26. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

This intriguing opening sentence starts one of the greatest science fiction novels ever created. For this review, there is no holding back the sheer joy I experienced from rereading one of my favorite books from one of my favorite writers. Some books you read and eventually forget, while others are written all over your mind and body. Fahrenheit 451 is a novel I fondly remember from my childhood. This is a novel of pure philosophy set in a bleak future where firemen burn books as reading is considered the severest crime. My childhood self could not get enough of this novel, and upon finishing I begged my mother to buy Something Wicked This Way Comes. After all these years, would Bradbury’s dystopian novel still hold traces of childlike magic for me?

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

There are some books that will forever remain in my collection. I love my copy of Fahrenheit 451 as it looks like a rescue from a fire. With its frayed cover and wrinkled pages, I value this book higher than some of the most expensive books on my shelves. Ray Bradbury was an important part of my childhood with his stories that were amazing and filled with childlike wonder. This is a writer who dreamed big with his eyes wide open, and that sense of curiosity comes across in every page of his novels and short stories. I typically include at least one quote in my reviews, and I found it quite challenging with Fahrenheit 451 as there is a beautiful quote on practically every page. This will definitely be a review with multiple quotes as I struggled to find just the right one.

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”

Guy Montag is a fireman whose job is to burn books. Reading is forbidden as literature is viewed as the source of all strife and unhappiness. All houses are fireproof, and stories of firemen who actually put out fires have been reduced as nothing more than ridiculous fantasies. The world is placed in a mindless state, and electronic media pervades every household. Three-dimensional television programs that allow its audience to participate are commonplace in this world, and Montag’s wife Mildred spends her hours immersed in media when she’s not popping sleeping pills. One night while walking home, Montag encounters a teenage girl named Clarisse. He doesn’t know what to make of her free-spirited behaviors and sense of curiosity. Her question on whether or not he’s happy gives Montag plenty to think about as it starts him down a path of contemplating his place in life. He begins to question his own happiness and soon begins hiding books inside his house.

I was so impressed with the world Bradbury created and the frightening similarities to our own world. Free thought is discouraged, owning books is a crime, and human beings have become dependent on technology feeding them what they want to hear. Everyone is lulled into a false state of comfort. Simple pleasures have been forgotten, such as walking barefoot on grass, climbing trees, or sitting on the porch talking to neighbors. In fact nobody talks to anyone else as shown by the fractured relationship Guy has with Mildred. This is a fast paced-world where cars drive so fast that billboards have to be miles and miles long just so people can read them! Murder has become routine as anyone who does not quite fit into this society’s mold is eradicated. The suicide rate is so high that physicians no longer get involved; instead they just send techs. After reading this book, I felt so sad thinking about how society has degenerated closer to this vision of the world. Kids have become zombies on their games and phones, and families don’t converse like they used to do. Bradbury recognized the dangerous path society was already heading down.

The pace of this book can at times be quite frantic. The wording often creates a very bizarre and dreamlike state to mirror the way this world works. I enjoy it, but I also realize it might not be for everyone. I’m sure at the time it was written that Bradbury’s little novel raised many questions. Will technology eventually replace free thought? Are we moving towards a society where knowledge is replaced by mindless entertainment?

Through keeping the story narrowed down to just a few characters, Bradbury managed to create an extremely claustrophobic feel that really highlights the bleak world these people inhabit. This is not what I would consider a character driven novel. Although the characters are interesting, there was definitely room for fleshing them out further. I found the character of Beatty the fire captain to be the most compelling. Considering his extensive knowledge of literature, there was definitely more to his story than what we are told. However, that’s part of the beauty in the writing. It is left to us the audience to draw connections rather than have them blatantly handed to us.

“That’s the wonderful thing about man; he never gets so discouraged or disgusted that he gives up doing it all over again, because he knows very well it is important and WORTH the doing.”

Unlike most of today’s modern dystopian thrillers, this one doesn’t just end with everything getting happily resolved. The world on the final page is still just as bleak as it was from the opening line. Actually, I take that back. There’s hope, which is a fairly powerful word. I love how Bradbury took risks with the story that wouldn’t have worked in today’s dystopian literature. For example, we wouldn’t have been left wondering about the fate of Clarisse. If this book had been written by one of today’s writers, she most likely have been an integral part of the story throughout or ended up in the rebel camp. Sorry if I’ve spoiled anything for you. Trust me when I say it won’t affect your enjoyment of the book.

I’m counting Fahrenheit 451 as a classic with a number in the title for the Back to the Classics Challenge. So did this novel still hold the same magic for me as it did when I was a child? Actually, it was even more magical for me now.

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Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

SnapShorts: be careful what you wish for

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The advertisement made claims like “the moment you take possession of this love charm, you will feel confidence like you wouldn’t believe” and “others will find you irresistible and discover unique qualities they hadn’t noticed before.”

She paid an extra $12.95 for the two-day delivery deal.

When it arrived on her doorstep, she immediately removed the pendant from its envelope and put it around her neck eager for the magic to transform her.

