The Big Read — Fahrenheit 451 re-introduces Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” to San Diego and encourages everyone to read literature just for the joy of it. Events include guest authors, community reads, book discussions, workshops and much more. Check out the full schedule here.

For Americans with the habit of reading, the experience of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is most likely mixed in with memories of high school English classes, when who you sat with was at least as important as what was being taught. If this is the case for you, then you might be a little fuzzy on the details of this brief but chilling tale of a future where books are burned. But for the readers who are encountering this 1950s piece of futurism for the first time in 2013, there’s an eerie familiarity about the world that Bradbury has created. There are fast cars and no pedestrians, huge-screen media rooms and tiny earbuds pumping music and entertainment 24/7. And there is an emptiness of consciousness and a loneliness to everyday life that are spreading a quiet plague of drug use and suicide. Except for firemen whose hoses pump kerosene instead of water, this world is all too familiar — which helps explain the urgency and impact that pervades the artistic response by today’s young readers.

To examine their work in watercolor, pen and ink — or more exotic media such as 3-D dollhouse adaptations, online video, or papier-mâché costumes — is to feel the helplessness of a book falling victim to the flames. Even stronger is the philosophic horror expressed in student poems, short stories, graphic novels and other responses to “Fahrenheit 451” that have grown out of The Big Read 2013. In these student writings can be found the urgent demand for critical thinking, the outrage that anyone would encourage a world where people should simply withdraw into a cocoon of drugs and big screen fantasies.

Today’s readers of “Fahrenheit 451” are spoiling for a fight against the misapplied muscle in Bradbury’s world, eager to refute the casual totalitarianism of its ruling conventional wisdom — and by extension, that of our own world. To witness the artistic response of young readers to Bradbury’s spare and sharply-etched characters is to feel a sweep of faith in the resilience and questing spirit of today’s young minds. Not for them is the easy escape of today’s mass culture! They are seizing the reins offered by pen, mouse, and camera to etch their own reality, not merely to swallow whole the fantasies offered by others.

Come to one of the city’s libraries in April to see how these readers are responding in real time to a crisis of consciousness and social organization spotted long ago; a crisis addressed by all of us since the dawn of the atomic age. But do yourself a favor first by reading “Fahrenheit 451,” for the first, second or umpteenth time. Then you’ll be ready for the hidden messages, the subtle allusions and the outraged response of today’s young readers. Then you may be ready to answer for yourself the question, “Which book would you save from the flames?” I’d choose “Woman on the Edge of Time” by Marge Piercy. And you? Leave a comment below.

Roy de Vries has taught art and world cultures at Castle Park Middle School in the Sweetwater Union High School District since 1992. He creates his own art in studio space at San Diego Space 4 Art.

Want to spark discussion? Start a conversation by submitting a commentary at Fix San Diego.

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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