A Firefighter's Take on Fahrenheit 451

February 27, 2013 | Mike Strapko

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Editor's Note: In "Fahrenheit 451," firefighters burn books. In real life, they're superheroes. To help celebrate this year's One Book, we asked Fire Captain Mike Strapko to give his take on Bradbury's classic novel.

In "Fahrenheit 451," Ray Bradbury wrote brilliantly of a speculative, future Dark Age where society oppresses creativity and independent thinking by eliminating books. 

From what I understand, Bradbury considered the increasingly widespread use of television at home in the early 1950s to be a threat to books. No doubt, the rapid advances in technology during the past century, specifically radio, television and the Internet, have taken people away from reading books. 

Unfortunately, our fast-paced life conflicts with our leisure time which often makes it challenging to find a quiet spot and the time to enjoy a good book. The way I look at it, reading is an essential stimulus for the mind and soul, similar to how exercise is important to maintaining excellent health. We really need to take time to relax and enjoy reading as an integral part of a wholesome lifestyle.

Even though I very much enjoyed reading "Fahrenheit 451," it was alarming how Bradbury chose firefighters as the tyrants of reading. It is disturbing to think that firefighters of the future might become totalitarian regime’s book burning squads. Such awful behaviour contradicts the firefighters of today, who are soldiers of humanity and put their lives on the line to protect lives, property and the environment. 

Furthermore, I have habitually borrowed books from the library since childhood. Therefore, it is unfathomable to consider perpetrating such a shocking deed, such as what the firefighters did in "Fahrenheit 451."

As the novel's central character, Guy Montag, secretly became smitten with books, it was encouraging to see that he became awakened to the fact that something dreadful was occurring. His burning love for books had intensified with the more he read, to the degree that he actually turned the tables and saved books.  This is in line with the positive image and work of present-day firefighters.

Bradbury’s book fuels a strong case for the importance of reading and how hard it is to imagine a world without books.  Reading is the key link that enables our enlightened civilization to continue flourishing. Books are vital fodder that keeps our collective souls nourished with unbridled creativity and imagination which opens our minds to explore all sorts of possibilities and make this a better world. 

When you think of it, a true joy in life is picking up a good book, like "Fahrenheit 451," that draws you in so much that you can’t put it down. It would be shameful to lose sight of the important privilege of having such an abundance of books in our libraries and bookstores.

I strongly encourage the residents of Toronto to actively participate in the Keep Toronto Reading Festival and to continue reading and discussing books among friends and family.  Please join the celebration of books available at your local Toronto Public Library and also online. Fire your imagination by reading Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451" and partake in the city-wide events.