News and Features

With Big Read, Dallas Turns Up the Temperature on Reading

In April, Dallas residents are invited to put down their smartphones, turn off their televisions and return to a form of entertainment that predates those gadgets – reading.

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The idea of the Big Read is to help books wrestle back some of the leisure space they’ve lost. The book everyone’s being asked to read even predicted the need for such an event.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is set in a disturbing future. Instead of putting out fires, firemen spend their time burning books. Everyday people gather to watch entertainment projected on the parlor wall. It was written in 1953, but the story gets more relevant by the day.

“Even now, as we get more involved in technology, and more removed from the printed word, I think there are things Ray Bradbury wrote about that I think we are seeing come to fruition in our day today,” says Peter Coyl, the manager of the Audelia Road branch of the Dallas Public Library.

His library is among the branches that will host Big Read events in April. Discussion groups, author interviews and writing workshops are all on the schedule, thanks to D Academy and D magazine. (Bradbury biographer Sam Weller will appear on Think on Wednesday.) And ninth and 10th grade students in DISD are also being encouraged to read Fahrenheit 451. Free copies have been distributed to each student in those grades.

“Putting books in the hands of kids is important because they can pick up something, read it, and realize there’s more to life that just what they see on TV,” Coyl says.

And there’s a reason why the Big Read focuses on 9th and 10th graders.

“Ninth and 10th graders are starting to face decisions about whether or not they want to go to college or whether or not education is going to be a part of their life – they’re approaching an age where they can decide if they want to drop out or not,” says Kate Park, the executive director of the Friends of the Dallas Public Library. She helped organize the event. “So hopefully we can engage some ninth and 10th graders – we really want to encourage and foster lifelong learning, lifelong education, lifelong reading.”

Park says that organizers are already considering another Big Read for next year.