Jackson County reads — doesn't it?

What if we all read the same book?

a. We'd all join the same church? b. We'd all vote for the same guy? c. We'd become mindless zombies? d. The video rental shops would close?

No, no, no, no. The idea is, we'd reflect on the book, talk about it with our friends, argue about it, go to events about it, do our part for print culture. If the book is Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," we'd be taking part in Jackson County Reads 2008, the once-postponed, latest edition of an idea that began in Seattle in the 1990s and swept the country.

When I first heard of such events a few years ago I was horrified. Why should I read what you read? But I guess I've come around. If you can pry people away from dumb TV shows long enough to read something, there's value in that.

"Fahrenheit 451" is about a dystopian future in which nobody reads, and "firemen" burn books. It is a vision of ignorance and fear. Written more than 50 years ago, it will give you the creeps about the present.

The Ashland branch library's Amy Blossom figures the book has special meaning for Jackson County residents because the committee that organizes the event picked it for last year, only to have the county's 15 library branches close their doors. One hundred fifty copies of the book were purchased by the library's foundation before the libraries were closed after a bond measure failed. So you had books nobody could read about a future in which nobody could read.

I exchanged e-mails with Bradbury. He wrote, "I think it is ridiculous that people in any town refuse to finance their library. ... I hope they change their minds ... "

Well, we did, and we farmed it out to a contractor who promised to do it on the cheap, and the branches are open again, even if the hours are iffy.

But Jackson County Reads is on through April 18. Former National Endowment for the Arts head John Frohnmayer will give a talk called "No Read, No Think, No Democracy" at 7 p.m. April 14 in the Rogue River Room at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. Call your library branch for other events.

"Fahrenheit 451" is a terrific book, and also a fine play. Camelot Theatre did it in 2006, creating a world in which people have giant TV sets and lose themselves in dumbed-down video programming and the fog of drugs.

Blossom put together a flyer asking:

"Are We Living 'Fahrenheit 451' 55 years later? Wall screens? Seashells (they're like ear buds)? Media distracting everyone from conversation, reading, feeling? 'I haven't had time to think.' "Closed libraries. The definition of family. Reality. Pills to keep everyone at ease."

Analogs of this stuff were envisioned by Bradbury.

The Bush administration has taken secrecy to new levels, even going back into history to newly reclassify as secret tens of thousands of old things. States, counties and corporations have increased assaults on the public's right to know.

"It's not just censorship," Blossom says. "It's the idea the media are taking over. In '53 TV was just developing. There was a lot of fear, with the McCarthy hearings and duck-and-cover. There's a lot of fear in today's world."

Boy howdy. Free people write, buy, sell and read books.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture," Bradbury wrote. "Just get people to stop reading them."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com

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