Should We Burn Ray Bradbury’s Books?

f451

Book cover for Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451.”

I just read an essay by Katie Naum at the Electric Lit website called The New ‘Fahrenheit 451’ Movie Fails to Reckon with Bradbury’s Racism.

First of all, I had no idea HBO had remade the film adaptation of Bradbury’s classic novel (I have seen the 1966 film version, and of course I’ve read the novel a number of times). Secondly, Ms. Naum and I seem to have read very different novels titled Fahrenheit 451 and authored by Ray Bradbury.

Here’s what I mean, quoting from Naum’s essay:

I still have that same copy of Fahrenheit 451 — a trade paperback edition printed circa 1993, whose creased cover and flammable pages are already yellowed and crumbling. I reread it prior to watching the new film version, starring Michael B. Jordan as protagonist Guy Montag, and Michael Shannon as his boss — and ultimately, the bad guy — Captain Beatty. The novel was largely as I remembered it, until I got to the end. At the back of the book, there are a few pages Bradbury wrote decades later, in 1979, where he gets into what he thinks the real threat to literature is. I’d forgotten that reading this coda as a child always left me feeling uncomfortable, in a way I couldn’t fully interpret yet.

He is angry at a “solemn young Vassar lady” who asked whether he might write more female characters. He is angry at other readers who disapprove of how he wrote “the blacks” in one of his stories. He is angry at “the Irish,” “the Chicano intellectuals,” at “every minority” that has some perspective on his stories at variance with his. In his own words, every last one of them “feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse…. Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from this book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the libraries closed forever.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote, but I wanted to provide enough specific information to convey the issue at hand.

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The Night They Burned “The Cat in the Hat”

book burning

Found at Blunderbuss Magazine

The older couple held hands and cried at the book burning party. Like everyone else in town, they were compelled by government edict to attend and witness the “liberating” event. Only State approved books were allowed in schools anymore. The State had been collecting those publications deemed “racist,” “sexist,” and every other forbidden “ist” on their list and storing them in a warehouse near the town square just for this occasion.

Fortunately, children under six were exempt from attending, so their grandkids were spared this atrocity, being cared for at home by their son.

“How did the world come to this, Jeannie? I thought book burning went out with the Nazis.”

“There are always Nazis, Mike. They’re just called by different names.”

“What a terrible world we live in.”

“At least they’re not kicking down our front door and confiscating our library.”

“That’s true, darling. But we have to keep reminding the little ones not to tell their teachers what we read to them at home.”

“Do you think it will ever get better, Mike?”

“As long as we teach Jimmy and Autumn to grow up as critical thinkers, to trust themselves and those who love them rather than the State, then yes, it will. Someday they’ll be running the nation and then it won’t be the State anymore. It’ll be a free country again.”

“We won’t live to see it, will we?”

“Probably not, Jeannie, but our grandchildren will. Our hope for the future is in them.

I haven’t gotten blatantly political on this blog in quite some time, but I read a series of stories in social media this morning that bothered me, and when I’m bothered, I process my thoughts and emotions by writing (some authors have told me they are “blocked” when they become upset which just astounds me).

It all started with a story I found on Facebook published by a conservative news agency. I had to fact check it since news organizations that lean either one direction or the other politically and socially aren’t always totally trustworthy. I found the story published by a number of venues including the Washington Post and it’s called ‘Racist propaganda’: Librarian rejects Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books.

You can click on the link I provided above to read the story, but basically, it tells the tale of First Lady Melania Trump donating some books to what I gather to be a rather posh public school in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the occasion of National Read a Book Day. Apparently, the school’s librarian Liz Phipps Soerio took exception to some of the donated books, specifically those penned by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel). You can read Ms. Phipps Soerio’s letter to the First Lady at The Horn Book blog.

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