The boys will look at me the way they look at my sister, she thought.

As she started walking down the street, she noticed that everyone stopped in their tracks to watch her completely mesmerized by the most beautiful creature they had ever seen.

All the attention she started getting was flattering. Soon she was getting more calls than her sister from the boys at their school. The mailbox was stuffed with love letters and cards. She had all the confidence in the world. She wore the charm to bed every night.

Soon men were showing up in the middle of the night to see her. The police were called several times.

During a stroll with her boyfriend one night, he became violent. She refused to run away with him and he chased her. She escaped but not before ripping the love charm from around her neck and tossing it to the ground.

It still lies in the middle of those woods unclaimed but working its magic around those that happen to pass by.

A young man proposed to a woman he had only known for a few short days during a hike.

A college student uncertain of his future stepped over it and immediately went home to write a novel that made it to the bestseller list.

If you happen to be walking in these woods, you might feel a surge of confidence yourself. Be sure to hold on to that feeling for as long as you can.

25. ‘After Dark’ by Haruki Murakami

There are some writers whose books I must immediately grab when I see them for sale at my favorite bookstore. Of course Murakami is at the top of that list. So far, I’ve reviewed two of his novels-1Q84 and Sputnik Sweetheartas well as his excellent short story collection The Elephant VanishesThere are a few others I’ve read prior to starting this site, such as my two favorites The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. While After Dark won’t rank as my favorite Murakami by far, I still found it enjoyable for the compelling ways that the author brings you into the story.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

It was about 4-5 years ago that I first started getting into Murakami. In many ways, I’m glad that I discovered the author at this point in my life. I don’t think teenage me would have appreciated his particular style. Over the past few years, I’ve become better read having sampled so many more writers than I did in my teens and even my twenties. Experiencing a book by Murakami is truly a unique journey from anything else you will ever read. I think After Dark works as a great introduction to Murakami newbies because it is one of his shorter works and it also tones down some of the elements of magical realism and fantasy to allow a sharper focus on the interactions between the characters. It’s a great book to get an understanding of Murakami’s unique writing style.

“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature-or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms.”

Murakami never ceases to surprise me. While After Dark does contain all the typical elements one might find in one of his works, it’s the presentation itself here that is different. I like to refer to this book as Murakami’s “film to book” adaptation because this story is truly like a movie being converted into novel form. This book is set within one night from a few minutes to midnight until dawn. The narration is written from an almost third person omniscient point-of-view in the form of an imaginary video camera:

“Our viewpoint takes the form of a midair camera that can move freely about the room. At the moment, the camera is situated directly above the bed and is focused on her sleeping face.”

The effect on the reader is that it keeps you as an outsider watching events unfold in real time. Every chapter is setup as a scene in a film with details such as the food the characters are eating to the background music. Of course, this being a Murakami novel there has to be a significant amount of detail given to food and music, two of the author’s passions. The result of the unique method of narration creates a window for the reader, always outside looking in and never able to directly connect to the characters. Considering this book is all about the struggles of interpersonal connections, it works well here.

After Dark is about two sisters named Mari and Eri Asai. Most of the action follows Mari as her quiet night of reading in a Denny’s is constantly interrupted by a variety of strange characters. First, she meets Takahashi a law student who is also in a jazz band. The two are connected by Mari’s sister Eri. Throughout the night, Mari becomes involved with a retired wrestler who now runs a “love hotel,” a Chinese prostitute, and a violent man named Shirakawa. Meanwhile, Eri is in a deep sleep being haunted by a mysterious man inside of a television set.

I thought the themes in this book were very interesting. Through this story about people’s activities in the middle of the night, Murakami poses questions regarding the darkness inside all of us as well as how nighttime can open the door to all manner of bizarre occurrences. These themes are nothing new for readers of Murakami, but what really impressed me was how complex he could create a story using such a simple plot. The concept of night is used to great effect in showing people literally emerging into the light. Murakami also touches on the opposing forces of connection/disconnection through the interactions of the characters.

As always, there are no simple solutions to a Murakami book. You are left to form your own interpretations and resolutions to the events that unfold. This is a writer who can definitely capture that same feeling you would get while watching a David Lynch film. I loved all of the symbolism, from the concept of night to the sleeping beauty character. Murakami is a master at dialogue and really gives us a lot to think about in regards to our relationships. This book gets my vote for the Murakami novel that would be easiest to translate into a film.

If you are a first-timer to this writer, then I suggest either this or Sputnik Sweetheart. For straight up realism, then read Norwegian Wood. You will find yourself thinking about his work long after the sun rises.

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Have you read this book? Please comment below.

SnapShorts: little friends

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

I found the knights for sale at a thrift store for a dollar. They were so thankful for being freed from that plastic bag that they got down on their knees to swear their allegiance to me. Feeling sorry for them, I bought a small pewter castle for them which now sets on the top of my desk.

