'Not reading a book is as good as burning it'

Tom Wayne 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 bestsellers such as Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities to obscure titles such as a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1910, that did not sell.

But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he could not even give books away to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full.

So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books to protest against 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 did not have a permit to burn them.
He said next time he would get a permit.

Wayne said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply—estimated at 20 000 books - is exhausted.

“After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we’ve slogged through and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it’s just kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “And it’s a good excuse for fun.”

Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as more people are getting their information from television or the internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts that found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57% in 1982.

Kansas City has seen the number of used-book stores decline in recent years, and there are few independent bookstores left in town, said Will Leathem, a co-owner of Prospero’s Books.

“There are segments of this city where you go to an estate sale and find five TVs and three books,” Leathem said.

Dozens of customers took advantage of Sunday’s book-burning, searching through those waiting to go into the fire for last-minute bargains.

Mike Bechtel paid $10 for a stack of books, including an antique collection of children’s literature, which he said he would save for his four-year-old son.

“I think given the fact it is a protest of people not reading books; it’s the best way to do it,” Bechtel said. “[Wayne has] made the point that not reading a book is as good as burning it.”—Sapa-AP

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