Bradbury just left a spark, something to think about and something deeply disturbing. I couldn't help but be moved by the character's actions and how he broke free. To me, this was what I latched onto, more than any transcendent message or whatnot.

Keely wrote: "I might point out that my textual reference for the burning point is contemporary with Bradbury's writing, while yours are from recent years."

That's a good point. For some reason, even if it was way way off, it wouldn't bother me at all. I can absolutely see why it would bother you, though.


Keely wrote: "Well, blame the voters for that. Just goes to show that you can't trust the results of the democratic process. "

Haha no way, your reviews are almost always top quality even when I don't agree. I can't stand this Goodreads review trend where ever couple of lines are interjected with pictures and memes and jokes like it's a Cracked article or something. Ugh.


Keely "I think that might actually be why I felt so moved by it. Bradbury just left a spark, something to think about and something deeply disturbing."

Yeah, that was my problem with it: there was this interesting notion there, but it isn't central to the book. I never really felt that he dealt with the ideas he brought up. I'm not saying I wanted answers or one definitive view, I just wanted to see a more nuanced and many-sided exploration of that 'spark of an idea'.

"I can't stand this Goodreads review trend where ever couple of lines are interjected with pictures and memes and jokes like it's a Cracked article or something."

Well, that's what sells. It's what I would start doing if I wanted to be top-rated.


message 93: by Scribble (new)

Scribble Orca Keely wrote: "Well, that's what sells. It's what I would start doing if I wanted to be top-rated."

Please don't. And in any case, the sagacity of your text would prevent it.


message 94: by Traveller (last edited Aug 02, 2012 12:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Traveller G N wrote: "Keely wrote: "Well, that's what sells. It's what I would start doing if I wanted to be top-rated."

Please don't. And in any case, the sagacity of your text would prevent it."


I used to feel the same way and never even used to use italics in my reviews.

Then i tried it once just for fun, (well, actually, if you're reviewing a picture-book, images can add to the value of your review) and i've found that looking for the correct images can sometimes be quite challenging; not to mention that a picture speaks a thousand words.

However, i agree about reviews which rely on the gimmick value of placing a few inane GIFs.

Also agreed that it certainly wouldn't fit in with Keely's reviewing style.


Keely Well, I'd have to write in a different style, yeah. I'd leave out the literary terms, rely more on jokes and sarcasm, and never write more than about a half page. Luckily for my current fans, I find that a pretty unsatisfying way to write.


Jonathan I don't think I can imagine you resorting to a cheap gimmick haha. It's either that my imagination is severely limited or the likelihood of that happening is vast.


Nathan "However, if an author goes out of their way to include a fact that is inaccurate, I would consider that folly, especially because they chose to include it in the first place. For me, it is representative of how rushed and thoughtless this book is, written as it was over a few days to meet a deadline."
You reiterate, and yet the fact is that the flashpoint of paper can be 451 degrees. Below are two sources (and there are many) that corroborate this fact.

http://www.unesco.org/webworld/ramp/html/r9214e/r9214e04.htm
http://library.thinkquest.org/C003603/english/forestfires/causesoffire.shtml


Keely I worry that those references are influenced by the popularity of this book, since they are recent. Sometimes pieces of misinformation can become culturally pervasive, and it can be difficult to pick out the truth of the matter after the fact.


Nathan Keely wrote: "I worry that those references are influenced by the popularity of this book, since they are recent. Sometimes pieces of misinformation can become culturally pervasive, and it can be difficult to pi..."

A more academic (yet recent) source:http://books.google.com/books?id=-onCX7u4_VcC&pg=PA93#v=onepage&q&f=false

Regarding your source:
"Several Internet contrarians claim that Bradbury confused Celsius and Fahrenheit, putting his estimate off by 391 Fahrenheit degrees. They cite as evidence the Handbook of Physical Testing of Paper, which lists paper’s ignition temperature as 450 degrees Celsius. (Wikipedia cites the same source.) It’s not entirely clear how this number was arrived at, but it is an extreme outlier. The author appears to have used paper made with rayon or cotton, which could have a different auto-ignition temperature from pure wood pulp paper, but 450 degrees Celsius still sounds wrong. It’s also possible that the experimenters didn’t wait long enough or that they (and not Bradbury) switched Celsius and Fahrenheit." -Brian Palmer, Slate.com


message 100: by Keely (new) - rated it 3 stars

Keely Based on the quote I went and checked out that Slate article--interesting stuff. Apparently it's been a point of contention for quite some time. I'll have to change a few words around.


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