“Lord there were a lot of lovely books once, before we let them go.” – Professor Faber, “Fahrenheit 451”

Many communities are reading “Fahrenheit 451” this month for “The Big Read,” an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts. Lewiston and Auburn libraries are the local Big Read sponsors, with lectures, discussions and a screening of the film adaptation planned for coming weeks.

After a weather postponement Wednesday, The Big Read kicks off Thursday in Festival Plaza in Auburn.

Most anyone who’s taken high school English knows Ray Bradbury’s novel about a world where firemen burn contraband books. Rebels then memorize books to preserve their message from the flames, aided by protagonist Guy Montag, a fireman torn between the phoenix badge on his chest and his unease about his life.

The lasting fascination with “Fahrenheit 451” stems from its resonance in modern society: The idea that power over information leads to power over people, and how a free exchange of ideas is critical for civilization.

Of all communities reading “Fahrenheit 451,” these themes may apply best to L-A, which for months has faced controversy over what books are appropriate for public shelves. Well, actually one book: “It’s Perfectly Normal,” the divisive children’s sex-education book.

With her act of civil disobedience, JoAn Karkos sparked a communitywide examination of censorship and civil liberties. Karkos maintains “It’s Perfectly Normal” is too explicit for children, and removed copies from local libraries.

Karkos is no Montag, who at the start of “Fahrenheit 451,” douses books with kerosene and burns them with a salamander-embossed igniter. But her efforts are symbolic kin with the fireman’s.

Our society’s open market of ideas is sacred. No one person has authority, or responsibility, to dictate what we read, see or hear. Though speech can be considered harmful, it’s much more damaging to have it censored.

Montag comes to this realization in “Fahrenheit 451,” after revealing his book thefts to his wife. “Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave,” he says. “They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes!”

Library officials chose “Fahrenheit 451” prior to the “It’s Perfectly Normal” controversy, which makes its arrival a karmic coincidence. A community already engaged about censorship and individual rights is now paired with the quintessential novel on the topic.

The Big Read is a good program, and a smart evolution of L-A Reads, which largely targeted adults. Fewer Americans overall are reading for pleasure today, and by engaging both the community and classroom, The Big Read has a simple goal – getting people of all ages reading again.

What happens if we don’t?

We urge you to read “Fahrenheit 451,” and find out.

• For more information on The Big Read, contact the Lewiston and Auburn public libraries, where limited copies of “Fahrenheit 451” are available for free.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.