Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chat NOW!


Join our book discussion at 9 pm tonight!

Insidious Effects

I have to admit I had a little trouble starting Fahrenheit 451. Like many others, I'd read it in High School and remembered its story as enmeshed with Brave New World and 1984. As I continued to read, through the "Sieve and the Sand" and into "Burning Bright," I realized what I had lost among the years of memory. Specifically, I'd forgotten the insidious undertone of the novel, the implied governmental direction and the stifling of bibliophiles and philonoists. This is what started me turning pages, reading at breakfast and lunch, and before bed: the implicit warning to us, the readers, about censorship. I finished the book in half the time it took me to start it. And I was captivated by what Bradbury left out, but hinted at. The cinematic drama of the chase, the collection of hobos along the tracks, the discussion of politicians, the war--all implied a government controlling a country with a wicked coerciveness and a stupefying ability over its constituents.

It makes me wonder, what lead to such a government and a culture? How did they stifle the curiosity of an entire nation? And how can we work to ensure that future isn't ours?

Monday, April 16, 2007

McCarthy and Bradbury should have had coffee...

This past Sunday the Fayetteville Public Library showed Good Night, and Good Luck as part of the Big Read.  This film, which told the story of journalist Edward R. Murrow's fight against the oppression of the McCarthy anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950's, showed America at a time when civil liberties were forgotten, left was definitely the wrong direction, and people were taken to trial on a rumor.
America under the fervent guide of McCarthy was simmering in a culture of fear; the perfect condition for oppression to squeeze into a choke-hold.  Grown-up Americans feared being thought of as unpatriotic the way they feared being thought of as unpopular in high school.  Their social standing, livelihood, and future employment prospects could be jeopardized if others thought they were a Communist, un-American.  They feared being different.
To form the perfect dystopia, fear must be fostered, and individualism squashed.  As Murrow put it, "If none of us had ever read a dangerous book or had a friend who was different or never joined an organization that advocates change we'd be just the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants."
Just as individualism and original thought were discouraged during this precarious time, those things were likewise discouraged in Fahrenheit 451.  People did not sit on porches and talk or congregate without arousing suspicion.  Civil human interaction was frowned upon because like-minded people will find each other, and they will talk, and they will be joined by other like-minded people, and they will talk, and as they talk they will question.  They will question the government, the system, and society in general.  They will discover that something is amiss, and then talking becomes planning.  This does not work in a dystopia.  These sorts of people will not be content to be automatons who let the firemen or McCarthy protect them.
At the beginning of every hostile takeover in history, whether it was the French Revolution, the cultural revolution in China, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge or Stalin's pre-cursor to the Gulag, the first people persecuted are the educated, and then the artists.  These people question.  During the McCarthy era, writers and artists were often under heavy suspicion, and sometimes jailed because (for example) twenty years previous they may have dated someone who may have had a relative who may or may not have gone to the wrong sort of political meeting.  The outcasts and the persecuted in Fahrenheit 451 were those who were educated; those who retained the history of society before insipid entertainment trained it to be nearly mindless.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Get Involved! (around town through technology)

You come to the library regularly. You've read the bulletins and the monthly newsletters, you keep up with the Community Information boards. These are paper things, things that can be folded, stacked, and stuffed into bags or pockets. Things that can be pinned to a corkboard or stuck to the fridge upon returning home. But you also know about the emailed SPAM, the RSS feeds constantly updating your life, the singular second-soundbites on the News programs "keeping you informed." Maybe you tend to tune it all out, this omnipresent technology. Or maybe you tend to pay too much attention to it.

Bradbury warns against its over-saturation, the wall-tvs (LCD flat-screen televisions), the seashells (earbuds of the ipods), eyes lurking in vents (a nightmared panopticon for those who start to realize the implications their surroundings, as Guy Montag does at the beginning of the book).

Libraries are continuing sources of new technology, always trying to maintain the latest opportunities through new information sources. But you can be, too. Take home the paper copy of local calendars, write down dates in your planners, but also use the plastic keys at your fingertips. Even if you don't have a computer at home, you can use one at the FPL to access a world of real, three-dimensional events and information involving real, touchable, interactive people.

