NaNoWriMo, Fahrenheit 451, and Life Under the Glass

During this NaNoWriMo writing frenzy, reading is the luxurious break I take after working on my novel for a few hours. This month I’ve read:

  1. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (biography, 2011)
  2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (science fiction, 1953)
  3. The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (crime mystery, 2012)

My favorite of the three? The old sci-fi classic that I hadn’t picked up since high school, decades ago.

I’m sure that being immersed in the work of writing a book helped elevate Fahrenheit 451 to the top. A book about a society that outlaws books? How can I not be inspired to write on?

Yet it wasn’t the outlawing of the books that inspired me. It was the descriptions of reading books and the worth of the activity that touched me so. Bradbury wove these into his novel with his usual brilliance. Here’s one:

I love that.

Along with that sentence, here is a list of descriptions Bradbury uses in his novel. The conversation is led by Faber, a former English professor, as he tries to help the fireman understand the importance of books, reading, and writing.

  • Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land?
  • It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books.
  • [Quality]. This book has pores … This book can go under the microscope. You’ll find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.
  • Good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.
  • [Books] show the pores in the face of life.
  • [Readers must have] leisure, time to think … and digest it. You can shut [books], say, “Hold on a moment.” You play God to it.
  • [Quality of time plus Leisure to digest it equals] the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the intersection of the first two.
  • The things you’re looking for are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine percent of them is in a book.

Reading the novel of an author like Bradbury, while I was working on a novel of my own, made me feel inadequate as a writer. Yet, in the Afterword of his novel, Ray Bradbury said this:

That helped put things into perspective for me. I’ll never write like Ray Bradbury, but I can certainly try and write a novel. I alluded to this conviction in a comment I wrote on a popular blog for writers. The tone of the post made me feel as though the author felt NaNoWriMo was a waste of time. I couldn’t help but respond, having Bradbury’s quote fresh in my mind:

Her response was encouraging, and I ended up subscribing to the blog. You can read the full article and all its comments here.

Fahrenheit 451 continues as Montag joins a group of exiled intellectuals who have whole books memorized:

  • We’ll pass the books on to our children, by word of mouth, and let our children wait, on the other people.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover (to Montag as he observed the group).
  • It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.
  • Stuff your eyes with wonder … It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

The story’s ending gives Montag an opportunity:

  • Montag felt the slow stir of words, the slow simmer. And when it came his turn, what could he say, what could he offer on a day like this, to make the trip a little easier?

And it is this, a treasured Bible verse, Revelation 22:2:

And on either side of the river was there a tree of life, which bear twelve manners of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

I didn’t remember the novel ending that way. I felt a flush of warmth as I reread the ending, several times. Montag’s thought of what to offer his friends for encouragement made me think about the stories I write.

I feel that same sense of responsibility: What can I write to make life — which is full of its wars, small and large — a little easier for my readers?

Fahrenheit 451 is one of those books that stays with you. One that has “pores,” as Bradbury describes in the book. The Jobs bio, the Locke mystery — both were interesting and helpful to me as a writer as I studied the authors’ styles and was entertained by their stories.

Bradbury’s story went a thousand steps further and touched my heart.

Life under the glass.

Have you read Fahrenheit 451? If so, what did you think of its message?

Darla McDavid

I'm Darla, a writer of stories about family, friends, goodness, and God. I love cats, coffee, gardening, and tall stacks of books. Click here to subscribe to my blog. You can also find me on Facebook and Instagram. In my other life, I'm an administrative professional and a Sunday School teacher for preschoolers.

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