Burning Books—Why Not Give it a Try?
Burning books gets a bad rap.
Ever since Nazi fascists burned a pile of books in Berlin in 1933, we have associated book-burning with fascism. Ray Bradbury cemented that association in his novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, that depicts a futuristic society where the job of firemen is to go around setting alight all books and, sometimes, the people who read them. It’s worth noting that Bradbury’s futuristic society began not with fascist but noble intentions: they simply wanted to alleviate the displeasure of certain people offended by various views put forward in books, but once the floodgates were opened soon everything seemed at risk of causing offense… and thus everything simply had to be banned.
(Remind you of anything? Say, the current mania for trigger warnings, microaggressions, moral panics over offense, campaigns to censor people we don’t like?)
There have been book burnings in the years since, but not a great many, and rarely do they manage to attract a decent crowd. But it looks good in pictures, and it seems heinous—censoring speech and ideas, after all—so shouldn’t we ban book burning?
That was irony, if you missed it (an Act of proscription curbing proscriptive acts). Personally, I enjoy a good burning. It just feels good—which is no doubt what all those fascists and conquerors and highly offended do-gooders figured, too.
I don’t think I’ve had a greater literary experience than when I burned by bonfire a copy of The Celestine Prophecy. Watching the pages curl into themselves in what I might imagine as agony before they soil their ivory lustre with brown and finally disintegrate under ripples of orange and yellow—a beautiful memory of the worst book I have ever read.
That’s what I like to do with books so poorly written I would feel guilty if I passed them on to either friend or charity. I don’t want to be responsible for the suffering reading such a book might cause—and you will suffer if you read The Celestine Prophecy.
But that’s just a rationalisation. The truth is, I burned it because I’m hateful (in the banal sense in which all humans can be and sometimes are hateful, which in many situations we might otherwise describe as being petty) and sometimes being hateful in demonstrable ways that don’t hurt others feels good. In fact, it feels great!
Burn a bad book. That’s my prescription. Hell, burn a good book if you like—it just means there’s fewer second hand copies in existence, a boon for the author and publisher who receive no income from their sale anyway. Burn it the same way you’d burn Ikea furniture or white-anted fence posts or a big juicy joint.
To bastardise a Ben Harper song:
Let us burn one
from end to end
and pass it over
to me my friend.
Burn it long, we’ll burn it slow
to light me up before I go.
If you don’t like my fire
then don’t come around,
cause I’m gonna burn one down,
yes I’m gonna burn one down.
My choice is what I choose to do
and if I’m causing no harm
it shouldn’t bother you.
Your choice is who you choose to be
and if your causin’ no harm
then you’re alright with me.