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Banned Books Week: Fahrenheit 451


Fahrenheit 451

September 24th through October 1st is Banned Books Week. Last year, I blogged my thoughts on book banning. This year, I’ve picked seven books from the ALA’s list of frequently challenged classics, and will explain over the week why those books are awesome. Also, I have a copy of each book, and will be giving them away to seven lucky winners! Read to the bottom for details.

If you’ve been living under a rock: In a dystopian future of mindless television slaves, where the very act of thinking has been criminalized and firemen have been turned to the task of burning books, once stalwart party-line man Guy Montag meets a girl and has a change of heart.

Why it has been banned: The usual ridiculous reasons such as language ("hell” and “damn” and other such swears that seem laughably mild by modern standards, but weren’t so mild in 1953), but also because the Bible is among the books burned in Bradbury’s dystopia.

Why that’s dumb: Banning this book for swearing is, of course, laughable for exactly the same reasons as for The Catcher in the Rye; kids encounter these words from numerous sources well before they ever see them in a book like this. Saying that it is somehow the job of writers and other artists to put forth a version of the world that is sanitized to everyone’s liking is equally foolish. It is the job of writers and other artists to put forth the world as it is, that we may see it better, because it is the job of each and every one of us to improve the world into what it should be.

Also, no one who has actually read Fahrenheit 451 while paying attention would buy into the notion that Ray Bradbury was advocating burning Bibles. Quite the opposite: Bradbury was showing readers of the Cold War, McCarthy-era ‘50s what the logical extension of that kind of hysterical thought policing would lead. Burning Bibles represents how bad that brand of authoritarianism could get. Bradbury, quite clearly, isn’t in favor of burning any books, religious ones or otherwise.

And also, can I just take a moment to point out the ridiculous irony of attempts to censor a book that is fundamentally about the evils of censorship?

Why this book is awesome: Censorship is an attack on all of us. Each and every one. The rights to think what we like, to express what we think, and to share those ideas are the most sacrosanct and inviolable. There is a reason why the First Amendment is first in the Bill of Rights.

What do I care if someone wants to ban James Joyce’s Ulysses, a book that I will admit to having no interest in and will likely never read? I care, or I should, because if that ban is successful then I am that much closer to being prevented from reading something I do want to read. And I am that much closer to having my own ideas censored.

Fahrenheit 451 is awesome not only because Bradbury takes a stand against censorship, exposing it for the morally bankrupt concept that it is, but because in it Bradbury shows us a vision of what lies at the end of that path, once we start taking steps along it. Don’t take that route, he tells us. You won’t like what you find there.

Win this book! Besides pontificating, what could be a more fitting response to Banned Books Week than to give away copies of these books? I’m giving these seven books, one per winner, to randomly selected people who share this post on Twitter. Just click the Tweet this! link at the bottom of the post. I will announce the winners on Monday, October 3rd.

If you’re just joining us, here’s the rest of the posts:

September 26, 2011 15:54 UTC

Tags: Banned Books Week, Ray Bradbury, censorship

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