Sunday, June 3, 2007

Book Burning

I've been hearing about this book burning all week. I don't know what to make of this story. I hesitated to even comment on this. I find it very disturbing, as I think the booksellers intended. As a bookseller, I could never do this, although I must confess that I can sympathize with the feeling.

From a New York Times article by Dan Barry:
"A Requiem for Reading in a Smoldering Pyre of Books" —

Books, they discovered, do not burn well. Books, it seems, tend to smolder.

This is just one of the lessons the men have learned since setting fire to various volumes, including novels by Tom Clancy and Dean Koontz, an antiquated manual for Kansas educators and — Mr. Wayne took particular delight in this — a nonfiction book called “The Hot Zone.”

More books would have gone up in smoke — from “Pat Nixon: The Untold Story,” by Julie Nixon Eisenhower, to “On the Trail of Adventure,” owned long ago by a boy who neatly printed his name in pencil on the inside flap — had not the Kansas City firefighters arrived to point out that the bookstore owners did not have a permit. Not that there is a permit to burn books.
The two book lovers decided they could make a cultural statement about the decline of literary reading in the United States, where, according to the National Endowment for the Arts [NEA Publication: "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America Executive Summary" (download pdf)], fewer than half the adults read even one novel or play or short story a year that is not required for work or school.

... And they adopted as their motto a quote they attributed to the poet Joseph Brodsky: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One is not reading them.”

I have written myself about the decline of reading in this very blog. It seemed to surprise some that I thought that this was happening. But I know that the sales of books has gone down significantly. I can also tell that people seem to be unaware of authors both contemporary and classic -- that Americans are becoming illiterate.

I can't understand this as I had to fight so hard to become literate myself. I still fight for this. I'm not a fast reader, but I hunger to read more. I want to know the great stories. I want to understand more about how the world works. I want to know about history and politics. I can't understand why anyone would want to not know more and not want to read. I don't think that people here are stupid. I really don't think it's because people are lazy. I think it's because people are very busy and are allowing their reading to slip. The years pass and the next thing you know George Bush is in office and you wonder how it happened. It happened because you fell asleep at the wheel.

Even with all this I don't think that I would have a book burning. I can barely handle the idea that books get pulped. Though, I must admit that this demonstration got peoples attention.


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