New Internationalist

All fired up

Issue 396

Seriously has found irony heaven in the recent news coming out of Conroe, Texas. It seems a secondary school reading assignment upset one student and her father so much that they moved to have the school ban the book from the curriculum entirely, despite the fact that the school board allowed the student to read something else.

The first layer of the irony cake is that the news came at the same time as ‘Banned Books Week’ – a national campaign to raise awareness of censorship and threats to freedom of information and speech. The icing, however, is that the offending book in question is none other than Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The sci-fi classic tells of a time when books are banned from society and all information is controlled by the state through television, and ‘firemen’ ensure that any books found are immediately burned (paper apparently catches fire at 451 degrees Fahrenheit).

Diana Verm, the 15-year old student who first objected to the book, told local reporters: ‘The book had a bunch of very bad language in it… If they can’t find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn’t have a book at all.’ [ed. our emphasis]

Despite admitting to not having read the book, Diana’s father Alton adds: ‘It’s just all kinds of filth’. In his complaint to the school board he cites ‘discussion of being drunk’, ‘smoking cigarettes’, ‘violence’, ‘dirty talk’, ‘using God’s name in vain’ and ‘talking bad about our firemen’ as reasons why it is inappropriate for teenagers. If that’s reason enough to ban something, what does that mean for that classic yarn of gory violence, death, disease, rape, incest, infanticide, deicide, patricide, matricide, genocide, and other ides [ed. except the Ides of March which is a different book], drunken debauchery and a whole lot of smiting, er… the Bible?

It remains to be seen whether the school will act on the request to ban it. The real question though is: at what temperature do Seriously readers think copies of Fahrenheit 451 will burn? Was Bradbury right? Does New Internationalist’s über-recycled paper burn closer to room temperature? Perhaps we’ll find out soon enough at the next Conroe literary barbecue.

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