IDA, Mich. - Four Ida women who analyzed Fahrenheit 451 during a roundtable discussion at an area library last week saw parallels in the censorship theme of author Ray Bradbury's 1953 science-fiction classic and in modern efforts to encourage reading.
As Mr. Bradbury was once quoted as saying: "You don't have to burn books to destroy culture. Just get people to stop reading them."
The forum at Ida library was part of the Monroe County Library System's Big Read initiative, which started March 18. The library system's 16 branches are planning similar discussions on Fahrenheit 451 before the event ends April 21.
Big Read is the brainchild of the National Endowment for the Arts, which concluded in a 2004 report that Americans need to read more literature.
The report found that fewer than half of American adults read literature on a regular basis - and that the percentage of adults reading any type of book has fallen 7 percent since 1994.
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Monroe County Community College a $17,000 grant to support the month-long community reading program.
Monroe County is one of 72 areas holding a Big Read program between now and June. The college also received about $21,000 in donations from various community organizations.
In Fahrenheit 451, characters do not know their past because all the books chronicling history have been burned.
The panel that analyzed the book at the Ida library gathering consisted of Sheila Kreichbaum, 36, Susan Lopez, 56, Marge Kreps, 70, and Pat Hammond, 73.
Judy Murray, a Bedford librarian, led the discussion.
Mrs. Kreichbaum said Mr. Bradbury's characters were "childlike" because of how oblivious they seemed to what was happening around them.
Mrs. Lopez drew a parallel to modern times.
"Doesn't the population right now not really care that much about the wars and other things in the world, unless someone dies from home or somehow things begin to affect them?" she asked.
Mrs. Murray broadened the conversation by asking the group for some general thoughts about the value of books.
Mrs. Kreichbaum noted how they stimulate intellect and help people "envision a better tomorrow."
Mrs. Kreps said she enjoys a good read because it offers her refuge.
"It takes me to a quiet place, away from things in my life," she said.
The Bedford librarian probed the panel on the perceptions of Mr. Bradbury's characters, asking them if they believe people become "less human" when they don't read.
Mrs. Kreps and Mrs. Lopez said they are married to non-readers and find them very human indeed.
But Mrs. Murray continued the thought by asking what parallels the group saw between modern times and Fahrenheit 451's plot, one in which the public stops reading on its own accord.
Mrs. Kreps agreed there seems to be a connection.
"We are raising a whole generation of children who are not reading. I think it is because everyone's so busy," Mrs. Kreps said.
Mrs. Kreichbaum said families should make time to read. "I schedule my children to read before bed," she said.
Are there any books that should be censored? Such as Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf?
Mrs. Murray referred to former President Dwight Eisenhower's 1953 commencement speech at Dartmouth College, in which he warned against the evils of burning books - even those that espoused communism.
He reasoned that it would be better to learn the pitfalls of controversial things - even those you don't agree with - than to live in denial.
"Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed," Eisenhower said. "Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book."
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