Rereading “Fahrenheit 451”


Yesterday I reread “Fahrenheit 451.” It took me most of the afternoon, through the night. I read in the car, as my mom guided us through terrible traffic, while my stepdad watched a basketball game, and alone, in my room. It’s the first book I’ve reread.

Reading a book again is an interesting endeavor. Passing through each part of the novel triggered bits of the upcoming plot in my memory. I remembered branches, but not the whole tree, not the leaves of the ending.

I first read “Fahrenheit 451,” my introduction to Bradbury—as I’ve since been scooping up his short story collections at used bookstores—in 9th grade. I knew then that this book was very different. Books had stuck with me before, but this one seeped in and became a part of my internal organs. It was a necessary book.

Being older, and having studied more craft, I appreciated Bradbury’s descriptions more. I realized how much poetry makes up his prose. Some of the most memorable moments of the novel can be boiled down to a sentence, a line, an image, alliteration—poetry. As mainly a poet, and a journalist, I gained renewed admiration for his style.

And one of my favorite literary quotes, which I have hanging on a piece of paper on my bedroom wall, still made me pause, smile and nod along, and reread it again. Bradbury has that affect, no matter how many times you’ve read him.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

The book happens to be a special 50th edition, which includes an interview with the author and an update when Bradbury revisited the characters in 1953 for a play. In it, Bradbury describes how he wrote the book over a week in the basement of the UCLA library—yes, he wrote a book about burning books in none other than a library—on a typewriter that cost 10 cents for 30 minutes. The typewriter had a coin slot and then ticked away. What a completely changed world from today’s, where many of us have laptops or tablets that we type away at constantly.

An interesting thing happened yesterday to me and the novel. I placed the book on a doctor’s examining table when the doctor came in to see me, and when he saw it he picked it up, beaming, saying, “Bradbury! I haven’t seen this book in a long time. I love science fiction.”

I often get asked why I don’t own a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, or any other electronic reading device (other than my smartphone). My mom recently suggested a Kindle for my birthday present. But staring too long at screens gives me headaches, or worse, migraines. And the recollection and connection I had with my doctor yesterday might never have happened if I was reading “Fahrenheit 451” on a Kindle, then shut the display off when he stepped in the door. And what a terrible second-death to Bradbury, to read his novel on a screen like the ‘parlor walls’!

I’ll stick to printed books for now. Ones I can stuff in my purse for a Metro ride, underline my favorite quotes, crease the pages to mark great descriptions, buy cheaply at used bookstores, lend to a friend, and allow my doctor to see and share a love for. I think Bradbury would like that.

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Marlena Chertock

Marlena is a digital storyteller and poetry editor at District Lit. Her first poetry book, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press.

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