National Libraries Week: day #5

Name: John Simmons

Library: Alexandra Park

Book: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451

My local library – Alexandra Park in north London – is a shamefully neglected resource. The shame is all mine. I believe deeply in libraries. They were so important to me in childhood and youth. After that I could afford to buy books, to collect books, so I lost the library habit. It’s time to rediscover it.

I feel almost nervous now as I approach my local library. As I open the doors there’s a lot of noise: it’s the Movers & Shakers session for under-12 month babies (and parents). I hum along to Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. At the front desk I ask about joining and the librarian is as helpful as can be. She goes to great lengths to get me the book I want to read – Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a science fiction classic.

I’d not read the book but its theme seemed made for National Libraries Day. The title refers to the temperature at which books burn. A leading character is a fireman. In this dystopian future the job of the fireman is not to put out fires but to burn books. Systematically, alphabetically. Books are dangerous things.

Fahrenheit 451 was written in McCarthy-era America, when ideas and art and intellectual curiosity were suspect. In that sense it’s a political book, disturbing and thought-provoking. It’s also a great story, written in a simple, visual style as if primed to be turned into a film. In the 1960s it was made into a film by Francois Truffaut but no one seems to rate the film as highly as the book.

So I recommend you to seek out the book. Try your local library. There are books in libraries that you can no longer find in bookshops. Ray Bradbury wrote an introduction to an edition of the book in this century. Part of it goes like this:

'The main thing to call attention to is the fact that I’ve been a library person all of my life. I sold newspapers until I was 22 and had no money to attend college, but I spent three or four nights a week at the local library and fed on books over a long period of time. Some of my early stories tell of librarians and book burners and people in small towns finding ways to memorise the books so that if they were burned they had some sort of immortality.'

Books contain ideas, and ideas contain immortality. We need libraries to contain books.

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