Sir Edward, the noblest of the five, stands at the corner of my bed every night as I sleep. A champion swordsman, he promises to protect me from any dragons or wizards that would wish me harm. So far, there has been neither, but he has managed to keep the cat from jumping on my bed and waking me up.

The two brothers, Sir Tristan and Sir Thomas, often practice their sword fighting on the top of my nightstand. I usually have to rescue one of them from the trash can when I come home from work.

Sir Frederick missed the days of great quests, so he set out to battle a mythical creature he saw  under my bed. I think it was just a spider. I hope he returns safely.

Sir Godfrey, the oldest of the five knights, feels it necessary to educate on the codes of chivalry. He insists on going with me everywhere. I keep him in the front pocket of my purse. He’s fine with this mode of travel providing he has a thimble of brandy to pass the time between teachings. At night when I’m trying to sleep, Sir Godfrey likes to tell tales from the old times and his heroic deeds before the wizard’s curse affected them. Sometimes, I feel sorry for them being stuck this small.

Sometimes I want to find a cure to reverse the curse. Most times, I don’t out of fear they would leave me if they ever returned to normal.

24. ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert

I was in the mood for classic science fiction, so I selected Dune as my next book. Normally I avoid large series because I worry I won’t finish them due to the huge commitment required (I still have the first book in the mammoth Wheel of Time series sitting on my nightstand). Dune by Frank Herbert is heralded as the pinnacle of classic science fiction. I have fond memories of watching the David Lynch movie version back in my younger days (one of the rare instances where I watched the film before reading the book). One of the first works of science fiction I ever watched, I remember being blown away by the sheer scope and beauty of the film. A winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, Dune recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Despite being labeled as “science fiction,” Dune is so much more as it is also a detailed family saga, a political thriller, and a philosophical/religious treatise that is truly epic and beautifully executed under Herbert’s carefully guided pen.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Dune follows Paul Atreides, a boy who leaves his home planet of Caladan with his parents to live on the barren desert planet of Arrakis where water is scarce but an ancient spice known as melange is plentiful. His father is the head of House Atreides and a respected leader among the other great Houses. Paul’s mother is the Lady Jessica, the Duke’s concubine who is also the member of a powerful group of women known as the Bene Gesserit. These women are trained in the nuances of human behaviors and possess powerful abilities, such as uncovering lies and controlling others with just their voices.

Paul has been trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit with many believing he may be the the subject of an ancient prophecy as the one male who will be powerful in their abilities. The young Atreides heir also has been trained by his father’s men, some of the galaxy’s best warriors. The enemies of their family are the Harkonnens who are led by Baron Vladimir, someone who is so grossly overweight that he relies on anti-gravity devices for movement. After someone close to House Atreides betrays them to the Harkonnens, Paul’s father is killed and he and his mother are believed dead somewhere on Arrakis. In this inhospitable world, Paul must grow up quickly as he joins forces with the native Fremen population to become the ruler he was destined to become.

I loved the epic world-building that Herbert accomplishes with Dune. It would take hours for me to begin to sum up all of the ecology, politics, and philosophy that comprise this story. Trust me when I say it is quite absorbing. There are so many little details behind every scene in this book. Not only is the world of Arrakis beautifully rendered, but the characters are as well. I really enjoyed the political intrigue behind every character’s actions. As readers, we are never left in suspense as we are privy to the inner thoughts of all of the characters and are aware of events that the characters themselves don’t even know yet. I thought this approach worked well for this type of story because it allows us to already know each character’s motives without having to guess. We can just immerse ourselves in the action. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Although Dune is under 500 pages, Herbert packs a lot of detailed information. Some parts are admittedly slower than others, but you are left with enough to keep you hooked until the end.

Of course, I have to mention the sandworms. These bad ass creatures are an important element to the story as well as a lot of fun to watch onscreen. I particularly loved the characters being able to ride them. Just this scene where Paul rides a sandworm for the first time is told in such lush detail. Through the natives of Arrakis, Herbert has made sure to give a through background into their ways and beliefs. Since water is limited, the Fremen rely on wearing special suits that recycle their bodies’ own moisture.

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Another aspect that I really quite enjoyed was how there was a greater reliance on human abilities than on technology. The powers of the body and mind hold greater value than on futuristic equipment. Even the fighting styles are developed based on ancient ways.

Is Dune still relevant more than fifty years later? My answer is an astounding yes. The incredible detailed work on both setting and characters is what has allowed this book to remain at the top of science fiction lists today. Despite all of this incredible detail, I never felt like Herbert was wasting time with unnecessary scenes. Every chapter served a purpose in working towards the climax. While reading Dune, I could see its influence on future works. The political backstabbings  are reminiscent of those we would see later in Game of Thrones. One cannot help but notice the similarities between Herbert’s work and that of George Lucas with Star Wars. 

I’m using this review as my entry for an award-winning classic for the Back to the Classics challenge. I look forward to going out and purchasing the second book in this series. Trust me when I tell you that you have not read science fiction until you have read Dune. 

“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”

 

Have you read this book? Please comment below.