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'Fahrenheit 451' is still a hot read

FAHRENHEIT 451, by Ray Bradbury, Quality Paperback for Ballantine Books, 191 pages,

Pick up the nearest book. Light a match. Bring the two together. Normally, fire and paper don't make a very good pair; one consumes the other, rendering it useless. The words blend in with the ash-blackened paper as the flame dances across the pages.

And everything is OK.

Don't worry, you're in the future alongside Guy Montag, a fireman. But this fireman doesn't help you put out the book fire, he helps you start it. Because that is the time in which Montag lives. A time when books are illegal. So a special group of firemen respond. People hide from the written word because it is dangerous. The written word makes people think, and the government doesn't want that.

Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" was originally published 50 years ago. Bradbury, now 83 years old, has written more than 30 books, and Nazi book burnings and the U.S. anti-Communist frenzy inspired "Fahrenheit 451," which remains a quickly read, hard-to-put-down novel.

Watch as Guy Montag discovers that books "are flesh-and-blood ideas and cry out silently when put to the torch." This discovery turns dangerous for Montag, the anti-book symbol of his city. Watch as he flees a firestorm he creates for his very own life.

What is more dangerous, however, is the thinking of nearly every character in this book that it is dangerous for the people to think. They live in an age of control and submission, an age not too far removed from our age. The firemen's job in "451" smacks of Nazi Germany and the infamous images of Hitler's followers tossing book after book into the inferno. How many great works were lost? How much knowledge? How many words?

An important thing books like this do is remind us of how important it is to have access to ideas. Thankfully, with the Internet, those ideas are becoming accessible to almost everyone, and the destruction of books for that purpose seems less imminent.

But the more we rely on instant entertainment found on television and the Internet, the less we crack open the classics. We let Shakespeare, Melville, the Bronte sisters, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe and all of their works become a dream, a fleeting whisper from the past. We ignore those who shaped the world through the art of writing. This is what Bradbury reminds us. This is what he wants us to know.

And if we let those classics slip away, we might as well be putting a torch to them as well. That flame is 451 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature at which book paper burns.


E-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com