Monday, May 28, 2007

Prospero's Book Burning

An alarming story is in the news:

Tom Wayne and Will Leathem, owners of the used bookstore Prospero’s Books, are burning books in protest of the declining rate of book reading in America. They are getting people’s attention. The following is part of an Associated Press article on Yahoo by David Twiddy.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Tom Wayne has amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books.

His collection ranges from best sellers, such as Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" and Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," to obscure titles, like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But when he wanted to thin out the collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops; they said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books in protest of what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.

"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.

Wayne and Leathem got my attention. This is part of a letter to the public on their website.

Dear Book Lovers;

There are worse crimes than burning books, one is not reading them. ~ Joseph Brodskey
The individual who won’t read has nothing over the individual who cannot read. ~ Mark Twain

For ten years Prospero’s Books has been in the front lines of the literary arts, both as a bookseller ( and as a publisher (

As a used bookseller, we have put our money where our hearts are – surrendering our hours and our revenues to sharing the world of books and, more importantly, the ideas they contain with anyone who would listen.

During these ten years we have seen reading decline dramatically. The National endowment of for Arts study on literary literacy in America which painfully highlighted the rapid decline of reading in America. In our own community, we’ve watched as bookstore after bookstore has folded.

Yesterday, we performed an act of art – a wakeup call to all who value books and ideas. Over the last 10 years, Prospero’s Books has 20,000 books we’ve collected that people simply will not read. We receive hundreds more each week.

At Prospero’s we fundamentally believe that the literary arts are not dead. We believe that there is still much about the human condition and our time still needing to be said. In so saying, we challenge you to get involved in two ways:

1. email these stories to your friends
2. call your local TV, radio, newspaper, blogs, etc. and tell them what is going on
3. For $1 a book (+ postage), you can save these books from the flame. We will not take these $s as profit, but will use them to publish new books.

Many of you have great ideas regarding what can be done with these books that’s better than burning them – we agree with you, and encourage YOU to get involved in sharing the gift of literature. For $1 a book + postage, you can support your local school, prison, etc.

I don’t want anybody burning books. I want people to read books. Reading is a lasting pleasure that will be around long after the last computer bites (no pun intended) the dust.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Six (Thirteen, Actually) Weird Things about Me

I am by default tagged to tell six weird things about myself. I am being lazy and using the same thing for Thursday Thirteen. If you want to be tagged, let me know in the comments, and go for it--consider yourself tagged!

1. I often start things and get distracted before I am finished. Eventually I go back (usually) and finish. Today’s closet cleaning is a good example.

2. I am impulsive. For example, today I learned about Second Life during lunch with my buddy Laura. As soon as I got home, I sat down and wrote about it for my blog (“O Brave New Second Life”).

3. I love broccoli and cooked cabbage. Broccoli tastes entirely different when you put Smart Balance margarine and lemon juice on it. Yum. My favorite dessert of all time is chocolate chip cookies.

4. I almost always read while I brush my teeth. I have read a jillion books while brushing my teeth and taking a bath.

5. My friend Karen and I used to spend a lot of time writing stories together; she'd write a couple of paragraphs and then I would take over. It was fun. We still do that sometimes, lo these many years later.

6. I feel cold when the temperature is below 75 degrees and hot if it is over 80 degrees.

7. I became a sold-out lover of Jesus thirteen years ago. But that's not weird--it's been a much better life since then.

8. My office at the college is fairly messy. I scurry around and straighten it up about three times per semester, when the impulse strikes me. A little sign on my desk justifies this: “A cluttered desk is a sign of genius.”

9. I cry easily over things people don’t usually seem to cry over, such as gorgeous sunsets, brilliant blue butterflies, and beautiful music, art, and literature. Also--sweet cards from my children and grandchildren

10. I tend to be a little shy around people I don’t know well.

11. When I was in high school, my highest goal in life was to be a cheerleader. At a class reunion about twenty years ago, one of my old classmates said, “What!!?? YOU have a master’s degree in English???”

12. I am a pushover for students who beg for a second chance, and every semester I bend the rules for one or two.

13. However, when they don’t come to class and don’t do their work, I think they deserve their “F” instead of the way we drop them from the class roll. I think people should do what they are supposed to do. They shouldn't be babied.

O Brave New Second Life

I have recently discovered another life—Second Life. It is very interesting—one of those things that make you want to say “Hmmmm.”

My first reaction was to make this pronouncement:

People who spend hours living virtual lives must have great need in their real lives. The virtual life—let’s face it—is not real life.

I am afraid that the virtual life is addictive. I think people who get into it in a big way become so hooked on it that to them, it is more real than real life. This view is opposed by James H. Burnett, III, whose article “More real people are living virtual lives,” states “. . . even though a meaningful virtual-world life requires a lot of time, (MIT professor Beth) Coleman says she doesn't believe it carries the addiction danger of virtual multiplayer games, because simply living online isn't competitive.”

