Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Folio Society Edition

Yes, I know, it’s November and I should be reading German literature but…. After having read Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree in October I was so in the mood to read Fahrenheit 451 which was one of the few famous Bradbury novels I hadn’t read so far. What a coincidence that Jackie reviewed it a few weeks later. While she wasn’t too keen on the book I was still very tempted to read it right away and luckily someone saw my comment and a few days later I had a stunning Folio Society edition in my letterbox. It’s my first Folio Society book and it will not be my last. I love the nice paper and the illustrations by Sam Weber.

And the book? It’s not what I had expected. It’s so different from The Halloween Tree which is rich in descriptions and warm atmosphere. But I loved it anyway. It’s such a strange book, reading it felt a bit like walking around in a surreal dream.

Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian future in which books are forbidden. If anyone is in possession of books, the firemen come to his home at night and burn it down. The job of the firemen in this novel is not to extinguish fire but to start it. They are feared but that doesn’t mean people let go of their books easily.

Montag is a fireman who secretly hides a few books. He doesn’t even read them and why he keeps them isn’t clear. It is something in his unconscious that pushes him to act this way. One evening when he returns home he meets Clarisse, a young girl. She is like nobody else he knows; she speaks with him, sees him, shows interest. What she tells him of her family is most unusual too. They sit together in the evenings and talk. Meeting her changes Montag in subtle ways and when she disappears he changes even more.

The society depicted in Fahrenheit 451 is a society in which real relationships are substituted by fake ones with people who are projected on walls in the living rooms of the houses. Giant TV screens replace real life, real experiences. It’s like a collective trance. Montag’s wife spends more time in front of those screens than she spends with her husband.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, ” he said, “live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. and if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that, ” he said, “shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”

I liked this book a lot for many reasons. I liked the haunting atmosphere and the images it created.  I also liked some of the characters like Clarisse. And there are other amazing elements. Most of the novel takes place at night, the people of this society are all isolated from each other, nobody shares anything, still they feel strongly but live life vicariously through the people on the screens. I’m not much of a TV watcher but I’ve heard people talk about things they saw on TV, series or reality TV, which made me think they were talking about real people. Depicting a society like this was very perceptive in 1953.

Fahrenheit 451 is not my favourite Bradbury but it’s an amazing book, one that is really worth reading.

Thanks again to the Folio Society for this lovely book.

39 thoughts on “Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953) Folio Society Edition

  1. I haven’t read this book since highschool….. like a few decades ago. I remember it having a strong impact on me as, even then, I was a big book reader. I should give it a reread and see how it effects me today.

    • I read such a lot of Bradbury when i was a teenager and loved all of it but somehow never got to this. I find it’s very different from the other books but I really liked it. I think this is a book ro re-read and would be a great readalong choice.

  2. You’ve read it! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
    That book had a profound effect one me – first of all because it was hard to imagine a world in which books were burned and people watched mindless hours of moving images, without a coherent thought for anything, just filling their time so that they didn’t have to think. I felt pity for Montag and for Clarissa, for being different in a world that didn’t understand them. And speaking of names, I thought Faber was a clever choice.
    I love that passage you quoted.

    • I liked several passages but this one nails it somehow. It starts so bleak but then the end is quite hopeful.
      The idea that books are so powerful that they have to be burned to keep people mindless is great.
      I was wondering why he chose a German name, Montag?

  3. Even though it is a classic, I’ve never read Fahrenheit 451. It’s one of those books I’ve always been meaning to get to. I knew the basic premise, but I appreciate your in-depth summary and review. It does feel particularly prescient when elements of dystopian novels become reality. (Thinking of The Handmaid’s Tale and Animal Farm)

    What a lovely Folio edition you have! You are the second person to mention these editions this week. To have a beautiful book like this on your shelf is like having a work of art.

    PS – I’m intending to watch A Very Long Engagement this weekend.

