Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bradbury Lends Name to Library Battle

I cheated.

I never read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

Like most people, I saw the film, starring Oskar Werner and Julie Christie, when it was released in the mid-’60s.

But I did read The Martian Chronicles. I don’t remember being impressed with the collection of stories about man’s attempt to colonize Mars and Martians, though it was one of Bradbury’s most famous works.

But I admit I have never been that keen on science fiction.

Bradbury spoke to a group of Long Beach library supporters recently, one day after they had won a battle to keep the city’s main library from closing due to budget cuts. A day earlier the city had voted to halt a proposal to shutter the facility. Instead, it was considering a cost-cutting plan to close the library only on Sundays and Mondays.

The Los Angeles Times referred to the 133,000-square-foot downtown structure as the second largest civic library in Los Angeles County.

Big book facilities have been struggling recently in Long Beach. In August I wrote an article about the closing of the huge downtown bookstore, Acres of Books. (See Acres of Books: May It Rest in Peace) At one time Acres of Books housed more than a million volumes. But it had struggled in recent years against the tide of online booksellers and the big bookstore chains. And, of course, it offered none of the genteel amenities that the chain stores offer.

Bradbury was there to mourn its demise, too.

Some people believe that library closings and the concentration of bookstore ownership portend a future when government will control what we’re able to read. This is exactly the kind of social criticism that Fahrenheit 451 dealt with. The movie is centered around government censorship and the burning of books.

The 88-year-old Bradbury sat in a wheelchair on stage in the library’s main auditorium and offered his help in any future struggles to keep the library open. After Fahrenheit 451 was released in 1953, he has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation as a defender of books and libraries.

Tremendously prolific, Bradbury has written hundreds of novels, short stories, screenplays, radio dramas, plays, poems, essays, and lectures. He has been a consultant to such major events and productions as the United States Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and has contributed to Disney’s Spaceship Earth at EPCOT and the Orbitron at the Disneyland parks in Anaheim and Paris.

We're indebted to a real book lover.

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