I beg to differ. It may not be competitive in the gaming sense. But it seems very competitive with real life, real relationships. In real life, we must deal with pain every day—physical pain, hurt feelings, fear, disappointment, rejection.

Burnett goes on to say, ''But the trend has been toward more realistic representations . . . because more people are now trying to escape not who they are -- what they look like, I mean -- but where they spend their time.''

Au contraire. In Second Life, you create yourself—a slender, beautiful, young self; who would want to create an avatar that looks exactly like you when you could so easily fix up all your physical disadvantages? You would make a new identity, complete with a new name, and be whoever you wanted to be. Of course. That’s what I would do.

Then you go about building “relationships” with other “people.” And, as Burnett points out, “Twenty-two percent of Second Lifers polled by GMI said they had more virtual-world than real-world friends, and 29 percent said their virtual lives interfered with their real lives.”

On the other hand, there is my friend Laura, who introduced me to Second Life. She is handicapped and must spend most of her time at home. When I voiced my concerns to her, she said, “But think about this. In Second Life, I can walk fast. I can go wherever I want to and talk to as many people as I want to. I can fly. It’s wonderful.” I can understand that.

This strange new world is catching on in a mammoth way; over six million people “inhabit” it. It is growing businesses, clubs, colleges and universities. All those “people” are really just as needy as real people--after all, real people create them. Jesus said we must take the good news of God’s love to the whole world, and I guess that now also includes the virtual part of the world. My friend Laura is doing what she can about that. She has recently “built” a Methodist mission, where over three hundred people have visited and many have dropped “cards” into her “God Box” requesting prayer.

I am reminded of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, described in this linked article:

“The world it describes could also be a utopia, albeit an ironic one: humanity is carefree, healthy and technologically advanced. Warfare and poverty have been eliminated and everyone is permanently happy. The irony is that all of these things have been achieved by eliminating many things from which people currently derive happiness—family, cultural diversity, art, literature, science, religion, and philosophy. It is also a hedonistic society, deriving pleasure from promiscuous sex and drug use, especially the use of soma, a powerful stimulant taken to escape pain and bad memories through hallucinatory fantasies.

“. . . The ironic title comes from Miranda's speech in Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act V, Scene I:

"O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beautious mankind is!

O brave new world

That has such people in't!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Thursday Thirteen--Cooks of America, Let Us Unite!

I have a suspicion that high fructose corn syrup is something nasty. I don’t have time to research it right now because of all the hurry and worry of the end of the school term; however, I plan to do some reading about it.

I’ve heard that it makes the blood sugar go up more than refined sugar. And I have noticed that it is in an alarming (and seemingly unnecessary) number of packaged foods that we eat often. Here are some examples that I found lurking in my kitchen:

Worcestershire sauce

Woody’s Cookin’ Sauce

Heinz 57 sauce

Ranch dressing

tomato soup

Chef Boyardee Ravioli

Oroweat 100% whole wheat bread

all yogurt except plain (ugh)


Wheatsworth crackers (it says “corn syrup”—I suspect that is the same thing.)

Ritz crackers

Nature Valley granola bars

Post bran flakes

Oscar Meyer light wieners (“corn syrup”)

Goldenbrook orange sherbet

Mueslix cereal

Hillshire Farm Deli-Select mesquite smoked turkey lunch meat

Do you think the widespread use of high fructose corn syrup might contribute to the large number of people with diabetes? Cooks of America, we might have to go on a rampage against it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Sword, Not Peace

The Bible has some hard teachings. At my church yesterday, a man read this passage, looked up, and said, “Does that mean we’re not supposed to love our wives and children?”

Matthew 10:34-37

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
"a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.”

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Various ones of us in the class tried to explain it, but I’m not sure he ever accepted our ideas. Our main consensus was that it’s as if we were the children in a family—the love we would have together for our parents. That kind of love is different from the love among brothers and sisters; it goes beyond, somehow, involving love in a different sense—of safety and sacrifice and nurture, maybe.

Here’s what Oswald Chambers says about it in today’s My Utmost for His Highest devotional entry:

The conditions of discipleship given to us by our Lord in verses 26, 27, and 33 mean that the men and women He is going to use in His mighty building enterprises are those in whom He has done everything. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26 ). This verse teaches us that the only men and women our Lord will use in His building enterprises are those who love Him personally, passionately, and with great devotion— those who have a love for Him that goes far beyond any of the closest relationships on earth. The conditions are strict, but they are glorious.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thursday Thirteen: Spring Is Sprung

Here are thirteen things I love about spring in the Southwest:

1. Wildflowers

2. The way different kinds of wildflowers take turns blooming as the spring goes along:

3. First, bluebonnets, wild primrose, and Indian paintbrush

4. Later, Indian blanket and Mexican hat

5. Even later, purple coneflowers

6. The brilliant green of new grass and leaves

7. The return of Monarch butterflies

8. Warmer weather

9. Rain

10. Thunderstorms

11. Not tornadoes!

12. Birds building nests

13. Students in love all over campus