I read “Fahrenheit 451” when I was a freshman in high school, and it’s one of those books you never forget. Someone who reads and writes regularly, it’s difficult for me to imagine a world where neither happens. But there are many days, including today, where I wonder if we’re inching closer to that reality.
People are celebrating Ray Bradbury’s work today upon the news of his death. He was 91 years old. He’s celebrated as the author who made science fiction a mainstream genre. We think of aliens and spaceships often when we think about science fiction, but Bradbury really made it about pushing the ideas of reality and pushing them forward. And that’s what “Fahrenheit 451” did — it imagined a world where books were banned and regularly burned.
It has to be hard to imagine a world where books are burned regularly because reading is not allowed. But are we inching to a world where we read much less? Or are we moving to a world where we read much more trash than things that make us think?
It’s hard to think we’re moving to a world where we read less. Just ride the train any morning and see the number of e-readers people are using today, which is heartening. I don’t have an e-reader, but I do carry a book wherever I go in my bag. Others I know feel the same way.
But then again, consider our reading habits for the news, especially in an online world. We can easily be distracted and not read an entire article. And as I read the comments on many sites (and then on social media) about the article, I wonder if anyone read beyond the headline or the first graph (something I’ve pondered on this blog).
And then I see the things people are reading — what’s the most popular books and news items. People are reading celebrity news most often. Books like “Twilight” and “50 Shades of Grey” are on best seller lists. Videos and infographics are replacing full articles sometimes. Plus our world at times is captured in 140-character snippets.
Mind you I think there’s a time and place for reading something a little more easy on your brain (what I like to call brain candy). I’ve been reading the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich the last few months (I just finished the 11th book). I’m looking forward to Jennifer Weiner’s new book, although her “chick lit” will make you think much more than some other author’s. But I”m just as guilty as anyone else in that I don’t read entire articles, but then again that’s why the inverted pyramid structure exists.
But I do want to learn. I want to learn to be a better writer, about different parts of the world I don’t know, about interesting people and about the issues that affect my life most. I want to think and not be comfortable. And I can do that by talking to a lot of people (it’s part of what I have loved about reporting), but I can also do it by reading a variety of things.
And if we all stop learning, we stop moving as a culture. We won’t innovate and won’t create a future that is better for the next generations to follow us. We won’t be able to leave this world a better place than where we found it.
Perhaps I’m far off on how I’m viewing today’s world with our many distractions and, what to seems, our short attention spans. But it’s something I often think about and I hope we never get to a world Bradbury captured in his novel.
- R.I.P. Ray Bradbury, Author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles (i09)
- Ray Bradbury Dead: ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Author Dies At 91 (Huffington Post)
- Ray Bradbury, Master of Science Fiction, Dies at 91 (New York Times)
- Ray Bradbury dies at 91; author lifted fantasy to literary heights (Los Angeles Times)