Bradbury’s classic heats up the city 

Tyranny, book-burning and censorship will be the topics on local lips this March when the city launches its second annual "Big Read," this time focusing on Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451."

The citywide book club kicked off in 2006, when residents picked Khaled Hosseini’s "The Kite Runner." This year, library officials received a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts to run the program; "Fahrenheit 451" was one of the recommended choices, along with classics by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Tan and John Steinbeck.

"I was really concerned about getting a book that would appeal to the entire community," said Rosalind Kutler, who organizes the program for the Redwood City Public Library. "Amy Tan is wonderful, but it’s hard to get teenage boys to read her."

The NEA grant, which was matched by funds from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and other sponsors, allowed program directors to purchase and distribute books to local neighborhoods and students, and will support a number of book-related programs throughout March, according to Kutler.

Among the offerings are panels on censorship in modern times and onintellectual freedom, a "Fahrenheit 451"-inspired bookmaking program for kids, a satellite interview with Bradbury and a showing of the 1966 film version directed by Francois Truffaut.

Already, 1,000 students in the Sequoia High School District’s classrooms have been reading the book — some in English, some in Spanish, according to Suanna Gilman-Ponce, director of English Language Learning at the district. Dozens of teachers and staff — including Gilman-Ponce herself — are also participating, some re-reading the book for the first time since high school.

"I don’t know that I appreciated it at the same level back then, but these are things that are going on in our society right now," Gilman-Ponce said. "When you read it when you’re young, you’re shocked; as an adult, you know these things happen and they’re very insidious."

Although many in Redwood City have read "Fahrenheit 451," this will be the first time the community reads it at the same time, creating opportunities for dialogue across age groups and neighborhoods, Mayor Barbara Pierce said.

"One of the things that was so exciting last year was how many people were reading the book and the impact it made on them," Pierce said. "It’s such a great opportunity for people to share and talk."

For more on the Redwood City Big Read, visit http://montalvoarts.org/big_read.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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