Getting Off on the Right Foot: Fahrenheit 451

Great opening paragraphs. A limbering up exercise prior to National Novel Writing Month in November. Since the first paragraph is only one short sentence, I’m quoting the first two.

It was a pleasure to burn.

It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With the brass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world, the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playing all the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history. With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame with the thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorge of fire that burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping, pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.
– Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.

I ran out of books with opening paragraphs that grab you by the throat, so this is a library book. Since I’ve only seen the 1966 film adaptation by Francois Truffaut, it seemed like an opportunity to get past my prejudice about Bradbury’s florid writing style. At the time I started reading science fiction, I just couldn’t be doing with too much of it. In consequence, I read his short stories because they were short, but spurned his novels.

This opening paragraph is an eye-opener. Rather than being self-consciously poetic, it goes straight for the jugular. Think I’ll enjoy reading Fahrenheit 451, if such a thing is possible. For over a year I’ve had a reading block, ridiculous as that seems – I just don’t have the patience or concentration to sit down with a book and lose myself in it. They were my best friends once and the estrangement is a great loss. You won’t be surprised to hear I also have writers’ block, one of the reasons for challenging myself to write a complete novel during NaNoWriMo. I bet plumbers don’t get plumber’s blocks.

Given my troubled relationship with reading, I feel a weird sort of kinship with Guy Montag. If he can turn it around then perhaps so can I.

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