Here are a few ways you can use the technology that saturates our lives to get outside of the screen, to recenter yourself in your community:

Access Fayetteville always has local events posted: look for their Calendar, Events, and Meetings page to view a variety of community events.

The University of Arkansas doesn't just have events for students. There are always plays, gallery shows, and speakers coming to the campus that have a plethora of information to offer to the general public.

Also, the Free Weekly always has an "Eight Days a Week" section that has music, art and theater events for the month.

And, seasonally open and always a social event, is the Fayetteville Farmer's Market (print out the schedule, put it on your fridge and remember when you're out of bell peppers you can pop up to the downtown Square and choose your own locally grown produce).

The opportunities for interaction are endless.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Bradbury's contradicting perceptions

I found Bradbury's book to be disturbingly prophetic, especially as a former junior high English teacher - in the nine years I spent in the classroom, I watched students steadily become fixated with iPods and cellphones, so possessive of them that they would break down in tears if their tiny gadgets, so much like the Seashells, were confiscated in areas where/at times when they were not approved; I listened to the students have extremely detailed, nearly philosophical, discussions of video games - echoes of Mildred's insistence that her relationships with the people in her living room walls are real; and I'm sure more of their homes had flat-screen TVs reminiscent of Bradbury's "video walls" than did not. I felt a desperate sadness as I read the book, wondering if/when our society will ever break itself of its craving for instant, spoon-fed gratification of the senses rather than intelligence or imagination. At once, much of the information emanating from our computers and television screens caters to the lowest common denominator in that it only scratches the surface of any topic, and many of those topics are coarse. Yet the presentation of the information has now become a blitzkrieg of color, noise, and speed.
Thus is the battle (okay, one of many) that teachers face, and it is NOT one that can be won by "hand[ing] them a book, that's all" or by "giv[ing] one of my books," as Bradbury states in the interview at the end of the anniversary edition, "to a twelve-year-old boy who doesn't like to read," because "that boy will fall in love and start to read." Those are weirdly idealistic and naive statements for Bradbury to make, especially since he is responsible for the darkly sophisticated forecast that is Farenheit 451. However, I don't even know that an apocalyptic event can shake our culture of its addiction to brain candy, as Bradbury suggests in his novel. The aftermath of September 11 brought about a resurgence of a focus on the family and spending quality time together - of really seeing and hearing each other - but that, in large part, has passed. So I must respectfully disagree with Bradbury's extremely oversimplified solution to the problem of our culture being "increasingly dominated by the visual." And education is not the main problem, as he says; it's society. Really and truly, those teachers who enter their profession sincerely and not for the summer vacations, don't want or need extra pay; they need HELP. They need support from parents in presenting a consistent message of the importance of the printed word in their homes. They need support from politicians in the form of many, many more colleagues and many, many more resources. They need support from the public as a whole in facilitating a shift away from effortless entertainment toward an intellectual pursuit that can be so richly fulfilling in its challenges, i.e. READING A BOOK!
Fayetteville Fire Chief Tony Johnson
Reads Fahrenheit 451

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fire is bright and fire is clean

I come home and turn the TV on to “My baloney has a first name; it's O-S-C-A-R” - aw, that’s cute – I pick up the paper to see what’s going on around me. Ugh, it’s just so depressing. I’ll just skim through the headlines online later. For now, better stick to Primetime TV. I need something that will help me forget about my worries… And there we have it, my life could be a scene right out of Fahrenheit 451, except the only difference is the books I’m not reading aren’t hidden in ceiling panels but sitting on a bookshelf staring straight at me. I look around for the electrical hounds - whew, there is still time, better start reading!

