Would You Burn a Book?

It happens every year.  I spend summers in a tiny New Hampshire hamlet that enjoys, in addition to magnificent scenery, a very respectable if small public library.  Each July, the library holds its annual book sale to raise funds for the upcoming year.   The books on offering range from pulp paperbacks to genuine gems (this year I snagged a wonderful illustrated edition of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style) and everything, from treasures to trash, is priced to sell.  Sell, they do, in reasonable quantities but inevitably many books remain unpurchased.  And the library staff, board members and volunteers have to face the annual conundrum: what to do with the leftover books.

The solution would seem obvious: donate them.  Wouldn’t other libraries, schools, nursing homes, et cetera, be thrilled to receive such a donation?  The sad answer is no.  Our librarian has tried to persuade every group she can think of to take possession of the books.  Even some of the books!  Nobody wants them.  Perhaps the problem is that so many other local libraries face the same dilemma and try the same forms of outreach.  Perhaps there are simply too many books, stored in attics and crowding bookshelves, books that owners, especially as they grow older and more interested in downsizing, are eager to pass on.  Perhaps devices like Kindle are slowly making paper and ink obsolete.  Whatever the reason, each book sale concludes with boxes upon boxes of unsold and unwanted tomes and the library must get rid of with them.

Up to now, the painful procedure has been to take the boxes of books to the dump.  Everybody hates it.  The whole notion of books as rubbish offends the deepest sensibilities of anyone who feels that books might be our most profoundly human achievement.   Throwing books away is literally gut-wrenching.  Then, this year, in desperation for an alternative, someone came up with a provocative notion.

Burn them.

The idea is this:  Sometime in the fall, build a bonfire and invite the community.   Have someone talk about the preciousness of books and the value of the free and full expression of ideas.  Then have people pick, from those that need to be discarded, books toss onto the flames.  Perhaps somebody would feel moved to kiss a book goodbye or say a sentence or two about a favorite passage.   Perhaps the event would unfold in reverent silence.  Maybe, as happens with some funerals (like those I remember from in the South), there would be lots of food and laughter would mingle with the tears.

And perhaps it would be a disaster.

Book burning has a long and malevolent history.  Book burning is synonymous with thought control and oppression.  In the ‘right’ — that would be ‘wrong’ — hands, burning a book means murdering an idea.  Would such an occasion — burning a book in an attempt to honor it — in fact lead to de facto censorship: This book deserves to be burned?  Is taking books to the dump a more ‘humanistic’ method of disposing of them?

Do you have a better idea?



Sandi Crist
Sandi Crist6 years ago

no, I love to read, and have a lot of books!

Alexandra Spurlock
Alexandra S6 years ago

The poll never specifies what book to burn... so how about, instead of burning beautiful literature, we find and burn every copy of "How To Train Up A Child", which advocates beating children with rubber hoses to get them to behave?

jeremy Lovin
jeremy Lovin6 years ago

I would never want to burn a book but there just one exception. The 9/11 commission report would be the one book I would burn. There have never been such a pack of lies written into the pages of a book, except maybe the warren commission report.

Cheri L.
Cheri L6 years ago

Okay, if push came to shove and I was freezing wth nothing else to use for fuel, books could be in danger. But this really bothers me because I have found wonderful old books that were never famous at sales. Anthologies of short stories from the 1800's some good and some not so good. Odd novels from the 50's that no one has heard of like "It happened to Didymous" by Upton Sinclair, now out of print and I lost mine. So if you insist of burning the books suggest finding someone who burns wood and needs the fuel,

Charlie Parkinson

Would I burn a book?......depends on the book.

And for those of you who disagree....you obviously must not have had to follow the stupid high school english curricula requiring teachers to feed you and force you to analyze a mixture of classics, historical fiction, and a bunch of what I can only think of as pulp fiction......no, haven't come around to that yet, the versions I had were all checked out from the library :) and, since I would never, ever waste money on them, bad economy or not, I guess they are relatively safe from me......for now :)

Ann G.
Ann G6 years ago

In this case, I would burn a book. It's like cremation- you want the person/book's ashes to return to the earth immediately instead of slowly decomposing in a man-made, ugly environment- coffin in a cemetary or dump.

Paul Diamond
Paul Diamond6 years ago

I was raised to respect, no, revere books. My mother once took a college literature course. The teacher had them get paperbacks so they could underline and marginal note. My mother could not bring herself to 'deface' a book.
I recommend going to www.bookcrossing.com.
You can register your book. Then you download a label inviting people to take the book and read it. Then go to the site and tell where you found it and where you left it, you can even leave a review.. Anyone can then follow the travels of the book. I have had books end up in Sweden and Morraco.
Superstition is harmful to children and other living things

Treesa Math
tia Math6 years ago

many ways other than burning books

- recycle the paper
- send them to betterworldbooks link which someone gave
- ask your friends and neighbors
- use the hardcovers as some craft item
- use the books for compulsory reading for growing kids
- send them to developing countries
- list them on your blog and let people view and buy /get them.
- send a petition to Google books and let them put these books on a section where people all over the world can view them and buy /get them.

there are always options other than ' waste' !!!

Judith Blank
Jude Blank6 years ago

here is a link to an organization who sends books to several countries in Africa. you can donate your books to them


Fred Krohn
Fred Krohn6 years ago

The only book I'd burn would be the damaged copy I'm replacing with a new one. Too many @*$^ extremists burning books for their content - I'll never respect fascists, dictatorial socialists, and theocrats. Even such extreme texts as Schickelgruber's 'Mein Kampf', Marx's 'Das Kapital', or Hubbard's 'Dianetics' are protected - because such tomes give clues on how to defeat such criminal initiatives as the authors had. My single favourite short novel is Ray Bradbury's 'Fahrenheit 451', precisely because it is a protest against dictators and thought control. While I have no problem with parents having control over their children's reading material, that is the limit on censorship to me - all other censorship (except tactical data dissemination restriction during a declared war) should be banned.