Burning Works of
Martin Luther
book burning

Bless the Readers

I don’t know you. I will probably never meet you. I do know one thing about you, though: You read. I honor you for that.

I thought about and blessed readers everywhere when I recently re-read the classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

A Prophetic and Cautionary Story

“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.” Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his society that means someone who doesn’t put out fires; he starts them to burn books. He loves his work until he meets a 17-year-old girl who smells leaves, looks at the stars, and wonders about life. He begins to see his life and world with new eyes until he has too many questions to ignore.

Although the book jacket copy for Fahrenheit 451 claims that the book is about “the conflict between suppression of thought by the powerful and the indomitable human spirit that refuses to submit,” Bradbury said that it was about TV.

Most Americans didn’t have televisions when Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, which was published in 1953. The few that existed had 7-inch black and white screens. In the book, Bradbury envisioned a now mostly realized future of giant flat panel color sets that hung on walls for dimensionality. He also anticipated the reality show, with the added attraction that viewers could participate directly, entering a world more real to them than that outside their four TV-covered walls, where a war was about to begin.

The themes of the book support Bradbury’s insistence that he wasn’t blaming an authoritarian government for cracking down on a book-loving public. In the book, one apologist for the burnings says that people wanted to be happy, untroubled by conflicting thoughts that might confuse them. Thinking didn’t make people happy. Books were too painful and difficult to read.

At first publishing houses condensed them, eliminating offending passages until only footnotes were left. (Bradbury was no fan of Readers Digest condensed books). Once the war against books was mostly won, it remained only to burn out the few stubborn individualists who clung to their books, so that no one would have to be made unhappy by accidentally reading something that might disturb them.

The State Didn’t Do It

In a quote from the Pogo cartoon strip, Pogo and his friend Porkypine, look out over a wasteland of junk. Pogo says, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The average American (with adjustments for age) watches about 2.5 hours of television a night and may spent 20 minutes reading. That’s reading anything. It’s estinated that 42% of college students will never read another book after graduation.

Some studies indicate that watching TV for hours can lower verbal IQ; whereas MRI tests given to college students found increased connections in the parts of the brain responsible for language.

Reading also lowers heart rates, muscle tension, and reduces stress levels by 68%.

People Help the State Do It

This is the danger. If you, as I do, view excessive TV watching as a kind of slow-motion form of lobotomy, you can see how handy a lowered-IQ population, weak in language comprehension, can be for the few who would like to be in charge without the interference of troublesome individuals who think about things.

So I strongly encourage you to be as troublesome as you can. Read on. One book can change the world. So can many readers.

Thank you for reading.

This article appeared in The Dragon’s Guide Newsletter. To subscribe, please go here.