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Going big with Bradbury

The Big Read features a month of events centered around Farenheit 451
by: Ellen Spitaleri, Elizabeth Klein, program manager for Clackamas County Arts Alliance, with a copy of “Farenheit 451.”

Citizens of Clackamas County, prepare to open your books, The Big Read begins in three days.

Organizers for the event chose Ray Bradbury's classic science fiction novel 'Fahrenheit 451' out of a field of 16 books offered by the National Endowment for the Arts. County residents are encouraged to read the book and share their opinions.

On Feb. 2, beginning at 1 p.m., most of the libraries in Clackamas County will begin handing out free copies of the book and reading guides, as long as supplies last.

'Even though 'Fahrenheit 451' was written five decades ago, the themes are still relevant today; themes like censorship, First Amendment rights and banning books,' said Elizabeth Klein, program manager for the Clackamas County Arts Alliance, one of the organizations responsible for bringing The Big Read to the county.

'Also, it is a book that is potentially engaging to youth, especially teen boys, and it has a movie associated with it. So that is an opportunity to share the story in another form,' she added.

Free copies of the book and study guide are also available in Spanish, Klein said, which is another reason 'Fahrenheit 451' was chosen.

Complex issues

The Big Read Web site describes 'Fahrenheit 451' as taking place in a world 'in which firemen burn books…the state suppresses learning [and]… the citizenry sits by in drug-induced and media-saturated indifference.'

The central protagonist, fireman Guy Montag, ultimately rebels against the state and escapes to the countryside, where he finds a 'resistance force of readers, each one responsible for memorizing - and thereby preserving - the entire contents of a different book.'

The title of the book refers to the fact that Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns.

''Fahrenheit 451' is a seminal novel of our culture and part of the collective consciousness. It is important that people of all ages read the book and be conversant in the ideas presented as part of personal cultural literacy.

'Oregon Alliance for Arts Education believes that it is a work that is engaging to all readers and in particular young male readers forming opinions and ideas about who they are and their place in society,' said Don Hudgins, executive director, Oregon Alliance for Arts Education, another sponsor of The Big Read.

A national program

The Big Read is a program that came about 'in response to a survey years ago that showed a sharp decline in reading literacy for pleasure all across the board, but especially in teens and youth,' Klein said.

The idea behind The Big Read is to 'engage the entire community around the reading of one particular book,' she said.

This is the first time for the program in Clackamas County, but it began nationally in 2006 with 10 communities choosing from among four books. By 2009, 400 communities will have participated in the activity, which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Klein said that the Oregon Alliance for Arts Education and the Clackamas County Arts Alliance partnered to apply for an NEA grant in order to bring The Big Read to Clackamas County.

Other organizations have since come on board, Klein said, including Clackamas Community College, the Library Information Network of Clackamas County, Barnes and Noble at Clackamas Town Center and middle schools and high schools throughout the county.

'Part of the Barnes and Noble partnership was to raise $1,400 to purchase 'Fahrenheit 451,' to be given to the libraries, and we purchased 1,000 more books from the grant funds that will also be given to the libraries and to CCC,' Klein noted.

'Fahrenheit 451' is also available as a free download.

Full schedule planned

Activities associated with reading the book will take place in libraries around the county and at Clackamas Community College, Klein said.

In the Oregon City library, 'people will come in and make giant-sized books like a sandwich board, and they will wear their favorite books. It is a creative project that will generate discussion.

'Other libraries will ask patrons to write 100-word essays telling which books they would save, and which ones they would burn,' she noted.

On Feb. 1, Clackamas Community College will host showings of the movie of 'Fahrenheit 451' in the McLoughlin Auditorium, and John Frohnmayer, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will speak about First Amendment rights in the Osterman Theatre on campus.

Dan Duhrkoop's paintings of fire stations will be on display that day as well.

Feb. 18 will be devoted to free speech on campus, as a day-long soapbox forum will be set up and the CCC debate team and political science instructor Dean Darris will conduct discussions on the issue.

