Greenwich Reads Together picks classic but timely title

GREENWICH — A science fiction classic with themes that continue to have real world implications was selected for this year’s Greenwich Reads Together program.

Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451” will be the featured title for the Greenwich Library’s community-wide reading experience, which is in its ninth year. A full slate of programs built around the book and its themes will be unveiled in the fall, but the title was revealed Thursday morning.

The prizewinning 1953 novel, which has been adapted as a movie twice, tells of a future American society where books are banned and firemen are tasked with burning any remaining ones they find. Under harsh government rule, residents instead numb their minds with television. One day a, fireman finds out there is something more and something better to be found in the world of books.

Bradbury wrote the novel because of his own fears about book-burning during the time of McCarthyism. Greenwich Library Director Barbara Ormerod-Glynn said “Fahrenheit 451” remains relevant today as a classic of world literature with themes ripe for exploration and discussion.

“I think the themes of the book, which include the importance of alternate ideas, the dangers of censorship and the mindlessness of the television being watched in this particular book, will resonate with so many people who are concerned about all three of those topics right now,” Ormerod-Glynn said. “This is about the value of making sure we think through issues in a very particular way. The themes really jump right out at you.”

Ormerod-Glynn shared part of the introduction to a 50th anniversary copy of “Fahrenheit 451” by acclaimed writer Neil Gaiman, who said the novel is a “reminder that what we have is valuable and sometimes we take what we value for granted.”

In past years, Greenwich Reads Together has featured more modern titles with the authors coming tow town for a discussion and question-and-answer sessions. However, due to Greenwich Library’s upcoming massive renovation, which will result in a new auditorium and other upgrades, there is no space available in the fall for an author’s appearance.

So the program switched to highlighting a classic title instead of a modern one.

“Fahrenheit 451” was chosen after a lengthy selection process. The library sought community input on possible titles, and four finalists were picked from among the 140 suggestions. Bradbury’s novel was up against John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Ernest Gaines’ “A Lesson Before Dying.” Those four titles were put up for a vote on the library’s website, allowing the public to pick the winning book.

Ormerod-Glynn did not reveal the final vote totals but said “Fahrenheit 451” was “a clear winner.” The Greenwich Reads Together committee, which is made up of library staff and community members, met weekly to consider all 140 suggestions over two months.

“It was a true labor of love,” she said.

Books were also chosen for young readers. For middle schoolers, the selection is “Ban this Book” by Alan Gratz, which is about a shy student standing up against censorship when her favorite book is banned from the library by a well-meaning but misguided parent. For elementary schoolers, the selection is “Hands Around the Library” by Susan L. Roth and Karen Legett Abouraya, which is about the efforts to protect the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

By focusing on one shared title, Greenwich Reads Together prompts communitywide involvement and promotes “the joy of reading and lifelong learning,” Ormerod-Glynn said.

Nearly 6,000 readers took part in last year’s events, with more than 20 community organizations involved, said Robert Marks, president of the library’s Board of Trustees.

“Each year it has grown in scope and participation,” Marks said of Greenwich Reads Together. “The program is achieving its goals of connecting people of all ages in the discussion of overarching themes of everlasting importance.”

A crowd of nearly 30 people was on hand for the announcement, including Selectman John Toner, who helped with the grand reveals by tearing the paper off the hidden book titles.