Friday, July 9, 2010

This Book Changed My Life

I re-read "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury for my YA Literature class this week.  Published in 1953, "451" examines the role of books in a society that censors information 'for the common good.'  If you haven't read it, then put down your laptop, unplug your earbuds, turn off your wall-sized flat-screen and go buy the book.  Now.  I'm not kidding.

I tend to get melodramatic when I talk about how much I love Fahrenheit 451, so I will try to keep the hyperbole and exclamation-point usage down to a bare minimum.  I first read “Fahrenheit 451” my senior year of high school, way back in 1994, in Ms. Farley’s 20th Century Lit class.  To say that I fell in love with this book would be an understatement.  I was positively enraptured by it.  I had never read a book that encapsulated my feelings towards books so thoroughly.  Books were (and remain) my life blood.  I inhaled books like they were air.  I read a dozen books a week during the summer months and stayed up way too late to finish whatever book had me in its clutches.  Earlier, in elementary school, I took books to the playground during recess – I remember sitting on top of the monkey bars, crying at the end of “Bridge to Terabithia.”  My parents instituted a “no books at the dinner table” policy, solely for my benefit.  To read about a society that destroyed books, that abandoned them and devalued them – well, it was as if they were devaluing me.  But when Faber and Granger (and even that slimy, hypocritical, literature-quoting Beatty) talked about the importance of books, why they must be respected, preserved, their power and potential – it gave me the answer to why I loved books as much as I did.  It was an insight into myself, a validation of my obsession.  I didn’t read just for escape – I read to be part of a community of people who hold history in their hands, who can shape the future because they know the past.

Given that I was reading this for a young adult lit class, I had to question why this book is designated as for teens.  The only teenager in it appears for mere pages; the main character is a thirty year old man.  I can only assume the designation is for the benefit of teenagers like I was.  Maybe I needed to ally myself with Montag against the evil Beatty so that I learned not to discount my book-loving instincts.  Today’s youth (gosh, even saying that phrase makes me sound so old) need to see how easily books can be displaced by ipods stuffed ubiquitously in our ears, by wall-sized tvs and a "family" that we interact with only on screens.  We might be standing on the precipice already.  The world needs enough lovers of books to prevent this kind of future from happening.

What books changed your life?  Which ones made you a reader, or taught you things about yourself that you never knew?  What books contributed to make you the person you are today?