‘Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has *pores*. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more “literary” you are. That’s *my* definition, anyway. *Telling detail*. *Fresh* detail. The 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.
-Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
In keeping with my current theme of talking about the books I have read in the past year or so, and considering Mr. Bradbury died today, I might as well mention that I read Fahrenheit 451 at around this time last summer. I had owned the book since high school, but—newly-inspired after having read an excerpt from The Illustrated Man in an English class freshman spring—did not get around to actually reading it until the ripe old age of nineteen.
Anyway, I’m not going to lie and say that this book drastically changed my life or my ideas about reading and writing; perhaps I should be more deferential to a recently-deceased writer who undoubtedly had a profound influence on pop culture, but I’m not going to be a poser and pretend like I am a long-time, dedicated fan of Bradbury’s work. The simple fact is, I’ve read his so-called seminal novel and a couple of his short stories; they were very good, if not a bit removed from the stuff I ordinarily read: I liked them.
As far as Fahrenheit 451 goes: It can feel a little preachy at times, and it occasionally suffers from purple or otherwise awkward prose—but some of the language is also beautiful and striking (“the blood hits the brain like a mallet, bang, a couple of thousand times and the brain just gives up, just quits”), and the story itself is compelling. This is because Bradbury is so clearly passionate about his subject matter; he loves and values books so much.
And I think that’s admirable—both generally speaking (you should always care about the stuff you write about), and as it pertains specifically to Bradbury and books. On my best days, I can say I love books and writing without feeling like a phony; on my worst days, I know that I will never care for them as profoundly as a writer like Ray Bradbury did. And I wonder if that renders my career aspirations—my ill-defined goal of writing for a living—somehow hollow or illegitimate. I wonder if I am sort of a poser.
My point here is that, whether or not I’ll ever be as good a writer as Ray Bradbury was (wishful thinking, that), I will never be as good a reader as he was. And that says something about us both, doesn’t it?