Monday, May 28, 2007

Man Burns Books to Protest Dropping Literacy

In one of those moves so twisted it makes your brain sweat just thinking about it, Tom Wayne, a Kansas City, Missouri bookstore owner, has been setting fire to his stock in order to protest what he sees as society’s diminished interest in books and reading. According to AP:
“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.
Does anyone else think this is just twisted? At least a little like a restaurateur protesting slow business by dumping food into the gutter, or a liquor store owner pouring booze down the drain. Can you imagine if Wal-Mart tried this particular tactic? Home Depot? Bloomingdale’s? But they don’t. And why not? Because it’s counterproductive, counterintuitive and -- I’ll just say it -- plain goofy.
Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as people more often get 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 percent in 1982.

OK, so let's get this straight. Wayne is suggesting business is down? That fewer people are venturing to his store in order to buy books? That fewer people are reading? And his response is to... destroy his stock? Maybe if he read the marketing books in his store instead of burning them, he could buy a clue that burning inventory is not a textbook response to a changing business environment.

Meanwhile, some customers are responding to the blaze with their pocketbooks:
The idea of burning the books horrified Marcia Trayford, who paid $20 Sunday to carry away an armload of tomes on art, education and music.

“I’ve been trying to adopt as many books as I could,” she said.


Anonymous IntellectConnector said...

The saddest part about this is that if Wayne had swallowed his anti-Web sentiment and actually posted an online announcement for the books, they could have gone to someone who would have appreciated them, versus into a pit of flames. Oy. Somebody get this guy some Wellbutrin.

Monday, May 28, 2007 6:59:00 PM PDT  
Blogger supergirlest said...

...but if prosperos hadn't done this, there wouldn't be a national dialogue occuring right now, such as the one i'm tracking all over the web. they have tried to give these books away repeatedly. i've watched it. this isn't the problem - the problem is this: readership is down. it is continuing to drop. booksellers are reporting losses across the board. and so it goes.

i find it interesting that people are more horrified about books being burned as opposed to people not reading them. that this act is considered to be crazy. is it? really? the books are available for adoption at a dollar a pop - not for the profit of the store, but to fund the publishing of local authors.

prosperos is not torching their inventory. they are torching the 20,000 + books they have collected and kept in storage over the 10 years they have been in business that no one will buy or take as donation. around here, libraries and bookstores regularly throw out dumpsters full of books. what is the difference? one is a silent act, the other isn't.

from the website - an open letter:

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.

If we are going to again place a spotlight on the importance of books and reading, we need Your help! This is bigger than two bookstore owners in Kansas City.

My greatest fear is that as a culture, we may be beyond saving the books.

We appreciate that you have joined what we hope will become a national dialogue about the importance of books. Thank you.

Sincere Regards,

Prospero’s Bookstore
Will Leathem
Tom Wayne

kudos to you, by the way - for helping the young man in indiana help stock his library. this is exactly what prosperos was hoping for.

thank you!!!!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 11:35:00 AM PDT  

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