31 May 2007

Book Burning in Protest

So what do you do with thousands of books that you can’t give away for free? If you’re Tom Wayne, owner of the used book store Prospero’s Books in Kansas City, Mo., then you try and give them to libraries and thrift shops. When they won’t even take them, then you build a “funeral pyre for thought in America today.”

According to the AP, Wayne began burning the stockpile of roughly 20,000 books this past Sunday, and the blaze lasted ten minutes shy of a full hour when the Kansas City fire department put it out for lack of a permit. Apparently, Wayne plans to continue burning books until his warehouse stockpile is gone, and he plans to obtain a permit for the remaining fires.

But is this necessary? I mean, hells, I’ll take as many as you can ship! I’m a bibliophile (and if you don’t know what that means, then look it up, damnit!), as my Minute Lit partner in crime, Alex, can attest to. And I’ll admit that my reaction to the Publisher’s Weekly article on Wayne’s book burning protest to declining interest in books and reading in America sent a spasm into my jaw muscles. Burning books? It should be illegal (except, of course, if your city is under insane amounts of water and sub zero temperatures due to global warming, ala The Day After Tomorrow—but even they saved certain important books)! Isn’t that defeating the purpose? Didn’t anyone learn anything from Fahrenheit 451? But it certainly brought the issue to the attention of at least Kansas City, Mo., and now globally through various bloggers, and news sites. Maybe his pyromaniacal zest wasn’t so poorly thought out after all.

In the same article from the AP, they recount the 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts study that found that “less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57 percent in 1982.” Don’t be so shocked. I see it in the classroom every day, and things continue to get worse. I know I ranted about a student keeping a book I loaned him, but secretly I’m thrilled—as long as he’s reading it, that is. Along with the miserable instant gratification mentality that is so prevalent today (Thank you MTV for planting the seed of the poisoned apple…), people don’t enjoy reading. I have my own theory about this, and perhaps I’ll rant about it at a later date, but it has everything to do with the fact that people are rarely taught how to read more efficiently, or faster, and they linger in reading habits learned in grammar school, at the same speed. Who would want to read if it sounded like a 6 or 7 year old all the time? Nevertheless, Wayne raises an interesting dilemma in our society today. I’m a rare breed, and I’m aware of that. Perhaps that’s what drew me to English as a major and subject matter for scholarship. It’s certainly why I teach literature and writing. I hope that my passion for critical thinking, reading and using your imagination is contagious.

Strangely, a colleague of mine handed me an article today from the Wharton School of Business’s newsletter: “Dana Gioia on the Close Connection between Business and Poetry.” If the former vice president of General Foods, now the chairman for the National Endowment of the Arts since 2002, believes that literature and beauty in thought and writing is critical to business, then maybe there’s a silver lining to Mr. Wayne’s dark cloud of general ignorance after all.

~D.M. Papuga

1 Comment:

Brian said...

I read about the book burning just recently and while I am not the biggest reader (especially just for fun), I was shocked that someone would do this!

I think it was just a sad, sad publicity stunt.

Their are TONS of better uses for books. Donate to places, send overseas, hell furniture for college students would be better than burning!

I also agree with you about people not being taught how to read efficiently. I know I am a slow reader and maybe that leads to my lack of reading books.. I read technical books, but not a lot just for fun. Though, i do read lots of information/news/shorter story type items as I love learning about new things... maybe I am just another product of the X/Y/A.D.D. Generation.