    • It’s really worth reading Jackie although it’s quite different from what i expected especially after The Halloween Tree. He was quite young when he wrote Fahrenheit 451 and in the preface he tells how he wrote it. I have never read The Handmaid’s Tale, I should read that.
      Those books are wonderful. This isn’t even one of the most beautiful. Unfortunately they are very expensive but I’ll have a look if they have the one or the other favourite book I might buy it.
      I hope A Very Long Engagement will be inspiring. I liked it a lot.

      • Coincidentally, I just read this quote from Ray Bradbury this morning. It was from an interview in 2010 in which he discussed his writing habits:

        “Later on, when I wanted to write Fahrenheit 451, I went up to UCLA and found a basement typing room where, if you inserted ten cents into the typewriter, you could buy thirty minutes of typing time.”

        I found that very interesting and thought you would also. 🙂

  4. This is one of my favorites. Having read it first at a very early age it shares a close place in my heart.

    I agree with your comments on TV watching and this book. In so many ways the mindlessness of the population that Bradbury described has become worse and worse as years go by. I also am very much reminded of this work as I observe conversations that go on around me. I would just qualify this by saying that I do not think Bradbury was talking about imaginative and/or meaningful works that in all fairness, are now a real part of the world of television.

    • I think I would have liked it even more if I had read it earlier. It’s the type of book that can mark you.
      I’m not against TV per se, I watch the odd series but there is a type of very mindless programs, like reality TV, talk shows and thing like that which I consider to be rather bad.
      I suppose when he wrote this there was the fear that one day people will read less and less and only sit in front of the TV. And even live less.
      In any case, it’s quite visionary.

  5. Thanks for a provocative review, Caroline. I keep so many books in my room that my brother made a joke recently about needing a fireman from Farenheit 451 to drop by–naturally, we’re not really book-burners, but as I’d never read the book, he chided me for my lack of literacy and told me I’d have to read it soon. Now I know what he was referring to!

    • Until I read it I didn’t even know what the title meant. I thought it was the temperature on some planet.
      I think there are some science-fiction novels which are really ground breaking and can still tell us a lot, and this is one of them.
      It is quite short btw, you can read it in a few hours. It would be interesting to hear what you think of it.

  6. I agree with your comment that if you read it earlier on in life, it will probably have a profound effect on you. I read a smuggled copy of it while I was still in school (it was forbidden in some Communist countries) and it ranks up there with ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ for me (also forbidden, of course). Not an instantly likeable book, perhaps, but one that certainly deserves to be read!

    • I agree about it not beng instantly likeable. I expected somethig so different but once I let go of that I liked it a lot even.
      I see why these were forbidden, of course. My favourite of all of these similar novesl is Brave New World though.

    • If you like The Halloween Tree, this will need some getting used to. It’s very different but the idea and the atmosphere are one of a kind.
      I hope you will like it should you read it.

  7. Nice review, Caroline! Wonderful to know that you finally got to read ‘Fahrenheit 451’. I loved it when I read it. The Folio edition that you read looks so beautiful. So jealous of you 🙂 Liked very much the passage that you have quoted. The book’s commentary on TV must have been quite visionary when it came out. I agreed with it when I read the book, but I am not sure about it now – I feel that reading, watching TV or watching films are all vicarious ways of living and most of the time not a substitute for the real thing, but in the absence of the real thing they are enjoyable ways of spending time and learning in the process.

    • Thanks, Vishy. I agree, many books are read like a substitute for the real thing. In the book all the books are burned w^but towards the end when they name books that are worth saving, it’s mostly non-fiction, philosophy, spirituality and religious texts. I think that’s key. Novels are actually not really mentioned.

  8. So glad you got a copy and enjoyed it more than I did. I agree that it was visionary for 1953, but reading it today it didn’t have the same impact. A bit too weirdly structured for me, but it sounds as though I might have more luck with The Halloween Tree.

    • I enjoyed it but for the atmosphere and the images. I really know what you mean about the structure. It is flawed and his later books are better constructed. I find it surprsing that this is his most famous. Maybe you should try “Someting Wicked This Way Comes”.

