Those words from R.E.M’s “It’s the End of the World” capture how I’m feeling today after reading a troubling post. There’s something going on that most of the public have no idea occurs. Something sad and depressing. Book burning. No, not a bunch of uber-conservatives trying to rid library shelves of material they claim is “pornographic”, “lascivious”, or “disturbing” ala the original Footloose (I have no idea if its in the remake- I can’t bring myself to watch it). No, no. This is much worse. This is the libraries clearing shelves to make room.
I’m not talking about chucking a few into a bonfire out front either. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of books being destroyed in secret. And not just overprints of Twilight. First editions of Hamlet and Moby Dick. Copies of Shakespeare from the 1700s with calligraphied messages from the original owner on the cover. These aren’t just books, they’re books! The creme de la creme for any book lover.
I know the new craze is e-books, and I’m not in total opposition. Okay, I’ll admit, I was initially, but I can see the good in e-books. Lower costs of publication, which means a greater chance for an aspiring author to get their work out there; appeal to the younger “technological” generation, kids who might not have picked up a paperback might be more likely to grab a Kindle or Nook. I bought my husband a Kindle and have read a few books on it myself. I can’t, however, make a full switch. There is nothing quite like holding a book. Feeling it’s heft. Turning a page. Especially an old book.
The picture at the top of this page is from my own shelf. Of all books, old ones are my favorite. The musty smell. The thick, brittle, tan or brown pages. The coarse leather and cloth bindings. Picking one up makes me wonder who else has handled it, read it, owned it, loved it. Centuries of hungry eyes gobbling up the words and turning those same pages. It’s not just a book, it’s history. It’s life.
I scour thrift shops and old bookstores searching for these ancient tomes. Nor do I always care what they are. A first edition of a book of poetry, or a collection of stories in an old schoolbook. I love them all. I’ve always wanted the library from Beauty and the Beast. You know the one. The one that finally gets Belle to notice Beast in a new light. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, with the giant rolling ladder. Ahhhh.
And now I find out that libraries are burning these treasures. They can’t give them away or sell them or toss them in the trash because it takes too much time and effort to strip the markings and sensors from each one first. Library workers can’t save any they come across because it would encourage sifting through them. You can read all of the reasons at Cracked: 6 Reasons We’re in Another “Book Burning” Period in History. It makes me too sad to go through it all again.
Of course, I keep thinking there has to be a way to save these books. Volunteers at the library to strip them? Some benevolent millionaire willing to buy them all? Or am I forced to accept the reality that innumerable pieces of literature will meet their end in a fiery furnace?