Monday, May 28, 2007

Bonfire of Books

A second hand book store owner has started to burn books he can't give away. When he wanted to thin out his stock libraries didn't want them, thrift stores didn't want them. Tom Wayne, owner of Kansas City's Prospero's Books, saw burning books as a protest against declinining support for the printed word. His colleague said "There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books". That's tragic. Is it really the case that not reading a book is as good as burning it? I don't think so. A book shelved has the potential to be read. A book burned can never be read. Many books are read and then recycled. How many Tom Clancy novels does the world need?

That second hand book shops are closing down is a cultural tragedy. That people aren't reading as much as they did once in a golden age of literacy is another cultural tragedy. Are those who still read reading better books? Reading Adorno over Adams (but there again, Douglas Adams and Henry Adams are both worth reading)? Reading Althusser over Debord, or even Debord over Althusser.

Secondhand book shops are a major cultural resource. I love going in to a good secondhand bookshop. Picking a book. Beginning to read it. Paying for a pile of books. Leaving with a pile of books. The acquisition of books is good. Reading books is better. Reading good books is better still. But how do you define a good book?

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