So, as you may or may not know, Ray Bradbury died exactly one year ago today. In addition to being a personal hero of mine, Bradbury is intimately associated with banned books, both because of his many works that have been banned and the themes of his perennial classic, Fahrenheit 451. Taking Fahrenheit 451 out of my local library was a day that changed my life, as no book has ever made me so afraid. Clarisse’s death and the woman who went up in flames with her books rather than live without them had a particular impact on my teenage self.
However, as Bradbury has long argued to no avail, Fahrenheit 451 isn’t about censorship. The firefighters were not some draconian government crackdown on free thinkers. Books were only illegal because people demanded that they be. They were too upsetting, too long, too dry, too boring, too full of thoughts best left unpondered. People had only been reading the condensed, abridged, and cliffnoted versions for many a year before they outlawed books.
While I don’t share Mr. Bradbury’s broad dismissal of certain media as less intellectual (I’d so much rather my future children watch NatGeo or play Skyrim than read Twilight) or his assertion that comics will linger after books have gone out of style (given censorship’s particular fetish for them, they’ll likely be the first to burn), I do think not caring about books and the opportunities they hold is far more detrimental than any damage censors could inflict. Knowledge is power and when others have to fight and persevere for a chance at that knowledge (just look at Malala Yousafzai or even Ben Franklin), it is a sin not to take advantage of it.
So, I call upon you, my good readers, to reclaim your power and do some summer reading. I don’t care what genre you read, so long as it makes you think or want to keep turning the page. Crack open a spine in your armchair, read a paperback by the pool, whip out your nook or kindle on a train, listen to an audiobook on a road trip, listen to one on your iPod while you’re at the gym, have someone read to you, read to someone else, pour over an illuminated manuscript, read the walls of a pharaoh’s tomb, whatever works for you.
Reading is about your passions, your interests, and your pursuit for knowledge, so have fun. Ponder your books alone on a beach, discuss them with a friend or book club, argue about them on the internet. If you have kids, see if your library or bookstore has a summer reading contest/program or kids’ book club. Or do what my mom did every summer and read a book together before seeing the movie. Reading is often thought of a solitary pastime, but it doesn’t have to be. Dish about the Red Wedding with your coworkers, read separately alongside your friends, or ask your classmates for suggestions on what to read next. If you are looking for something to read this summer, might I suggest picking up a banned book?
Here’s to the readers and thinkers and doers. And here’s to you, Mr. Bradbury. Tonight I drink to all of you.