The BIG READ in Cortland!

Dateline: Minneapolis

I’m here, as some of you know, at the BIG READ* orientation to meet other grant winners from around the country and to learn how to adminster the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) grant the college has been awarded to carry out a community reads celebration of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), which according to publicity here still sells 50,000 copies a year.

Colleague, Sheila Cohen (Literacy Dept.) and I chose this novel to highlight its themes: repression of free thought through censorship, a people who value books, the loss of culture and history, the constant demand to satisfy immediate visual and censory appetites by a drug induced and media saturated populace, the value of authentic human interaction and the value of the natural world, to name a few.

For Bradbury, our choice to use, misuse or discard books — represented by the novel’s both literal and figurative book burning — relates to all of these themes.

It’s been exciting to hear what various communities are planning for their BIG READ celebrations. But so far we are the only site that has actually been in touch with Mr. Bradbury, now 87, and living in Ca., in hopes of doing a teleconference with him that will be simulcast to other sites.

We will be reading this novel in ENG 619 as I am hoping the YA Lit class will have opportunities to be major figures in the BIG READ calendar of events.

If you know this novel, do share that with me. I would be very interested in hearing some of your suggestions for events that will support our community’s reading of Fahrenheit 451. I welcome your suggestions as well as comments and questions. Tomorrow is another full day of training for the grant which is modest (about $8,000) as befits our small community.

I was able to take a good walk today to the famed Guthrie Theater, a theatre I have always wanted to visit. I would like to see their current production of Jane Eyre, but I’m afraid I have to get back to 541! KES

*This is the link to the complete list of (16) books the NEA is sponsoring for upcoming BIG READ events.



Filed under Class Notes

2 responses to “The BIG READ in Cortland!

  1. jmdegan

    Isn’t it a little absurd that most of these novels are typically part of the secondary reading curriculum?

    F 451 is a fine book, but why aren’t we encouraging an academic community to read a work more complex than one that most read in 9th or 10th grade? What happened to the high standards that we hold our academic community to?

    Isn’t this kind of project antithetical to much of what we’ve done so far in 541?

    J. Degan

  2. sunyprof

    Good questions Jerry. The BIG READ is not an academic project…rather it’s an initiative that’s meant to reach out to communities and esp. to reluctant or typically non-reading populations in those communities. We are one of the very few grantees nationwide from a college/university.

    Mostly BIG READ winners are libraries and/or other arts institutions. We’re partnering with Homer and Cortland libraries and the high schools. Typically the books are those that one can read with younger populations as well as books that have cross-generational interest. There’s lots to talk about with “Fahrenheit” which is both a popular and a critically well received “literary” work.

    I agree that the NEA seems to have a narrow vision of what kinds of books might support community discussions like the ones they want the BIG READ participants to have.

    Although a very good sign is that they are reaching out successfully to Spanish-speaking communities where the promotional materials and guides are also printed in Spanish.

    We talked among ourselves about their needing to expand the canon of books they choose. Some new choices for the next round are promising. I’ll share those at a later time.

    And as for high standards–that’s my middle name–but I was very happy to see my high schools students reading Bradbury–all of his work. I’m quite partial to “A Martian Chronicles.”

    His work led them to more and more challenging science and other speculative fictions. But it was pretty good in its own right. I was never happier than when one of my students tackled the Azimov Foundation Trilogy–over a 1000 pp. of great reading.

    The Homer librarian is hoping to get a fantasy/sci fi book club started at the Phillips Lib in town.

    Book burning and the resultant loss of history, culture, etc. is a topic that can take us many many places. I’m hoping it does just that next spring in Homer/Cortland!

    P.S. Great article in last week’s NEW YORKER that focuses on the future (and past) of great book/great libraries. I’m planning to copy it for 506 since it focuses on various projects to digitize all the world’s texts. KES

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