Shortly before Ray Bradbury’s death in 2012, Harper-Collins published a collection of Bradbury’s short stories entitled A Pleasure to Burn. Containing numerous short stories, many of which are thematically related to Bradbury’s best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, A Pleasure to Burn is a must read for fans of Fahrenheit 451 and science fiction.
The stories in A Pleasure to Burn have much in common with Fahrenheit 451. Like the latter, these are science fiction and fantasy stories that are concerned with real world issues. Themes Bradbury explored throughout his career are all present, including censorship, government surveillance, our infatuation with mass media and technology, conformity and resistance to conformity, and our marginalization of art and literature. Critics have noted that Bradbury’s work often seems prophetic and A Pleasure to Burn is no different. Mildred’s seashell ear thimbles are a lot like an Ipod, and the reduction of meaning to a few lines of text sounds suspiciously like a meme.
One of the most surprising aspects of A Pleasure to Burn, and something that seems to have gone largely unnoticed, is how meta some of Bradbury’s work was. This is literature about literature, but more specifically it is fiction about fiction. Classic horror authors (along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who complains he doesn’t belong) are the main characters of “The Mad Wizards of Mars.” The plot of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is re-enacted in “Carnival of Madness,” with an element of black humor as the censor who gets chained up in a wall by a former librarian doesn’t understand the reference.
There’s a couple downsides to A Pleasure to Burn. More than half the book is taken up by earlier versions of what would become Fahrenheit 451, so it’s sort of redundant. Fans of Bradbury’s work may find the work unnecessary, since much of A Pleasure to Burn has been available for some time in other short story collections. However, for those like myself who have not read much of Bradbury outside of Fahrenheit 451, A Pleasure to Burn is also a pleasure to read.