Burning Books is Not the Answer

Is burning books ever a good idea? I’m not sure how I feel about this. A bookstore owner in Kansas City had a warehouse full of books he was unable to sell – close to 20,000 books. After libraries and thrift shops refused the books, he decided to hold a monthly book bonfire. He views the burnings as a protest against society’s declining support of books.

I am actually cringing as I write these words. When I think of book burnings, I imagine that scene in Indiana Jones, when the nazis are burning all the books and Indy “runs into” Hitler. Book burnings = fascism, fear, totalitarianism, prison state, loss of freedom, censorship, closed-mindedness. In the nazi concentration camps, the motto work makes you free hung over the gates. I think a more appropriate motto for our day and age would be information makes you free.

The bookstore owner fears that most people are getting their reading in through newspapers and the Internet, that people don’t care about books anymore. I can think of nothing more sad. I spend countless hours on the Internet, reading as much as I can, but at the end of the day, I need books. There is nothing quite like the feel of the pages, the heft of the words. I seek information in as many forms as I can get – audiobooks, ebooks, Internet web pages, the old fashioned book. For me, information is my most valuable tool for surviving in this world. Maybe that is why I have chosen to spend the next year studying information science. A librarian’s world is filled with information.

When I read the article about the book burning, I immediately thought of a photo slide show (#1 on the search list) I had seen on the New York Times website a few weeks ago. The pictures were of university campuses in Africa. They showed the students living in cramped and dilapidated dormitories, as many as can fit in one room. They showed science classes using broken beakers and test tubes to perform lab experiments. They showed classrooms literally falling apart. They showed long lines of students desperate to get into the library to study. In America, one man burns books because no one seems to want them. In Africa, young people yearn for any kind of access to the information that could give them a better life.

The New York Times has excellent multimedia reports available on their site. This is by no means a recommendation to spend all your time surfing the Internet. Embrace a real live book if you have the chance!


5 Responses to “Burning Books is Not the Answer”

  1. Jon Says:

    Man, I would have taken all of those book in a heart beat. That said, I’m not sure how much African university students will get out of reading Tom Clancy (don’t get me wrong – I have most of his books and have read several of them multiple time, but they aren’t exactly literary classics or bastions of science).

  2. global gal Says:

    Hi Jon, thanks for the comment. I would have taken all those books, too, in fact I have been known to attend library book sales and cart off hundreds of books. (Well, not anymore, not since I moved to China.)

    I think I should clarify the Africa thing, though. It wasn’t my intent to say the books should be sent to African universities, although I am sure some places in Africa or elsewhere would really appreciate them, but rather to point out the fact that in America, we are obviously so doused with information that we no longer treasure books, at least some of us don’t. I mentioned the African university students because the slide show reminded me how much we take for granted in America.

  3. Jon Says:

    Maybe its the people I hang out with, but I don’t see most publishers having any difficulty selling books. The problem I see, and the point I was trying to make was more about the content of those books. It’s all well and good to make light reading available (I read fluff all the time), but you have to have something that challenges your way of thinking every now and then. That’s where I see a problem with American readership, but at least they are reading which is better than the alternative.

  4. Jon Says:

    That said, I agree with everything you’ve said so far! 🙂

  5. super k Says:

    Great post about the books- it honestly made me cringe. Being an avid reader, it seems like there must be SOMEONE who could take advantage of those books that went up in flames.

    Having moved countless times in my life, I can honestly say that the only constant, that goes with me every where, are my books.

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