I might sound a little alarmist, but I just finished the first chapter of my copy of 451 to discover that Bradbury’s science fiction novel is not coming across as fictional as I anticipated. His descriptions of common household wall-size TVs, globalization of quick recaps of information, and a seemingly scripted political correctness designed to minimize offensive opinions are right on target. I’d be really terrified if I had not just helped the library hand out 3,000 copies of this book in practically one week. Feeling confident I live in a community that values reading and books, I’m moving on to chapter 2.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Nobody can read just one

So, you have finished F451. Are you hungry for more? (Honestly, Guy Montag would not want you to stop with just one book.) If you are looking for more anti-utopian novels or just great titles that illustrate the power of the written word, then you should check out the following books.

1984 by George Orwell
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Ex-Libris by Ross King
The Librarian by Larry Beinhart
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Bookwoman's Last Fling by John Dunning
334 by Thomas M. Disch
We by Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin
A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
The Destruction of the Books by Mel Odom
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay
Smoke Screen by Marianne Macdonald
The Book Borrower by Alice Mattison
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn (a personal favorite)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Books should be seen (and heard)!

Intrigued by the fact that copies of Fahrenheit 451 were suddenly all over the place and free for the taking, people have begun to share stories of their experiences with the novel.  Some read it in school under duress, some read it on the recommendation of a friend.  Their responses to the book varied in intensity, but none were negative.  Some people were grateful for the reading freedoms that we enjoy; some shuddered at the thought of ever having to live in a Fahrenheit 451 type of world that takes away the simplest of freedoms under the guise of protection.
My own reaction when I read the book eight years ago was that I thought we were all practically force-fed too much entertainment as it was.  I also used to reject the idea of books on tape because I saw it as an easy way out until I learned about auditory learning and realized that just because one heard a book instead of read it didn't mean the words and ideas were any less glorious or had less of an impact.  It was ideas and the feelings that they conjured up that the society in F451 was being "protected" from.   Those ideas and feelings came from the words in the books, whether seen or heard.  Mrs. Phelps breaks down and cries (something she probably had not done in a very long time) when Montag reads Matthew Arnold's poem "Dover Beach" because it mirrors the life everyone was living.  It handed her this terrible realization that their own "land of dreams" was a painful place to be.  She did not see the words; she heard them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The intake of breath

Self-censorship: noun control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary. From: the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

I do this every day. You do this every day. Self-censorship is the intake of breath as one decides to smile instead of sneer, to say "yes" when you think "no," or even to keep silent when another person voices a contrary opinion. It is a gained professional trait and a skill that is developed with maturity of character. It is valuable as restraint and the ability to temper emotions.

But self-censorship can also lead to the repression of beliefs and opinions out of fear of retribution. It is the symptom of an oppressive government. And in extreme circumstances the silence of a censored voice is more damaging than the sound. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

Our country's ideals and its identities are solidified by the words of the Constitution. "We the People..." are a multiplicity of voices and words, a plethora of beliefs and feelings, and sometimes a barrage of disjointed opinions. The Fourteenth Amendment states "no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States..."

With the intake of breath when we self-censor, we are making a decision about the things that matter most to us as individuals, professionals, and community citizens. It is this choice that is bestowed upon us by our Constitutional Rights. It is this choice that makes us free-thinking individuals. It is this choice that was repressed and that resurfaced from the depths of humanity in the dystopic nightmare of Fahrenheit 451.

I am proud of my restraint, but I am also proud of the intake of breath that prepares me for self expression. I am proud to proclaim my beliefs, but with this pride must come a willingness to listen to others and their own self expression. Otherwise, would I be better than Captain Beatty? Or vapid Mildred Montag?

When was the last time you censored yourself and for what reason? Was it worth it to you?

Message Board Now Available

We just put up a message board for you to leave your comments about any aspect of Fahrenheit 451, The Big Read or the related events.

Find the F451 Message Board link on the right under Get Involved!

Tell us what's on your mind.

Connect! Chat! Bookmark! Share!

We've added two features to the blog today.

Look for the link under Get Involved! to enter a F451 chat room. This room is not moderated, so please be on your best behavior. :)

Look for a new set of links on the right called Bookmark & Share! You can easily add the blog to your del.icio.us or Digg account.

