Books

‘Fahrenheit 451’ is Wichita’s 2016 Big Read selection

Author Ray Bradbury in 1997 in Cupertino, Calif.
Author Ray Bradbury in 1997 in Cupertino, Calif. File photo

“Fahrenheit 451,” Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel about a society where books are outlawed, is the selection for this year’s Wichita Big Read, library officials said.

Cynthia Berner, director of the Wichita Public Library, told Wichita school board members Monday that the library did not receive a grant to finance this year’s Big Read, but it plans to hold the annual event anyway.

This will be the city’s ninth year hosting the Big Read, a community-wide program that encourages diverse audiences to read the same book and participate in events designed around its theme.

“There are some really powerful messages in the book about the importance of literacy and learning,” Berner said.

“We really are now in an age where so much of what people know and incorporate into their decision-making comes from media,” she said. “So understanding how to interpret what you get, we think that’s important as well.”

The library will launch this year’s Big Read on Oct. 1, Berner said. The event will run through Nov. 15.

The event website – www.bigreadwichita.org – confirms the selection of “Fahrenheit 451” for 2016 and displays a well-known quote from the novel: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

This is the first time the National Endowment for the Arts did not award Wichita a grant to help finance its Big Read, Berner said. She said it could mark a transition away from a grant-funded project to a locally funded, self-sustaining annual event.

“Because we have developed such strong partnerships locally, we were able find enough funding at this early point so that we know we can do the program,” she said.

One difference readers may notice this year: The library won’t have as many copies of the book to give away for free, Berner said.

“We continue to seek sponsors and partners, and if we’re able to bump those numbers up at all we will certainly do that,” she said.

Last year’s selection was “Into the Beautiful North” by Luis Alberto Urrea.

This year’s is a more widely known, classic work that is included on many middle school and high school reading lists.

Berner said library officials selected “Fahrenheit 451” about a year ago because some community partners requested more time to develop programs around the book’s themes. This year’s events will include performances by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Wichita Community Theatre, she said.

The novel, first published in 1953, is regarded as one of Bradbury’s best works. It presents a future American society where “firemen” burn any books that are found.

The author said in a 1956 radio interview that he wrote “Fahrenheit 451” because of his concerns at the time – during the McCarthy era – about the threat of book burning in the United States.

The title refers to the temperature at which paper spontaneously ignites.

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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