Friday, May 16, 2008

The paper burns, but the words fly away

Shaun Bythell, who runs The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland, staged a public book burning in May 2005.
Shaun has kindly explained the reasoning behind his book burning...

The reasons for doing the book burning were two-fold. Firstly, I wanted to help promote Wigtown as Scotland's National Book Town, and with no advertising budget I had to think of some way of getting media coverage without paying for it. It was probably testing the notion that all publicity is good publicity to its limit, but I think that everyone who took the time to actually think about what we were doing understood our reasons for doing it. The knee-jerk ‘book burning is a bad thing’ brigade will never open their minds to look beyond the historical associations, and think about what might have motivated our event - they'll always assume that anyone who burns a book is a Nazi regardless of how far from the truth this is. These people are probably more dangerous than the people who burn books.
I attempted to reason with some of the people who attacked me by saying ‘The Nazis burned books’. My response was that the trains arrived on time in Nazi Germany, does that mean that every time a train arrives on time in the UK today it is driven by a Nazi? I got a lot of confused looks. Although there are historical associations, there is no causal link between burning books and oppression, and to assume that everyone who burns books is an oppressor is a sign of an underdeveloped mind.
The second reason for doing it was to highlight the fate of books which have reached the end of their useful life and to see whether, by raising the issue, anyone could suggest a possible alternative to dumping them in a landfill site, which is what largely happens to old books with pages missing, damp damage, or no commercial value.


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