LESSON 1: FAHRENHEIT 451 or NEVER STOP ASKING QUESTIONS
My uncle has a floor-to-ceiling, alphabetized sci-fi and fantasy library in his office. I peruse the shelves every time I visit to note the books I want to find and read when I get home. He has Asimov, Pratchett, Sagan, all the original Star Trek novels, and on and on and on. Most were series containing four or more books. I never visited long enough to read a whole series, so I never pulled any books off the shelves.
Until 2am on a Sunday morning, when I pulled six. I wanted to take them home with me, where they’d be loved and read, because he couldn’t any more. He died about nine months before, but I hadn’t been to his house in over a year. It felt like losing him all over again. He was like a father to me. He wouldn’t be there in the morning to chat with me, with a book in one hand, coffee in the other, and a beloved dog or cat in his lap. But his books were.
His library was just as I remembered. The first book I picked was Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s 1950’s classic. It was short, and somehow, I’d never read it. I had to smile through my snotty tears when I cracked it open. Inside the cover, as in all his books, my uncle wrote his name and the date he got it: 7-1-88. I could hear his patented, “Hello, kid,” as I read it.
My uncle liked Fahrenheit enough to carry it around for half his life, and I see why. It’s about Montag, a “fireman” in the future, whose job is to burn books. Until he reads one of them, he doesn’t realize a life of consumerism has isolated humanity. They let technology so inundate them with entertainment and retail opportunities, they stopped talking to one another. They stopped asking why. They had no space for reflection or true connection, which is so often accompanied by a cup of coffee and a book.
I doubt my uncle, a straight-up punch-card computer programmer in the ’80’s, would’ve agreed fully with the themes of technology ruining society, but, as a life-long learner, he always believed in asking hard questions, especially “why?” And that, if you can’t think of a question or you need one answered, you should read a book.
When I finished Fahrenheit 451, underneath my uncle’s inscription, I wrote my name and the date. And poured another cup of coffee.
Up Next: Contact, by Carl Sagan.
Sarah Parker-Lee has written copy for non-profits fighting injustice all over the interwebs, currently writes & edits at SCBWI’s CA Tri-Regional blog “Kite Tales,” writes at the Dwarf+Giant blog, and is finishing her own YA alternate history novel. Her new humor blog – “Dogs and Zombies: A Dog’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” – should be shambling towards your tasty brains in Spring 2016. Find her twitterings here: @SarahSoNovel and here: @abolitionhwd.