Interest ignites – Community excitement flares as reading program kicks off |

Interest ignites – Community excitement flares as reading program kicks off

“Fahrenheit 451” tells the tale of a fireman, Guy Montag, whose life in a futuristic world is spent burning anything resembling innovation and thought.

So it was fitting that a group of avid readers and community educators held Tuesday’s kickoff to the countywide “Nevada County Reads!” in a firehouse, with water hoses and turnout gear at every corner of the cavernous room.

The program, conducted jointly by the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools office and the Nevada County library system, encourages locals to read “Fahrenheit” and participate in community forums and discussions about the book.

That the event’s first program was staged in a firehouse wasn’t lost on those who extinguish blazes for a living, even if the premise of the book seemed a bit incredulous.

“They don’t have fires anymore (in the book),” said Nevada County Consolidated Fire Chief Tim Fike, who is reading “Fahrenheit 451” and encouraging his fellow public-safety officials to do the same. “That’s something I can’t imagine.”

Several dozen residents showed up to hear about the book and watch former Nevada County resident Walter Zelhofer perform magic tricks.

Bradbury, Zelhofer learned, wanted to become a magician before he began writing as a college student.

In a videotaped message, Bradbury said it took nine days to write the original “Fahrenheit” manuscript in 1953 at the University of California-Los Angeles. It was easy to write, Bradbury said, because he was writing about a subject that sparked his passion. The manuscript was later doubled in size.

Terry McAteer, the county’s superintendent of schools, said he hoped people would pick up Bradbury and rediscover the joy of reading, perhaps as often as those in Bradbury’s heyday.

“I’m concerned that people don’t readily grab a book these days … it’s like it’s a lost art,” he said.

More than 300 books have been purchased at local bookstores for the event, McAteer said, and he’s hoping for more.

“The idea is that you read it and pass it along,” he said.

Though most of those in attendance were born before “Fahrenheit” was published, the book holds appeal for those who lived through the Cold War or learned about it in the history books.

Brandon Coursey, 18, a senior at Bear River High School, said he was surprised by the book’s futuristic details of a world inundated with reality television.

“Burning books is like burning knowledge,” he said. “By watching these reality shows like we do now, it’s like we’re doing the same thing.”

South county resident Don Herrmann was 24 and studying at the Defense Information School in Baltimore when he first picked up the book in 1954.

The book had plenty of real-world ramifications of a totalitarian state back then.

“I fully believed there was a threat to our forms of government,” said Herrmann, 74, who noted “Fahrenheit” was on a reading list along with similar titles such as “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

“Our superiors wanted to make sure there was no question of your integrity,” he said.

Fifty years later, Bradbury’s book seems almost prophetic, said Herrmann, who finished re-reading the book recently.

“The author is amazing in the things he saw for the future.”

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