Why I love literature

There are some passages in literature that one can’t help but be struck by how much it relates to their life. A beautiful length of prose can sum up a seemingly impossible feeling, emotion or situation. It might not have even occurred to you how you felt about something until you read the words written by another.

I remember reading this paragraph in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 when I was in a state of depression. It just clicked with me, and I could easily have been reading prose written by myself:

“He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over, and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true state of affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with the mask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.”

I felt comfort in reading the words written by another person who could so perfectly sum such a feeling: such a human feeling. Often in life it’s too easy to feel alone, with the burden of an emotion or situation, but the reality is that someone, somewhere has described exactly what you are going through.

I’ll leave you with another simple sentence that I could relate to, written by Sebastian Faulks in Birdsong:

“The quietness of the world about him seemed to stand outside time”.

Fahrenheit 451

“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.”

I’ve just finished reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This is my type of book. One that makes you think about how society functions or could function in an alternate, yet almost perceivable, version of society. For those of you who haven’t read the book, the premise consists of a futuristic society where firemen start, as opposed to put out, fires. Namely, houses belonging to those possessing books. Books are illegal, and its citizens are addicted to fast and simple technologies. Books, however, expose citizens to knowledge that could upset their meaningless contentment. For example, Fire Captain Beatty gives an explanation of how the government censors information so as not to cause any unhappiness in society: “Someone’s written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book.” Orwell conveyed a similar idea in 1984 when he created the slogan for his authoritarian state: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.”

Guy Montag, the main character (a fireman), becomes aware that there must be something more to life than light entertainment and comfortable ignorance.

Although published in 1953, the message this book sends is more accurate now than ever before. We live in a fast-pace world where information is transmitted in seconds and books are becoming more obsolete (in their printed form especially), in favour of speedier mediums, such as documentaries films, TED talks and podcasts. The reality of this shift is undoubtedly less grim than the tale told in Fahrenheit 451, but mindless television and computer games appear to be shortening the attention spans (and stealing the attention all together) of our young generation in a way not dissimilar to the depiction portrayed by Bradbury.

In my opinion, a fast pace-world isn’t a bad one. It allows for more information to change hands more quickly, thus knowledge can spread in a way that it never could before. One categoric difference between our society and that of Guy Montag’s is the scrupulous level of censorship. Bradbury draws parallels between his fictitious society and that of authoritarian regimes, such as that of Nazi Germany, where book burning to enforce strict censorship was a reality. I can’t image living in a society where citizens where fed certain information, but other information was kept a secret. But that’s exactly the point. I can’t image it because this society is all I’ve ever known. If complete censorship of certain materials were the norm, then people would be blind to it. They would be unaware of the hidden information, so would take what they know as all there is to know and live in contentment with this knowledge. Only a person from outside of this society could shake their head at the helpless ignorance of those within. I think it’s safe to assume that most places of Earth live in near full disclosure. The test appears to be that if there is more than one convincing side to an argument, no one is hiding all that much from us.

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag.”