Monday, April 30, 2012

Is Truth Stranger Than Fiction?

Whenever I mention that good books are disappearing, someone is sure to bring up Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. I remember avoiding that book because I wasn’t much of a science fiction aficionado; however, when I did finally read it, I couldn’t put it down.

Of course it seemed ludicrous that firemen instead of putting out fires were actually laboring to burn things, but the fact that their job was to hunt down and burn books was horrifying. In a truly tyranical government though,what a perfect way to control people’s minds, preventing them from being informed of or discovering new ideas. Without story and ideas, we are easily managed. He wrote the book long before the arrival of the internet, but it’s not hard to imagine how electronic media could easily be staunched by a few interventions.

I have since read several other Bradbury books and find his writing to be powerful, often macabre, but the language poetically vivid. My imagination definitely has a lot to ponder and muse on afterward. There are scenes from certain books that I still delight to recall. When I recently came across a lengthy magazine interview with him, I read with eagerness.

Since I love books, I absolutely love reading about the authors who wrote them and devour any books I get by authors about their writing or interviews such as this one. It is intriguing to hear firsthand from the source about their life, the ideas that have influenced them, the process of developing the stories that have gone seemingly straight from their creative mind into mine and become part of me. We are affected in some way by every encounter we have with a book. Many books I have read have profoundly changed the course of my life, others have simply entertained and amused me, But nothing my mind engages has no influence on me either positively or negatively.

So just imagine my delight when Mr. Bradbury expounded on libraries! I don’t know why I would have thought libraries weren’t important to him, when I remember that pivotal scene in Something Wicked This Way Comes. When the interviewer asked him, “You’re self-educated, aren’t you?” this was his response:
“Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles and spent long days every summer in the library. …but with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose. You begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read, and it’s far more fun than going to school…I’m a librarian. I discovered “me” in the library. I went to find “me” in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and, finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was 27. I discovered that the library is the real school.” (“An Interview with Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller, copyright 2010, The Paris Review Foundation).
Later in the interview, Bradbury was asked about what educational reforms he would make today. He said he would teach kids to read and write by the time they are six-years-old. Then they could educate themselves. “The library willl be the place where they grow up.”

And in another place, “When I wrote Fahrenheit 451, I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.”

A few years ago there was a lot of hullabaloo about the 2008 CPSIA (Consumer Protection Safety Improvement Act, public law 110-314). Basically, books got lumped into used clothing and toy sales as containing dangerous levels of lead for children. Libraries began purging their shelves of books written  before 1985. According to this law, children under twelve should not be exposed to books printed before this date. I wonder what Montag would think of this move.

For the joy of reading,


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