Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Book Burning - Fahrenheit 451

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) -- Tom Wayne has 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, such as 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. But when he wanted to thin out the collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops; they said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books in protest of 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 for burning.

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."

Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as people more often get their information from television or the Internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, that found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57 percent in 1982.

Kansas City has seen the number of used bookstores decline in recent years, and there are few independent bookstores left in town, said Will Leathem, a co-owner of Prospero's Books.

"There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books," Leathem said.

The idea of burning the books horrified Marcia Trayford, who paid $20 Sunday to carry away an armload of tomes on art, education and music.

"I've been trying to adopt as many books as I could," she said.

Dozens of other people took advantage of the book-burning, searching through the books waiting to go into the flames for last-minute bargains.

Mike Bechtel paid $10 for a stack of books, including an antique collection of children's literature, which he said he'd save for his 4-year-old son.

"I think, given the fact it is a protest of people not reading books, it's the best way to do it," Bechtel said. "(Wayne has) made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it."

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a painful book to read if you're a bibliophile (that's booklover for you). Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper starts to burn. The book's plot recalls the censorship of the 1950s and the book burnings by Nazis in Germany. In recent times, we saw laughable versions of book burning by groups who opposed certain books (like The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter series).

Reading the book scared me as a college student and made me appreciate books and the written word all the more. Not surprisingly, the only fire extinguisher at home can be found in my library. I have spent a fortune on insecticides and pest termination to protect the books from termites, but they just k-e-e-p o-n c-o-m-i-n-g. Being the only one in our subdivision with a functioning library, my home has become the favorite destination of these pesky white-butt ants whose tastebuds go for hardbound books but snub newsprint editions. The terminator told me: Sir, if you were a termite, wouldn't you prefer newly-cooked food over reheated leftovers?

I've had my share of book burning. I've cremated good books half-eaten therefore rendered useless by termites. In the process, I've incinerated millions of termites. I've cried while watching cherished books turn to ashes in the pyre.

When I saw the above news on TV, it gave me goosebumps and raised my hackles. What a waste of books and the knowledge they contain! I cheered up at the sight of the bibliophiles who rescued the books. Those books could have been put to good use in Third World countries such as ours. But I've been told by book donors about the prohibitive cost of transporting books. If only the billionaires and millionaires of the First World could spare some of their loose change to buy up all of those used books and ship them to countries who need them the most.

If only. . .

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