Monday, May 28, 2007

Book Burning in Kansas City

I have to admit to some mixed emotions when it comes to what Kansas City bookstore owner Tom Wayne (Prospero's Books) has done to bring attention to what he sees as the declining respect for books in this country. On the one hand, his book bonfire has caused a bit of public awareness of the situation. But, on the other hand, Mr. Wayne has rather shamelessly sacrificed some books to the flame in what he calls a "good excuse for fun." Now, the little cynic voice inside my head tells me that Wayne carefully selected the books to be burned and that most of them were probably junk to begin with, but I still cringe at the image of so many books being burned.
"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."
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."
I'm wondering if Mr. Wayne would let me fill a U-Haul truck with free books if I showed up at his warehouse one day. That little voice is telling me "no way...not gonna happen."


  1. Sam, if you need a second driver for your U-Haul, I'm there. I really do understand the point he's trying to make but the little bookworm inside of me screams that books should never be burned under any circumstances, especially not as a "good excuse for fun." Such is the stuff of which nightmares are made...

  2. My thought totally...he's burning a select group and placing desirables as close to the top as possible. You better believe he has nothing but 1960's textbooks on the bottom. ;)

    I got to hand it to him, he's selling books which probably sat untouched for years. A little bit on the PT Barnum side of selling, though.

  3. J.S., I suspect that we'll be coming home empty handed because I frankly don't believe this is about burning books in despair. It's about getting attention and selling them to panic stricken book lovers who can't bear to see them disposed of that way, is my guess.

    Maybe I'm wrong...only the store owners know for sure.

  4. Maggie, the reference to P.T. Barnum may be dead on. And I bet that Mr. Barnum's well known saying proves true once again.

  5. I'm trying to remember if I've been to this bookstore. The name sounds familiar.

    Bookburning really bothers me. I've got a shelf full of shite no one wants to read. I rescued the books from Pablo who swore to put them in the rubbish bin. Now they just take up space in my office, but I can't bring myself to toss them or YIKES! burn them.

  6. Echo the rest of the comments. I understand what he's doing but I still don't really feel good about it. I'd prefer he give them away to people instead of burning them. In addition, that's a whole lot of smoke that doesn't need creating.

  7. Bybee, folks in my neighborhood put out stacks of books at the curb every so least a full day before the garbage pickup happens...and almost always all of the books are gone before the garbage truck gets a shot at them. It's common to see people rummaging through stacks of books that have been left out so that they can at least have a shot at finding a new home before the rubbish heap claims them.

    Unless the burned books were complete trash...such as out of date textbooks and computer books, etc....these bookstore owners are in the wrong business.

  8. Matt, some of the "smoke" that he's creating is in an attempt to sell books to a panicked consumer base, IMO. That's even worse than the physical smoke he's creating.

  9. I think its ludicrous to equate the act of not reading books to burning them as he did. Basically he's just trying to promote his store and I don't sympathise with him at all. I hope someone tips him over into the bonfire. :p

  10. Imani, I do think that it's probably all about self-promotion for the bookstore. He made it way too easy for people to buy the books just before he was going to supposedly toss them into the fire...showmanship? :-)