It was recently announced that Fahrenheit 451 was to be released as an e-book for the first time ever. For those of you that are familiar with the text this should come as some surprise, given the outspoken nature of the author, Ray Bradbury against the digital age, in both his work and his media appearances. In fact, the article in the Guardian announcing the deal has a great quote from the man himself, in reaction to having been asked by Yahoo to put one of his books online:
“They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? ‘To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It’s distracting,” he said. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”
However, when told by his agent, Michael Congdon that a new contract with his publishers would be unviable withoit e-book rights, Bradbury assented when a deal was put before him, reportedly seven figures. It seems everyone has their price.
However, I am not condemning Bradbury’s decision; I simply think his previous stance was misguided. In his magnum opus, Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury depicts a world where books are banned due to perpetuating offensive ideas and this ban is taken to the extent where books are recovered from people’s homes and burnt. For the large part, the homes of this dystopia’s inhabitants are fitted with a television screen from which they derive their entertainment instead of from the written word. The concerns about technological advancements on general population and on literature are here for everyone to see and, when this is coupled with Bradbury’s aforementioned comments about the internet, it is easy to see why Bradbury is wary of the e-book as a medium.
However, if Bradbury thought that the e-book was the start of a descent into his imagined future, he is mistaken. The e-book does devalue the written word – it merely makes it more accessible. While I am most definitely in the camp of the traditional, bound and spined book, I have no objection to the e-book as a format. It allows many people to readily access their favourite books at their own convenience. Although an e-reader lacks the personality of a ‘real’ book, I would much prefer to see people sitting on the tube reading their digital book than not reading at all. The e-book will not lead to a Fahrenheit-451-style destruction of the written word. Quite the opposite. Many aspiring writers have self-published on the Kindle store, allowing them to disseminate their work without having to go through a publisher and projects such as Project Gutenberg have made reading ‘classic’ literature the simple matter of clicking ‘download’. In fact, as I write this, I have The Scarlet Letter open in another tab, waiting to be read. The e-book will not cause the written word to fizzle out and turn to ashes, quite the contrary; it allows for it to rise like a phoenix from the flames.