Venue: Giraffe Bar and Grill
Date: Tuesday 10th of July 2012
Time: 6pm – 8pm
Address: 6 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW
Tel: (0113) 244 1500
Discussing: Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Once again, LeedsBookClub are delighted to welcome back #LBCGiraffe book clubber and IRL and twitter friend – @Bolli_Bolshevik!
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
As there was no clear ground rules on who wished to be identified with their comments and who preferred their anonymity, I am quoting comments and relating sentiments without reference. Members are welcome to claim their awesomeness as they so desire.
I for one am taking no public responsibility for mine… However I will refer to @LeedsBookClub in her capacity as our illustrious convenor…(LBC – I prefer fearless leader…)
There was opening discussion around broadening the remit of the group to be a club not just a book club. These seemed agreed, and offered a wider range of media for us to revel in.
The group was struck by how theme laden the novel is. Often there is a focus on this novel on the fascistic socio-political themes; however Bradbury himself claimed his focus was more on the media issues.
The prescience in the late 1950s of Mrs Sontag’s desire for a giant flat screen tv, the advertising hoardings on the Highway… there was some discussion of how 21st century technology has affected us as social creatures. Are we living passively whilst glued to our smartphones, or is it no different from everyone reading the newspaper?
It was suggested that Bradbury predicted negative impacts yet we are living proof of how the internet offers creativity and many examples of actively positive technological advances.
Several members felt that the impact of the novel is less clear cut on a second read. For me personally, I read it first as a teenager, so my second reading in my 30s was tempered with a less clear cut judgement on its characters. Experience tempers us
and reduces the pleasure of clear and possibly naïve criticism. I felt more empathy for characters I disliked as a teen and less of a kindred spirit with those I had identified with. A few people suggested they would like to not read it again to ensure
they do not learn to dislike the novel all together!
There was fascinating insight from a historical perspective on how few ‘enforcers’ there are in Bradbury’s dystopia, and how this had clear parallels with Nazi Germany in that there were so few secret police as the fear worked the loin share of the
control culture. The uses of public punishment and propaganda allow for a very few to control mass population. A society can acquiesce in a far more subtle manner than we’d like to admit.
The novel seems nationless, it has no cultural markers or border indicators. There was great hope to be found in the narrative. The scholarly tramps, those who used aural traditions to preserve books and others who found means of rebellion offered comfort.
The idea that in any autocratic governance there will be a flicker of dissent was reassuring to Dystopian fans. It was worth mentioning here again that in this novel’s world, books were burned as the will of the people, not a dictatorial solo figure of hate. It is what the masses wanted, they voted for it. The value of learning something by heart as a tradition was discussed with some wishing to attempt this with a work that means something to them. This hope tends to be forgotten in discussions of the Dystopian genre, and how dismissive of its artists critics can be. Dystopian writers are labelled as depressive or nihilistic, yet it is so often the opposite. I was reminded of Bradbury’s quote about relationships:
“If we listened to our intellect we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go in business because we’d be cynical: “It’s gonna go wrong.” Or “She’s going to hurt me.” Or,”I’ve had a couple of bad love affairs, so therefore . . .” Well, that’s nonsense. You’re going to miss life. You’ve got to jump off the cliff all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
It was agreed that the story seemed logical however one criticism was the lack of fleshed out characters and the lack of class structure present. The authority was hidden from the reader yet no stratification of society is referenced in any meaningful
way. This struck group members as highly unlikely in a world otherwise so well defined.
People wanted to know what happened if anything actually caught fire, seeing as fire fighters were fire starters… one suggestion was that fires give need to purchase more consumer products ergo have an important function in this world driven by a desire for possessing material goods.
@LeedsBookClub opened up a challenging debate by asking what solutions could be offered to solve the predicament of Bradbury’s dystopia. A wide range of views were presented however it was concluded that it was extraordinarily problematic no matter
what path his society might choose. Perhaps this is an indication of just how good Bradbury is, that after over 50 years his society that voted to burn books and devolve their thinking to an unseen directorate, over 50 years later we’d still be totally boned 😉
So instrumental a dystopian work, we easily acknowledged 20th & 21st century works that had homages to Bradbury. Brooker’s Black Mirror series and Equilibrium were discussed however I failed to pay attention as I drifted off thinking wrong thoughts about Christian Bale…
@LeedsBookClub suggested we read Bradbury’s short stories as she felt they were more representative of his talent and that it is odd how this lengthy and possibly less well-crafted novel is what he is remembered for more.
The voting took place, with relatively high scoring all round yet a polarity between those who scored high for narrative technique/low for plot and vice versa.
Random quotes and facts
(LBC – Shamefully true. Haven’t played any in nearly 20 yrs as a result).
– “When discussing homoerotic allegory, you don’t ‘subtext’ without ‘buttsex’.”
– “Toasters are banned in Cuba”
– “I liked the mechanical dog”
(*ahem* LBC Bookclubbers can guess which Dr Who fan came up with that one)
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Thank you to everyone who attended, those who couldn’t make it but were there in spirit, and to Giraffe Bar.
Massive thanks to @LeedsBookClub for letting us cajole her into taking on another club group – masochist as she is.
Should you find this write up dry, or feel it unrepresentative of our meeting, please feel free to write up the next one. Lets face it, you could swallow 100 scrabble tiles and with the aid of strong emetics; regurgitate a better narrative,(LBC – I dispute that last bit!!) so go on, offer your delectable blogability to @LeedsBookClub.