We welcome your comments and suggestions! We want to help everyone connect and get involved.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Temperature's Rising!!

Yesterday, 5 minutes after kicking off The Big Read, I saw a woman in our coffee shop deep into Ray Bradbury rapture. Two hours later I entered a classroom @ Fayetteville High School and witnessed 30 teens finishing chapter 1. And then! This morning! I called the Bank of Fayetteville to check the day’s weather and they told me to join the Fayetteville Public Library for The Big Read! Let me tell you what’s happening with the weather ~ the Temperature’s Rising! We’re even going into the Washington County Jail with this book!
Laura @ the Library

Come and get it!

Yesterday, the library officially kicked off The Big Read! Mayor Dan Coody invited the entire community to participate.

3,000 copies of Fahrenheit 451 are being given away at the library while supplies last. Stop in, pick up a copy. Read it and pass it on!

Be ready to join us for a week of activities around the themes in the novel, April 14 - 21, 2007.

Have you read it??

Monday, March 12, 2007

Controlled Burn

The strangely sensible rationalization for F451 society's book prohibition is revealed early in the novel--to rid the country of the woes brought on by free thought. The purpose, according to Captain Beatty, is the mental well-being of society. Books make people think, agonize, wonder, realize their differences. "Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy." Montag learns that Clarisse, the young girl who sparked his breakdown, is most likely dead, and he is party to a burning that claims a willing human victim. He steals a novel from this burning and spends the next day in bed, where he is visited by Captain Beatty. Beatty's speech to Montag, quiet, eloquent, and peppered with literary quotes, explains that by giving the people endless entertainment and taking away the thinking consequences of reading knowledge, the government is ensuring that the deepest desire of humanity is met. "Ask yourself, what do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun?" Montag struggles under the weight of Beatty's chilling logic, the stolen book burning a hole under his pillow.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Are we there yet?

Paper burns at 451 Fahrenheit, leaving smoke and fragile ash. So fireman Guy Montag plies his book burning responsibilities with the full consent of a dystopia society. A society of surround room TVs, news radios plugged directly into the ear, a focus on technology rather than nature, personal relationships usurped by “devices,” group suppression of critical thought and pleasurable distractions for the masses. Fast forward to HDTV, 24/7 streaming news, cell phones, wireless technology a la Bluetooth headsets connected to personal computers providing constant connectivity and access. A time when parallel living is offered up through cyberspace, computer games are available for all tastes and ages, and “sports” are played in the comfort of a living room. Acceptance by the masses of governments and religions that hawk misinformation, thinly disguised tyranny, rabid intolerance and censorship. Occasionally a misfit cries out through the smoke remembering… something. Ah, Ray, did you mean us? Are we there yet?
NH 3/07

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Big Read Art Contest

Submit art: April 1-April 12
Grades 7th-12th

Read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and submit your artistic interpretation of what you read and how it made you feel. Art will be displayed in the library April 14-21 as part of The Big Read celebration. The winner will receive a gift certificate to Hobby Craft. Submissions can be dropped off at the Children’s Desk and should include name, grade and phone number.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

...and our brave firemen are there whenever we call

If you live in the world of Fahrenheit 451 and have even a single book in your house, the last knock you want on your door is that of The Firemen.
Books are illegal.
They must be burned.
It's for your own protection.
451 degrees Fahrenheit --
the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns!

