Jun 4, 2007

It's Just A Book

I read about this particular incident on a blog(http://always-a-musing.blogspot.com/) recently and it disturbed me. It made me realize that the world I was born in was a different world and I am not even that old, 23 to be precise. This small incident, which I am about to relate, took place in Kansas City, U.S.A. But it is something worth sparing a few moments and thinking about.

The owners of a small bookstore called Prospero in Kansas City took a drastic step on the Memorial Day(don’t ask me what that is ) weekend. Tom Wayne and Will Leathem have always believed in the power of the written word. Mr. Wayne also runs a small publishing house. It was the love of reading and the feeling of something amiss in their lives, which made them open the bookstore in 1997 and it was the same love, which had prompted them to buy second hand books from students and wandering families who couldn’t afford to carry the burden. They thought that instead of these books being wasted away they could make sure that somebody makes use of them.

However as the years passed their stock of second hand books only increased due to a sharp decline in reading books in America. The numbers of people reading were decreasing day by day and so were the sales. They had accumulated over 50,000 old books and there weren’t any buyers. They tried every possible way to do something about these books but to no avail. When they wanted to donate these books to correctional institutes they were flatly refused. Even stock clearance sales did not work as well wishers who’d buy some of the books would the next day deposit the books at the doorstep of the store.

A few weeks earlier frustrated by the grim scenario and finding no other way to express their anguish they did the unthinkable. They built a bonfire outside the bookstore and to the surprise of the bystanders and passers by they burnt a few hundred of their books. These two men passed a cultural statement, which has sparked of a debate amongst the clerisy and the common man in America and has sent all of them clamoring to take a stand on this issue. Most people are of the opinion that this is an appalling way of attracting the attention of the nation. But Mr. Wayne and Mr. Leathem believe that if not this then what would have stirred the nation. This is a nation where hysterical women are more bothered to carry on an agitation to get Sanjaya kicked out of American Idol, a nation where in a matter of days front page news becomes page 5 news.

Nobody uttered a word when they were making tireless efforts in trying to make the best possible use of these books. Now who are these people condemning their extreme step as an overtly melodramatic act.

I was saddened after I read about the book burning in Kansas. To think these are the desperate measures these two bookstore owners had to resort to just to make the common man aware. We are apparently living in an electronic age and take pride at having devised means of communication at lightning speed. This is not just about decline in reading in America. It is about decline of man’s power of thinking the world over.

We don’t have time. It is a rat race out there. We don’t seem to have time to spare even a half of an hour to be alone with our thoughts, to be open to the possibilities of imagination, to want to know about somebody else’s experiences in life, feel happy in their joy, sorrow in their sadness, to want to know their plight, to let ourselves be transported to another world and live another life. Books are all this and so much more.

Imagine a childhood without princes, princesses, dragons and knights.

Imagine not having spent endless hours with Famous Five and the Five find Outers.

Imagine not being conversant with Pip’s struggles and Estella’s heartlessness or Oliver and Fagin’s saga.

Imagine a naughty 10-year-old boy without Hardy Boys or a tomboy without Nancy Drews.

Imagine not having spent all those times reading Agatha Christie or Sherlock Holmes at break neck speed trying to guess who the murderer is.

Imagine not crying at Heathecliffe’s sordid life.

Imagine no Pride and Prejudice and no romance between the outspoken Elizabeth and the proud Mr. Darcy.

Imagine not having known Howard Roark’s resilience and Dagny Taggart’s persistence.

Imagine this world consisting of just us muggles, no magic, no Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Imagine you as not you and me as not me.

Imagine a world without books.

I've traveled the world twice over,
Met the famous; saints and sinners,
Poets and artists, kings and queens,
Old stars and hopeful beginners,
I've been where no-one's been before,
Learned secrets from writers and cooks
All with one library ticket
To the wonderful world of books



backpakker said...

A world without books ...its like saying a world without emotions

Anonymous said...

It was indeed a shocker.

But will it make people read more?

Hummmmmmmmm I doubt it.

betmo said...

the medium that has this country transfixed is television. between tv and video games- folks don't read; don't play; don't dream; don't imagine- don't engage. i have said the very same thing about the country that i was born into- and the country i live in today. very different places indeed.

utopia said...

Backpakker I echo your thoughts.

Nancy we can't force people to read books but we can make them aware of the declining standards of intellect.

Betmo my country too seems to be getting increasingly obsessed about tv, people don't wanna spare a few hours and read. they'd rather watch the soaps and the utterly jingoistic reality tv on television.

droolingmonkey said...

Oh i share your horror! Despite the asthma inducing wheezing and sneezing I have accumulated many, many more books than I need, but I just cant stand to get rid of any of them. I think of it as my legacy for my son, who can start working his way through volumes so precious to me. I remember the threshold age where I suddenly found grown-up books, a magical time.

utopia said...

yeah tell me about asthma and dust allergy heheh! someday when i have kids i am gonna pass on all my books like my mum plans to pass on all of hers to me :-).

i even like those dust filled old books,love the faint musty smell, reminds me of childhood and leafing through old copies of enid blyton's published in the 60'(hand me downs from Mum ) :).

Rapid I Movement said...


supergirlest said...

i haven't been by in far too long... my apologies! imagine my surprise when i clicked over here to find your post about the bookstore!

first i want to say - THANK YOU for understanding! and the ending of your post was simply beautiful!!!

i only have one correction - it was will that started the publishing house. ;)

i do hope that someday you will come visit us at prospero's. you should see our house - we have piles of books everywhere here, too.

there are good things coming out of this all. when i get the final scoop, i shall pass it on.

where are you?

utopia said...

Pardon me for the mistake.

Thanks :-).

I was appalled when I read your post about the incident.

The consequence was this small post. Whatever little I could do to make people aware of something like this happening.