Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.”

- Diana Verm, high school student

Sigh. Where do you begin?

It’s all over the web: Alton Verm, his daughter, the irony. The short version is that during Banned Books Week in the States, a guy who didn’t read Fahrenheit 451 demanded that it be banned from his daughter’s school for a long list of reasons including: “bad language, violence and that the book spends time ‘downgrading Christians’ [they have to use Windows 3.1?] and ‘talking about our firemen.’[?!?]”

“It’s just all kinds of filth,” said Alton Verm, adding that he had not read ‘Fahrenheit 451.’

This begs the question in a screaming kind of way: “Is he psychic?” How does he know there’s filth in there if he hasn’t even peeked? And forgive me, but this is Ray Bradbury we’re talking about here. Perhaps I missed his racy period? My god, what would Alton make of Céline? And if he listened to thirty seconds of pretty much any rap song, he’d probably spontaneously combust.

Ridiculous, yet frightening people and trends aside, it did make me think about the book. Like a lot of people, I read it in high school. Two points in Alton’s complaint made me wonder: I didn’t remember Bradbury laying into Christians and it’s hard to imagine Bradbury cursing like an inner-city sailor — if you can forgive the mixed simile.

I pulled my copy off the shelf, blew the dust off the top edge and sat down to count the “swears” and skim a little.

Two hours later, I was deep into it. I’d forgotten how beautiful and sad a book it is. Save a couple of slightly dated passages, it reads like it was written last week.

“More sports for everyone, group spirit, fun, and you don’t have to think, eh?”

“The bigger your market…the less you handle controversy…”

Amazing, we’re still fighting exactly the same demons, Alton being a fine example of same. But I’d like to thank him for leading me to reread a good book, and for reminding me how precious the written word is. I don’t want to be patronizing, but I feel bad for Alton. I don’t even want to think about how much poorer my life would be without books.

I’d like to finish with two quotations. The first from Leonard Cohen. When told in a 1960’s recording session for one of his poetry books that when he came to a “dirty word” he should skip over it, Cohen responded with the simple statement: “There are no dirty words.”

And the second quotation is from a blog post that ends with a comment on the school’s proposed solution:

Diana, got to read an alternate book, “Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable”. Which is brilliant, because Alton Verm will stare at a title like that the way a chipmunk stares at an electron microscope.

I laughed until I hurt. What else can you do?


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