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.


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