Belfast Book Festival 2019: Burn All Books? I’d rather not.

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A promotion for Fahrenheit 451. Photo Source: Galaxy Press

Maria McQuillan, Arts & Entertainments Co-Editor. 

In Belfast this week, as a part of the Belfast Book Festival, Cinepunked held an event centred around a discussion of censorship. It focused on the broader issues of censorship in film and literature, particularly focusing on Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451. Afterwards, they hosted a book burning session. This strikes me as rather odd for many reasons. Considering that we live a world where we don’t really need more chemicals going into the atmosphere, and that we live in a province that hosts more than its fair share of bonfires, I don’t find it appropriate.

I can understand the thinking behind the event: many famous novels have been hit with heavy censoring, especially in places like Ireland and the UK. James Joyce’s Ulysses was burnt upon arrival in America, and Ray Bradbury’s dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451 details one in which the burning of books is an integral part of the fictional society. Unfortunately, it seems to me, that the organisers have missed the entire message of the novel. Bradbury’s novel was written at a time in America when novels and media were being banned, censored or destroyed, and the novel is still relevant in a country that routinely still bans books. The burning of books is symbolic of the controlling of the masses. It’s an act usually associated with corrupt or tyrannical governments or governing bodies, not a part of a festival which celebrates innovation and experimentalism. To have a festival based around books organise something which was meant to stifle creative and critical thought is certainly a … subversive approach to the topic.

I should think the one thing that a book festival would do would be to safeguard its most precious resource: books.

As an exercise, I can only find it to be demeaning to the authors of these books that are to be burnt. What may seem to be something light-hearted is really an insult to the hard work and effort of that individual. It’s also frankly an affront in a world where education (and reading materials) are scarce for the underprivileged and libraries are increasingly shut down and cut from vital funding. To me, this part of the event seems to be more of an exercise in entertainment for the privileged than a genuine introspection on censorship. There is so much to unpack in that one novel alone, that to physically host a book burning event is unnecessary. Ray Bradbury once said that “there is more than one way to burn a book”. He wasn’t talking about a physical event, nor was he inviting you to do so.

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