That evening, David Smith-English will introduce noted Portland actor Tobias Andersen, who will present dramatic portions of his one-man show based on Bradbury's work.

'Following that will be a book-burning event that should be fun and interesting,' Klein said.

Community events

She and her colleagues are hoping that people will participate in The Big Read, as the activity 'opens up dialogue between people and it brings the community together as they read a common book.'

Organizers want to hear from participants and have set up a MySpace page and a blogging page, so that people can share activities or their experiences as they participate in The Big Read.

Klein said that readers will be 'pleasantly surprised by the book itself - its themes and story line. 'Fahrenheit 451' is multifaceted and has so many different elements - it is engaging and its themes are still relevant.'

She added, 'It's like that old statement: 'Leaders are readers and readers are leaders.' We have to open people's minds to the value of reading.

'We have to pass this down to our children and future generations. Sometimes we don't have the funding to engage in these activities and it would be sad to lose that component of our culture.'

Bradbury's short story discovered by Capote

The following information about the author is taken from www.neabigread.org

Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., into a family that once included a 17th-century Salem woman tried for witchcraft.

The Bradbury family drove across the country to Los Angeles in 1934, with young Ray piling out of their jalopy at every stop to plunder the local library in search of L. Frank Baum's Oz books.

In 1936, Bradbury experienced a rite of passage familiar to most science-fiction readers: the realization that he was not alone. At a secondhand bookstore in Hollywood, he discovered a handbill promoting meetings of the 'Los Angeles Science Fiction Society.' Thrilled, he joined a weekly Thursday-night conclave that would grow to attract such science-fiction legends as Robert A. Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, and future Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

After a rejection notice from the pulp magazine Weird Tales, he sent his short story 'Homecoming' to Mademoiselle. There it was spotted by a young editorial assistant named Truman Capote, who rescued the manuscript from the slush pile and helped get it published in the magazine.

'Homecoming' won a place in The O. Henry Prize Stories of 1947.

Bradbury wrote 'Fahrenheit 451' in 1953 on a rental typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Lawrence Clark Powell Library.

Ballantine editor Stanley Kauffman, later the longtime film critic for The New Republic magazine, flew out to Los Angeles to go over the manuscript with Bradbury.

The book came out to rapturous reviews. To this day it sells at least 50,000 copies a year, and has become a touchstone around the world for readers and writers living under repressive regimes.

In 2004, Bradbury received the National Medal of Arts, a presidential award administered by the National Endowment for the Arts. He accepted a citation recognizing 'his gift for language, his insights into the human condition, and his commitment to the freedom of the individual.'

Other works by Ray Bradbury include: 'The Martian Chronicles,' 1950; 'The Illustrated Man,' 1951; 'Dandelion Wine,' 1957; 'Something Wicked This Way Comes,' 1962.

Big Read Schedule, Feb. 1-5

Feb. 1 - Showings of the movie 'Fahrenheit 451,' at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in McLoughlin Auditorium at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City.

• John Frohnmayer, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), will speak about First Amendment rights in the Osterman Theatre at Clackamas Community College at 7:30 p.m.

• 'Fire Station' art exhibit - works by artist Dan Duhrkoop featuring eight fire station pieces will be on exhibit at the Neimeyer Center.

Feb. 2 - Beginning at 1 p.m., free copies of 'Fahrenheit 451' and reading guides will be given away, while supplies last, at public libraries in Canby, Estacada, Gladstone, Milwaukie, Molalla, Oregon City, West Linn and Wilsonville.

• Firefighters will be on hand to distribute books at the Oregon City library at 1:30 p.m.

Feb. 5 - 'What book would you save/burn?' essay event at CCC, at 10 a.m.

• Join the book discussion group at the Gladstone Library at 7 p.m. and hear a presentation from Anne-Louise Sterry, professional storyteller and actor.

For a complete list of activities throughout February, visit www.bigreadcc.org