  9. I really like this book–have read it a few times and even listened to it on audio. The movie is interesting since it was filmed in the 1960s (it feels more dated to me than the book), the ‘special effects’ are a little cheesy, but still worth watching. I’ve been wondering about those folio editions–looks like it’s quite nice. I’m glad you finally got a chance to read it. I’ve liked everything by Bradbury I’ve read so far and should really read more–more of his classic sci fi books. He was spot on with many of the things he wrote about–I’m curious about how closely his other stories reflect contemporary society.

    • I thought this was the most sci-fi one. He called himself a writer of “weird” which, as far as I can see, sems to be a mix, there is always a more fatastic that sci-fi element in his writing. The Folio Society books are beautiful. This isn’t even one of the best I’ve seen. I could have had The Master & margarita which has stunning illustrations but I already had the book.

  10. That book really was far ahead of its time. Makes me wonder what Bradbury thought of people spending so much time on their computers.
    I saw the movie a years ago and thought it was good, but depressing.

    • I think he didn’t like the movie, he thought it was too far from the book. I haven’t seen it. I’m not sure whether this was something he was foreseeing and thinking it would happen or whether he picked up on people’s fears. In any case, he captured something which has become a reality to some extent.

  11. I fell in love with his short stories when I was a teenager, and I think I did read this at the time, but given that I can’t even remember for sure, it’s obviously time for a re-read. The Folio edition would secure that tentative plan: it really is quite striking. (Love the comment about the 10-minute-typing sessions. Very cool.)

    • I did the same, I went through all of his short story collections and some novels as a teenager.
      These Folio Society editions are something I coul get used to. they are so nice. Yes, those typing sessions must have been something. He writes about how the book was written in the foreword as well.

  12. I haven’t read The Halloween Tree, though I would like to. I agree with what you’ve said about Fahrenheit 451, it’s strange and still makes complete sense. If we don’t take the most literal meanings of what he has shown, we could spot a lot of things around us that he’d written as part of a dystopian future back then; it’s sad, really.
    The only other book by Bradbury that I’ve read is Something Wicked This Way Comes and it’s one of my favourite books. It deals so wonderfully with the themes of childhood, age and death; you should try it if you haven’t already!

    • I think he saw a lot of what is happening and it really is sad. I find it amazing how perceptive he was. I have read Something Wicked This Way Comes a long time ago and liked it very much. But I would have to re-read it. The Halloween Tree is wonderful. My next will be the short story collection The October Country and Dandelion Wine another novel.

  13. I read it a couple of years ago, so there’s a billet on my blog, if you’re interested.
    I found it fascinating for the thoughts about dictatorship and the power of resistance you can find in books. But the impact of technology on lives is stunning, especially now that we have what he describes.

    I’ll share with you a quote by Romain Gary:

    “Le Temps, qui ne peut souffrir ce qui dure, a contre les livres une dent particulièrement féroce. Il craint par dessus tout ces porteurs de germes, germes d’éternité où les idées demeurent vivantes et toujours prêtes à jaillir. Les idées me font parfois penser aux graines trouvées sous les glaciers après des millénaires, qui redeviennent fécondes des qu’elles sont rendues à l’air libre et à la lumière, et se remettent à vivre, à s’épanouir et à triompher.” Les Enchanteurs.

    • That’s a wonderful quote, thanks for sharing it.
      I’ll have a look at you reviw. I didn’t know you wrote about it.
      A lot of what he writes must have rung especially true during the cold war for those countries behind the Iron Curtain.
      I’m already shocked when they ban books, how much worse to think they could be burned or forbidden.

  14. oh…this sounds great!! I want to read it. I like imaginary world like that. It reminds me of 1984. The idea of not letting people read book is as great as not letting people to have emotion like in 1984.

    What’s Folio Society? I clicked the link but through my mobile and I can’t understand it.

    • I think you would like it. It has a very strong imagery. It has been compared to 1984. The Folio Society is an editor who publishes a lot of classics with new illustrations. It’s a very nice book. I was lucky. 🙂

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