Today is the birthday of Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was born in Illinois in 1920 and later moved to Los Angeles where he graduated high school in 1938. After high school he educated himself, spending long hours roaming the stacks in the public library.
He began writing full time in 1943, publishing a number of short stories in various periodicals. His first success came in 1950 when he published The Martian Chronicles, a novel made up of a number of his short stories about the human colonization of Mars (1).
On October 19, 1953, he published his most popular and critically acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dark future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, firemen answer calls to burn illegal caches of books. The main character is one of these firemen, Guy Montag. Instead of reading, the general public immerse themselves in pleasure, watching television screens that take up three of the four walls in their homes and listening to seashell radios that fit in their ears. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, Guy Montag begins to question his job and the entire status quo of the society in which he lives. He begins to become curious about the books he’s burning. However, Montag’s curiosity and his books betray him, and the firemen one day arrive to burn his home and his books.
Montag flees the city and comes upon a group of educated but homeless men who each memorize a great work of literature or philosophy. When the time comes to return to the city and rebuild civilization from the ashes of burned books, these men will be ready to play their part. Montag will join them with his book, Ecclesiastes.
Bradbury published over 30 books, almost 600 short stories, as well as a number of poems, essays, and plays. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his most read book, his short stories are published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.
Fahrenheit 451 began as a short story called “The Fireman” published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine in 1950. Bradbury’s publisher then asked him to expand the story into a novel in 1953. The first draft of the novel was completed in a typing room located in the basement of the University of California Library. The typewriter was on a timer connected to a change slot. For one dime Bradbury got thirty minutes of typing. (He spent $9.80 to complete the first draft).
When he wasn’t typing furiously against the clock, Bradbury would go upstairs to explore the library:
There I strolled, lost in love, down the corridors, and through the stacks, touching books, pulling volumes out, turning pages, thrusting volumes back, drowning in all the good stuffs that are the essence of the libraries. What a place, don’t you agree, to write a novel about burning books in the Future.
Bradbury had more than just a love affair with books. For him they were the backbone of civilization as illustrated by a statement he made in an interview published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451:
Let’s imagine there’s an earthquake tomorrow in the average university town. If only two buildings remained intact at the end of the earthquake, what would they have to be in order to rebuild everything that had been lost? Number one would be the medical building, because you need that to help people survive, to heal injuries and sickness. The other building would be the library. All the other buildings are contained in that one. People could go into the library and get all the books they needed in literature or social economics or politics or engineering and take the books out on the lawn and sit down and read. Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization (2).
It’s no wonder that one of Bradbury’s most famous quotes is: There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.
Today’s Challenge: On Fire for a Book
Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, the main character Montag finds himself among a group of people who each memorize a forbidden book. Each person becomes the keeper of the book, preserving the book for future generations. If you found yourself in a society that banned books, what single book would you select to memorize, and what makes that book so special? Brainstorm some titles of important books that should always remain alive in the hearts and minds of readers. Select a single book that you would commit to memory, and write an explanation of what the book is about and what makes that book important and special? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. –Ray Bradbury
Answers: 1. teem 2. cacophony 3. tactile 4. litterateur 5. oblivion 6. verbiage 7. filigree 8. cadence 9. scythe 10. olfactory
2 – Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. The 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Random House.