A library table sits between bookcases with a large window ahead, inviting a reader to enjoy the pleasure of plot twists.

The Pleasure of Burning, and Plot Twists

I’ve loved reading since before I could read. In elementary school, I was the girl reading the dictionary at recess. In junior high, I was the girl reading every Nancy Drew the library had available. In young motherhood, I was the mom reading stacks of books before nap time, and as long as my voice didn’t give out or I didn’t fall asleep before the person to whom I was reading, I’d read through whole stack, plus a few extra. Now that I’m in a later season of motherhood, I’m the mom on the go listening to audiobooks – the silver lining on the dark cloud of driving. Not my preference, but it squeezes books into my busy life.

But every once in a while, the ol’ book nerd shows her face, especially when one of my children is assigned a book. So when my son’s teacher sent an email requesting all students order a copy of Fahrenheit 451 – a book I never read in high school – I placed the order within approximately 7 seconds, and when it arrived (used, of course), I practically Hulk ripped the package open and did what all book nerds do: I inhaled it while flipping the pages.

While huffing the book in my kitchen like some kind of book junkie, geeking out over a book I wouldn’t be reading, I thought of my son who doesn’t geek out over books, because he hates books and hates reading. In fact, the last time he shared his enlightened opinion it went something like, ‘Books are dumb, reading is dumb, honors English is dumb and mom never should have signed me up because I’m going to a college where they never make you read, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.’

I was holding a book with ’60th Anniversary Edition’ printed boldly above the title and I knew, sadly, my son would make it through one paragraph of decades old language, and then he’d threaten to poke both his eyes out.

I thought of my ninth grade English teacher reading Romeo and Juliet aloud to a classroom of fifteen year olds, defining ancient vocabulary, pausing to explain context, going only as far as the next sentence before pausing again to answer questions. Weeks or months later, she finished reading us the entire play, and all of us understood every section of the Shakespearian tragedy.

If there was any chance the concepts and imagery of a sixty-five year old piece of literature were going to sink into my fourteen year old’s head rather than fly over it, and if there was any hope my son would one day appreciate books rather than loathe them for all time, someone would have to read his book with him, explaining every difficult piece of text. I decided I would be that someone. I would become my ninth grade English teacher.

So my son and I camped out in the front room together and I read the first line, “It was a pleasure to burn.” My son was scowling; I was salivating. We were off to a great start.

Over many hours and weeks we followed the character as he encountered questions and people and ideas that challenged everything he thought he knew about pleasure and burning, about life, about himself, about the truth. Eventually the character must choose: Does he want the answers he’s always been given or does he want to find answers for the questions he’s burning to ask?

Life is in the questions – truth is in the answers. That’s why God, as Father and as Son, asks so many questions throughout the Bible, and that’s why when I’m in a quandary over answers and ideas, I let His Spirit ask me questions. Because in answering Him, the truth is revealed about whether I’m pulling closer to Him or pushing further into myself – am I pulling toward truth or pushing into delusion?

I’d once heard an author say there are seven basic plots for any story written or told, and each of those seven can be boiled into one question – will the character choose the truth or a lie? In the story of my life and in the story of your life, we each must make the same choice. There’s the soul saving choice made to accept Jesus as Savior, to accept the truth we need saving. There are moment by moment soul sustaining choices that are equally important, when everything we hear and see must be checked by the question, ‘Is this God’s truth?’ (If it’s a lie, don’t keep it – especially the lies about who God is and who you are.) And there are soul bearing choices, too, the choices of thought, word, and action that prove the truth of what you believe and who you are.

The character of Fahrenheit 451 chooses to leave the flash, dazzle, and floating ash life to follow the burning in his soul, sensing it will lead him to truth. I paused multiple times in those final pages to make sure my son was listening, and to promise him his mind was about to be blown. (He was half-listening and fully resistant toward having his mind blown.) I clapped with enthusiasm after reading the last sentence, and my son peeled himself from the floor saying, “Cool. We’re done.”

He still claims it’s the worst book he’s ever read (Ok, son, for real?! You’re going to claim you read it?), but after watching the movie version in class, he’s decided the movie is worse. He says the movie didn’t stick to the true story, and I find it interesting he even cares about the true story of the worst book ever. I find it interesting he remembers the true story enough to recognize a false one. Seems my son may have learned something.

And I find that to be a true pleasure.

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  1. I love this, I especially love ‘I let the spirit ask me questions.’ The answers can be found in the questions, and most of the time I’m asking Him, and not letting Him answer, and i rarely listen for His questions. Love it!!

    I remember not liking this book in high school. I have never tried to re-read it, and probably never will, I actually loathed it, I completely understand your son’s POV.

    1. Glad it resonated! My questions aren’t nearly as good as His, so when I’m feeling a little off, I pray, “Ok, Lord, ask me.”

      p.s. Worth the re-read as an adult 🙂

  2. Thanks for the reminder that every day God’s Holy Spirit asks me questions, and every day I have the choice(s) to enjoy His Truth from His Book living out in my life. I’m glad Jesus promised His Word will never “burn” to ash [Matthew 24.35]; but instead, will powerfully “burn” into my soul [Hebrews 4.12]! Like that ninth grade teacher may I desire to understand the impact His “burning” will have in my life and may I have the vision to see how He will use it to influence others, like that teacher saw in a future mother and a present son [2 Timothy 1.5-7].

    1. So true – we can’t fathom the future impact of living the gospel truth today, but it extends wider and deeper than we could ever hope. I want the kind of soul burn that sparks others rather than singeing them…so I keep feeding that fire every day 🙂

  3. Michelle, you and Drake equal Sydney and I. Tragic! But, you are the best mom ever taking that time to read and pour into him. You know he’s never going to fully admit how much he got out of that. Well maybe after a couple of decades. We won’t hold our breath. Love your analogies and comparisons of gospel to every day life. So much learning He offers.

    1. Me and Faun, me and Eva, me and Drake…I’ve done all the combos. Good thing I like to read! It’ll take decades for sure, but there will be pay off. Labors of love are never wasted. Thanks for learning with me!

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