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Published: Wednesday, 2/28/2007

Big Read to be a monthlong page-turner

BY BENJAMIN
ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Monroe County residents will be asked to read the same book from March 18 to April 18 and engage in discussions on the same theme - censorship.

The goal of this month's Big Read initiative is to have all county residents crack open Fahrenheit 451. In Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel, the characters do not know their past because all the books chronicling history have been burned.

Will Sweat, director of the Arthur Lesow Community Center in Monroe, sees a parallel with current times.

"We are losing our literacy and we need to get people to start thinking about what this means," Mr. Sweat said.

"I think we really need to start having an honest conversation about reading. It's one of those things our schools have always done poorly."

The National Endowment for the Arts started the Big Read program in response to its 2004 report, "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America."

Less than half the adult American population regularly reads literature, the report said, and the percentage of adults reading any type of book had fallen 7 percent since 1994.

Mr. Sweat originally suggested the county choose Fahrenheit 451 because he thought residents might relate to the theme of censorship and its affect on history.

"Monroe has so much history and I thought people would be interested in thinking about what this means for us and how it would affect us if all this history one day vanished because of censorship," Mr. Sweat said.

Bernie Smith, the county library system's public relations officer, said libraries will put up displays and banners for Big Read next week. The displays will feature books that were banned at one place or time in U.S. history.

Librarians are wearing buttons saying they have read Fahrenheit 451 and the libraries have stocked up on additional copies of the book to handle anticipated demand. Most library branches will hold discussion groups on the book.

Beth Kolar, co-chairman of the Big Read program at Monroe County Community College, said the school bought 600 copies of Fahrenheit 451 and will distribute them free to residents during the month-long program.

The kickoff event scheduled for 2 p.m. March 18 at Loranger Square in downtown Monroe will feature proclamations by city officials, as well as live entertainment. Firefighters will drop off 100 free copies of the book to guests. The choice of firefighters is deliberate: Farenheit 451's main character is a firefighter who burns books.

The Arthur Lesow Community Center has a Read-A-Thon scheduled from April 9 to April 21 that will try to establish a Guinness World Record for the longest consecutive read.

But mainly Mr. Sweat said he just hopes to increase community involvement, so reading may become "more of a community thing."

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded the college a $17,000 grant to support the month-long community reading program. Monroe County is one of 72 communities that will hold a Big Read program between now and June. The college also received about $21,000 in donations from various community organizations.



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