Cold? Have I got a hot book for you

The Baltimore Sun

Today, in another helpful public service provided by this column, I recommend the perfect book to curl up with on a cold winter's day.

Regular visitors to this space will recall that in recent years I have recommended a number of terrific novels for beach reading, among them such classics as James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and Charles Portis' The Dog of the South.

But forget about the beach. Look, the way this economy is going, you won't have enough money to go to a movie this summer, never mind the beach. So why not start reading a good book right now, before they turn the lights out on you?

The book I'm pushing this winter is Fahrenheit 451 by the great Ray Bradbury, which you would have read in high school if you weren't so busy hanging around with your loser friends and getting in trouble.

This is the classic best-seller about a dystopian society in the future where books are banned - and so is all critical thought.

Reading books in this world gets you carted off to a mental hospital, but not before "firemen" arrive at your house to soak the books in kerosene and burn them at 451 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bradbury says the novel, written in 1953, is not about censorship, as many think. Instead, he says it's about how TV, the great time-waster, destroys interest in reading books.

(This makes me wonder what Bradbury thinks about the time-wasting capabilities of Internet sites like Facebook, which I just joined and wrote about last Sunday.

(If you're scoring at home, I'm up to 130 Facebook "friends," and that number is growing fast. This is what happens when you have no standards and will friend just about anyone with a pulse and an Internet service provider.)

Getting back to our subject, the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451 is a fireman named Guy Montag, who's been burning books for 10 years and gets a rush out of his job.

"It was a pleasure to burn," reads the opening chapter. "It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history."

Whew. Is it me or is it getting warmer already?

Then Montag meets a neighbor, a mysterious 17-year-old, Clarisse McClellan, a free-thinker who makes him question himself and his ideals.

Pretty soon he's re-evaluating this whole book-burning business and hoarding books himself, until his secret is discovered and he turns his flamethrower on another fireman and flees and - look, you're going to have to read it for yourself, OK?

What do I look like, Mr. CliffsNotes?

Here's an interesting bit of Fahrenheit 451 trivia: Bradbury wrote it on a pay typewriter in the basement of the student library at UCLA. He had to put a dime in the typewriter every 30 minutes.

"Time was indeed money," he wrote years later. "I finished the first draft in roughly nine days."

Nine days! It takes me nine days to figure out my Verizon bill.

In any event, you will love this book. I have read it three or four times and find it as riveting now as when I first read it in high school.

In fact, I'm so convinced you'll love it that if you buy it and aren't 100 percent satisfied, I will personally drive to your home and refund your money. (Note to editor: Please run the usual legal disclaimer here that gets me out of that. Thanks.)

To make up for any inconvenience, I'll also take you out for dinner at a fancy restaurant of your choosing.

I should warn you, though, that the topic of conversation during our meal will probably be: What in God's name is wrong with you that you don't like this book?

And things might get a little loud, especially if we're having drinks.

So you should think long and hard about asking for a refund. Sometimes it's just not worth the aggravation.

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