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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Holy Flaming Volumes, Batboy!

Reading is one of the primary joys of life- I cannot imagine the house without thousands of books in it, and it has always been like that. It surprises some people, therfore, when I say that most books are crap.

You may have seen this story in the news over the last several days-

Mo. Man Burns Books As Act of Protest
Associated Press, May 28, 2007

KANSAS CITY- Tom Wayne amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books. His collection ranges from best sellers like Tom Clancy's ``The Hunt for Red October'' and Tom Wolfe's ``Bonfire of the Vanities,'' to obscure titles like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910, didn't sell. But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books protest what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.

``This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today,'' Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.

The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn't have a permit to burn them. Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply - estimated at 20,000 books - is exhausted.

``After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we've slogged through and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it's just kind of a knee-jerk reaction,'' he said. ``And it's a good excuse for fun.''


I assume that the basic reaction in much of the rest of the world is "How awful to burn books!". In the bookselling community the reaction has been more along the lines of "Wow, what a cool idea!" and "Why didn't I think of that as a way to get publicity?"

The basic fact of bookselling life is that too many books out there are utter trash when they are published, and are completely unsaleable forever afterwards. If you are not very careful you eventually end up with thousands of such "duds" lying around, and they can be very hard to get rid of, as most landfills will no longer take them. When we moved we succeeded in recyling about 60 boxes of books, but we had to tear the covers off all the hardcovers, because the cloth isn't recyclable, just the paper.

My only problem with burning them is that it contributes to air pollution, and one never knows what sorts of toxic chemicals may be in the inks. Color inks certainly give off toxic fumes. We bought a wood chipper this spring- I wonder if they'd gunk it up?

For those who would argue that books are scared things, and are aghast at all this talk of destroying books I can only reply that I believe that the freedom to write, publish, sell and read any book you want is sacred... but many books are just crap.

17 comments:

Phoebe Fay said...

"Why didn't I think of that" was my first thought when I saw the article. When we closing down the store, I made comments more than once about the benefits of bonfire, but obviously, I lacked this guy's vision.

Colonel Colonel said...

Phoebe- We could call it "The Bonfire of the Vanity Presses"...

Catalyst said...

I would have started with the Tom Clancy novels . . . years ago.

BTW, be careful around that wood chipper. For further information, view the movie "Fargo."

Colonel Colonel said...

Catalyst- I hear Rush Limbaugh's books burn well, as he is generally known to be a gasbag...

Unless one does something really stupid, the biggest dangers from the chipper are to your ears (ear plugs are a must), and your eyes- we all wear good safety goggles. We refer to chipping as "Fargo-izing some trees".

jgodsey said...

amen brudda.

if you got em smoke em!!
hmm i feel a t-shirt coming on!

anaglyph said...

Colonel - you beat me to the joke! I was going to do the 'Vanity Presses' schtick. Doh!

I'm surprised the sub ed on the story didn't launch with that one. In Australian newspapers any tenuous connection is enough for awful puns.

Lately the've started with the literary tilts - I saw recently 'Now is the Winter of our Disconnect'. Given the lowbrow rag where it appeared, I wondered whether any of the usual audience would have gotten the reference.

Colonel Colonel said...

Gods- "Burn a Book for Freedom"? That'd confuse everyone, anyway.

Reverend- such literary allusions are completely beyond your average new writer here in America these days. The (moderately large) percentage who have even heard of Tom Wolfe's 'Bonfire of the Vanities' probably all think "Hey- what an original title!!"

Mike said...

Of course burning books so that no one CAN read them is one thing, but burning books because no one reads them is quite another issue.

I suppose if natural gas prices go up this winter, people will be heating their houses with books.

Cissy Strutt said...

Peter Carey just won the Premier's Literary Award for Fiction for his novel "Theft". The Sydney Morning Herald headline next morning? "Carey Steals Award".

Colonel Colonel said...

Mike- the sad truth is that books make better insulation than fuel- it's probably a density thing, but it's actually fairly hard to keep books burning.

Cissy- Great headline!

Mike said...

Of course I was only kidding about burning books, but I must admit that there are a few writers I would like to set on fire.

Colonel Colonel said...

Mike- ah, yes. I was kidding too. I have no idea how well or badly they burn. Um, yeah, never experimented with it myself. No sirree. No no no. That's somebody else in that picture. What picture?

Sara Sue said...

Does this mean you love the smell of burning bindings in the morning?

Phoebe Fay said...

Speaking of insulation, when we were putting up the drywall in our bathroom years back, I left a stack of paperbacks behind it. Old Star Treks, I think, and maybe something else. I just hope somebody discovers them someday and has a good "What the fu...?" moment.

Colonel Colonel said...

Sara- Is that why they were chanting "Burn, baby, burn?" Unfortunately, the terms of the court order prevent me from commenting further.

Phoebe- the Star Treks are probably better insulation than anything else, not to mention they chew up nice for little micey nests.

Kaytie M. Lee said...

I read a lot of somber reactions to that article so it's nice to come here and read the practical take.

Colonel Colonel said...

Kaytie- several years in the book business usually make people fairly pragmatic about books as objects. That is not to say that some books are not wonderful, glorious objects themselves -some certainly are. But a whole lot of them are not...