The Big Read is an idea sponsored by the Valley’s libraries. Each year a book is chosen and libraries sponsor events to encourage people to read that book. One of the events involves artists–I was one of the artists chosen to alter the book for a display at one of the libraries. This year’s book is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
What makes the book interesting is that the 1953-written book has elements of current reality–a society obsessed by television and celebrities, a fear of intellectual discussions at social functions, a minority kicking up a fuss about books, which are subsequently banned from libraries, and my favorite, a love of wearing earbuds and being plugged in to programmed music.
In my approach to altering the book, I chose the idea from the final scene of the book, in which people become living books. Readers live in books, so I created a row-house made of books. In the image below, the central house is Fahrenheit 451, surrounded by other book houses.The pages of the central book are stuffed with message tags.
Altered book, Fahrenheit 451. © Quinn McDonald, 2009
Each house represents a genre: mystery, science fiction, art and poetry. Because love of nature was banned in the story, the two houses on the left represent winter and spring, and the two books on the left represent summer and fall.
Altered book detail, left side © Quinn McDonald, 2009
Altered book right-side detail. © Quinn McDonald, 2009
The tags are all quotes about books, all from famous people. Ray Bradbury’s own quote, “You don’t have to burn books to destory a culture, Just get people to tstop reading them,” is there, as well as Salman Rushdie’s quote, “A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it or offer your own version in return.”
Detail of book tags, © Quinn McDonald, 2009
In the heart of the book (I chose page 98 deliberately, as 98.6 Fahrenheit is the normal temperature of the human body), there are flames on one side and a matchbook on the other. The matchbook has a burning match on the cover, and the inside “matches” are the spines of books that have been banned in the past.
Right side detail, matchbook © Quinn McDonald, 2009
The matchbook itself is surrounded by paper flames that have already consumed the page of the book.
The tags are removable for easy reading, and can be used as bookmarks. I hope the book is displayed in a way that allows people to touch it and play with it.
Banned books as matches, detail of altered book, © Quinn McDonald, 2009
I read the book when I was about 10 and just discovering science fiction. My first big literary shock was discovering that Bradbury had made a mistake, paper bursts into flame at 451 Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Yes, I stuck a piece of paper in the oven to see it burst into flame.
It took me a long while to accept altered books. The thought of ruining a book was overwhelming. But the lure of transforming a book that was scheduled for the shredder into a piece of art won me over.
The satisfaction of planning out a concept and carrying it through was really satisfying. I am honored to have been chosen for this project. And yes, I do custom altered books to honor a special event or person.
–—Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches people how to write and give presentations. She also teaches people who can’t draw how to keep an art journal.