PARKERSBURG - The Parkersburg-Wood County Public Library and West Virginia University at Parkersburg kicked off their "Big Read" project with a blaze around 6 p.m. Friday.
The book-burning party, where more than 60 free copies of "Fahrenheit 451" were given out, included a bonfire where library officials got rid of unwanted, falling apart reading material in an unconventional way.
"The reason we're doing this in general is because of the Big Read," said Carey Clevenger, one of the event organizers. "We wanted to try to incorporate the theme of banned books week along with the book itself; it has a heavy anti-censorship tone."
Parkersburg High School students, from left, Cody Rockhold, Emily Biles, Edain Campbell, Jordan Waters and Swathi Mukkamala pick up copies of 'Fahrenheit 451' Friday during the 'Big Read.' (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
While reading a list of banned books aloud, attendees were treated by the library to hot dogs and marshmallows to roast over the bonfire. The Parkersburg Fire Department was on hand in case the fire got out of hand.
Stacey Varner, library employee and another event organizer, said the controversy behind the library burning books is what got people's attention. Varner said the library received both positive and negative comments about the event.
"As far as the books, we do end up donating a lot of books that aren't fit for sales," she said of the books being burned. "I was burning dust jackets and donated books."
Those in attendance were wearing tags with "My Name is" and their favorite book. Varner said they were doing it to show support for various books.
She said because the premise of "Fahrenheit 451" is about people who have to memorize books after they are burned due to censorship regulations, those in attendance were encouraged to write down which book they would introduce themselves as and memorize should that book be burned in the future.
"At the risk of sounding cheesy, we had it up on a sign (outside the library) and when people came in we had to do a lot of putting out fires of our own," Clevenger said. "People were upset but it created a dialogue which is really what we were shooting for."
Corinne Full, AP English teacher at Parkersburg High School, said she told her students they could come to the event for extra credit.
"I've worked with the Big Read before so it's something I thought would be interesting for my students," Full said. "Some of the books on the list for banned books are like Dr. Seuss. I wanted to be able to show them what the Big Read was all about."
Full said although her students aren't required to read "Fahrenheit 451" for a class, she did encourage them to get a copy and read it on their own.
Katie Quillen, a junior at PHS, said she was looking forward to reading the book to find out about the message Full wanted her students to be aware of.
"She said it had some kind of meaning to it so that's why I wanted to read it."
Another junior at PHS, Katie Gnegy, said she has read the book in the past and thinks it has an interesting prospective on things.
"It's different than most books," Gnegy said.
Visit www.neabigread.org for a complete list of events.