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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fire Sale or Protest

Via both Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy , and Lissa at The Lilting House, I became aware of a Missouri's man's unusual way of dealing with too many unsold books in his warehouse. Libraries and thrift stores didn't want them, and

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.

As he barbecued his excess inventory, shoppers came and rummaged through the piles, walking away with great deals before the books went up in smoke.

Is this the ultimate sales gimmick? Buy them or I'll burn them?

Because, if he's protesting that people don't support the printed word, why does he have so many copies of these books. My point being that they were printed. A lot of copies of books were printed. So many, that they can be viewed as disposable.

Is this a bad thing?

Once upon a time to own a book was a big deal. My grandfather thought that the one book shelf of books in his one room school house represented all the books in the world - which leads me to believe he didn't have a large collection of books at home. And the further you go back the more unlikely it would be for people to own books.

Once upon a time if a person burned multiple volumes of a book they might be making it nearly impossible for someone to read that book. There were no internet sales. If all the copies of a book in a town were destroyed, it may never have been replaced. - Therefore book burning came to represent the ultimate in censorship and repression.

You go back far enough and any book at all was quite a rarity. Books once had to be copied out by hand (I know I'm going back really far now, but so what), if one of those books went up in smoke it was a disaster.

Many volumes were lost forever in fires in the , Great Library of Alexandria. And when something like that happened there was no going to the files and printing up a new copy. Things were gone forever.

It takes a lot more for something to be gone forever these days. Which is a very good thing. If a towns library collection were to go up in flames, it would be a financial disaster (and a very very sad thing) but chances are most of the collection would be replaceable. Even books that are out of print can sometimes be obtained through used book stores and print on demand sites.

So, what does one achieve by staging a public book burning these days?
  • Publicity
  • People to buy those books (nothing like being told you're going to lose your chance to make a person hand over the money - Disney does that regularly by having it's movies become available for a limited time)
But our Missourian book burner also maintains that he is protesting the fact that people don't read anymore (I'd argue with that assertion, but we'll go with it for now). So - how exactly is burning books going to get people to read them? The library doesn't want them because they have enough books? The thrift stores are full? Scatter the books throughout the city with a note on the cover that the book is free for whoever wants it. Leave books in bus stations, train stations, homeless shelters. I notice that he was more than willing to sell books to people as he was burning the others. If he was really so intent on destroying the books - why not just give them away.

And in the end, if there really are simply too many copies of Tom Clancy's book out there right now - does it do society any harm if some of them are permanently destroyed? Would it stop someone from obtaining the book if they wanted it? Would it stop someone from finding out about the book, or reading the book. Unless you took it out of someone's hands to burn it, is there really harm?

The thought of burning books is offensive to our sensibilities, but fortunately books are not a rare commodity anymore, and burning them is little more than symbolism left over from another time and place. And contrary to what Mr. Wayne thinks, I think this means that we do value reading. After all, there are so many books published that he can't even give extras away!

2 comments:

jone aka msmac said...

I enjoyed reading your post on this. I thought the article about the book burning was interesting. Poor books.
I don't know if you participate in memes--but I'm tagging you just in case. You can check out the directions at "Check It Out".

cloudscome said...

I guess he never heard of www.bookcrossing.com.

No, wait. I think you're right - it's just another sale gimmick! Foolish like a fox, that man.