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Dubai Abulhoul: Fahrenheit 98.6
July 04, 2014
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

I  once read a quote by Maud Casey that went something like: “I was born with a reading list I would never finish.” I laughed at the reality of her words, and mentally scanned all the pending books I had in my library, until I settled on reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The novel speaks of a dystopian future in America, where owning books is illegal, and just in case the ‘firemen’ find a copy in anyone’s possession, they set the copies on fire. A great book, in my opinion, answers a reader’s questions. A greater book, on the other hand, leaves endless question marks in a reader’s head long after he or she has finished reading the last page.

History’s pages broach countless incidents that stand parallel with Ray Bradbury’s work of fiction. During World War 2, the Japanese army alone burned millions of books. Poland, also during World War 2, lost approximately 16 million books. Catholic Spain burned almost all of the Islamic libraries. In 1946, the Iranian army burned all the Kurdish books they could find. What is it about those pages that make armies cower in their presence?

I grew up with flipping pages, and I had learned a great deal from their whisperings. C.S Lewis pushed me into a wardrobe and introduced me to Aslan of Narnia, who in return taught me the meaning of bravery and the duty we all have to protect where we come from. J.K Rowling watched me as I purchased my first wand from Olivander’s, and made sure I learn, through Harry Potter himself, to never turn a blind eye on the injustices that I encounter.

I had the privilege of walking in the olive gardens of Palestine in Mornings In Jenin, and could never thank Susan Abulhawa enough for nudging my conscience. I came to the realization that I was a citizen of the world, and I wasn’t given a stable life to sit back, but rather to lend my hands, words, and ears to those who needed it the most. I read Celie’s letters and thanked Alice Walker for making sure I never pass by a field without appreciating The Color Purple. I was angry at George Orwell, and put down my copy of 1984 for a few months before picking it up again and realizing that the reality of the world we live in today is what scares me the most.

I fell in love with Tariq and Laila’s childhood in Kabul in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and believed Khaled Hosseini when he told me that, somehow, we always return to whom we belong to. Books were outlawed because they made us think, and that is exactly what armies, who stood with their guns firmly secured behind their backs, were scared of the most: people who think.

Yes, there have been applaudable efforts to bring ‘reading’ back to our societies, but they’re not enough. We can point fingers at educational systems or even parents, but what we need is a shift in society’s unwilling attitude to read, that unfortunately, still resides in many parts of the country and the region. Out of all the lessons I’ve learned from the books I’ve read, I think Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 taught me the most important one. It is true that paper burns at the degree of Fahreinheit 451, but it seems to me that paper also burns at a non-reader’s normal body temperature, which stands at Fahrenheit 98.6. Non-readers burn books simply by not reading them.

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The author is an Emirati novelist-writer

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