"paint with water" illustration by Sean, age 3

Thursday, March 1, 2007

the future's so bleak, I gotta wear shades

Ray Bradbury accounted for a good chunk of my high school curriculum, thanks in part to the borderline unhealthy obsession of my 9th grade English teacher, Miss Debusk. She was an extremely chipper woman whose affinity for Ray Bradbury was equalled only by her affnity for Scottish Terriers (half of her wardrobe consisted of sweaters with scotty dogs on them). I remember Miss Debusk going so far as to say that she was in love with Ray Bradbury and would marry him in an instant, which I thought was bizarre because Ray Bradbury didn't look like the kind of person women would dream of marrying and, perhaps more importantly, he was already married. Thanks to Miss Debusk and the Springfield Public School System, I read Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes and last but not least, Fahrenheit 451. Admittedly, I thought it was a gimmicky premise for a book (I've never really been a science fiction buff) but by the time I was done reading it, I had changed my tune. Not only was Fahrenheit 451 better than I thought it was going to be, but it was also my first experience with dystopian literature and it scared the bejeezis out of me. With shades of 1984 and Brave New World, Bradbury's story presents an Orwellian nightmare not too far removed from our current society--an age where television reigns supreme and knowledge and literacy are all but extinct. While this concept might have been unimaginable when the book was first published in 1953, the sad truth is that it doesn't seem so far-fetched today. Bradbury's frightening vision of the future is not only more than plausible--considering how our current culture continues to applaud ignorance and emphasize entertainment over ideas, it seems almost inevitable.

Transformative joys

Hey, I really like Kirk's synopsis of the book! I'm so happy that the National Endowment for the Arts has given us the opportunity to " unite community through great literature " and is " encouraging Americans to discover the transformative joys of reading ". ( Dana Gioia, Chairman NEA ) I'm sure looking forward to all of the great event I know FPL will be planning and I encourage folks to participate. Enjoy our community... Discover transformative joys. Show the NEA that we really appreciate the grant they've given us.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A letter from Ray Bradbury

Click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Burn, Baby, Burn--it begins.

Ray Bradbury's National Book Award-winning novel Fahrenheit 451 reveals in its first part, "The Hearth and the Salamander" several elements of a dystopian society: lack of individualism, government propaganda, re-written history and forced equality. The novel's protagonist Guy Montag, a third-generation fireman, begins to question the state of society after he meets a young girl who tells him the world used to be a different place. She awakens in him a realization of joy in life's simple pleasures--falling rain, a dandelion. He realizes how disconnected people are from each other, their thinking minds suffocated by a constant barrage of pleasureable distractions and media.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thank you sponsors!

The Fayetteville Public Library would like to thank the following sponsors of The Big Read:
Bikes, Blues and B.B.Q., The Bank of Fayetteville, Citiscapes Magazine, Northwest Arkansas Times and Y94.9! We would also like to thank the Northwest Arkansas Community Foundation for providing a grant from the Shared Gift Fund. The grant from the Northwest Arkansas Community Foundaiton will be matched 1:1 by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Your support makes FPL a great library!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Get ready!

Fayetteville's Big Read will occur during National Library Week in April 2007. From April 14-21, 2007, the community will be immersed in Ray Bradbury's classic novel, Fahrenheit 451. A variety of activities geared to all areas—film screenings, music and drama performances, discussions, lectures, after-school activities, and old-fashioned, family fun—will demonstrate the power of reading. One programming highlight is “17 on the 17 th ”—on Tuesday, April 17 th, the library will host 17 book discussions in various locations around town. Discover the library in unexpected places!

Monday, February 19, 2007

FPL Receives Grant for Community-Wide Read

FAYETTEVILLE – The Fayetteville Public Library recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to conduct a community-wide read of Fahrenheit 451 this spring.
The library will organize programs for all ages during April that relate to the themes of the classic novel by Ray Bradbury.

Fayetteville’s activities will include a series of events for adults, teens and children that relate to Fahrenheit 451. The events will culminate with “17 on the 17th,” which will coordinate 17 discussion groups in 17 places on one day.

“It is an extreme honor for the Fayetteville Public Library to be recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts with this grant,” said Shawna Thorup, Assistant Director. “Community participation is vital to the success of this program, and we believe Fayetteville, which values education and reading, will be a great place for this to happen. We’ve already begun planning some amazing events that will get the community rallied around this book.”

The community-wide reading program, known as The Big Read, is a new national program from the NEA, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

The Fayetteville Public Library received $20,000 from the NEA. The Big Read grant was awarded to 72 libraries nationally. The Fayetteville Public Library received the largest funding available for its community size.
This event is part of The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.