Monday, May 28, 2007

Fahrenheit 451, The Modern Version

I haunt used book shops because I can't afford to buy new. I frequent used book websites because that's the easiest way to find the old and out of print or the novel by George Ade when no one seems to know who George Ade was. To think that a used book seller has resorted to burning his overstocks is mind-numbing and heart-breaking.

Tom Wayne has owned and operated Prospero's Books in Kansas City, Missouri, for many years. He's built up quite a collection, from former best sellers to Victorian era treatises on the way things were at the time. Children's literature from the time of the Great War, novels from the Civil War era -- surely there's a home for everything he has, but Mr. Wayne has found that this is not the case.

Libraries and thrift shops told him that there was no room at the inn, so to speak, when he tried to give away some of his stock. Their racks were full, they wanted no more, and it's due to the sad fact that people don't read as much as they used to. If Google has their way, whatever you might want to know could be found in a search engine, and you'll not need to thumb through the library's collection or the used book vendor's dusty shelves. The downside there is the loss of the idle search, the wandering that brings to light something you'd never know you wanted because you'd not known it existed.

Mr. Wayne started the bonfire because he feels that the American public is not turning to books for their entertainment and amusement. They have the Internet now, and movies and DVDs and television. Watch the HBO special "Bury My Hear At Wounded Knee" and you'll know all there is to know about the last days of Sitting Bull and the decline of the Lakota Nation. Except, of course, that the HBO special was largely fiction and did not give an accurate, historical treatment of Indian affairs at the end of the previous century.

The Kansas City fire department put a quick end to the burning, but only because Mr. Wayne lacked the necessary permits for a bonfire. He plans to get that permit, however, and fire up another batch of books in an act of destruction that reveals his outrage. In the meantime, local people who were aware of the planned conflagration bought up what they could, and at bargain prices. How could anyone turn down the chance to cart away an armload of old children's books for $10? Sacrifice a couple of pints for the sake of keeping a book alive.

A good book can be company on a quiet night; it can be an amiable companion on a summer holiday or a long weekend when it's too chilly to lay out in the sun and get the first sunburn of the season. Antique novels provide a window into another era, acting as a better history lesson than anything you might see dramatized on a flickering screen. Are there not some things that are well worth saving, too important to lose?

No comments: