Saturday, 5 October 2013
Book burning - on libricide and the art of biblioclasm
So I read a review of Prince of Thorns on Goodreads recently wherein a promise was made:
Out of the thousands of books I've (literally) read, this is easily one of the worst, if not THE worst.
I can promise that
a) I will burn the book
and b) I will never, ever, own or otherwise read something by this author again.
I can update this with an incident of Prince of Thorns inspired near-biblioclasm from from 2015:
i read 1 and 1/2 chapter and i gave up. it is awfull. i don't know why i took it from the libary they should burn it
There are two sides to this coin, one funny, one dark, and whilst I'll address both I should point out that my reaction was one of amusement. I posted about the review and I expect it will sell me more books than the next ten 5* reviews that crop up. In fact only hours ago somebody posted:
"I just spent an hour reading one star reviews of your book on goodreads and I've decided to bump it higher on my to read list."
My immediate concern was that the person was only burning the one copy - a nice big pile of hardcovers would make a really decent blaze and I'm sure the publisher would have given some kind of bulk discount...
Perhaps you've not really arrived as an author until someone has burned a copy of your book? Certainly many writers spend long hours honing their craft so that they can elicit strong reactions from their readers. If you're writing something that challenges, that provokes, and that takes a reader through highs and lows into dark places then you might well expect some fraction of the emotional responses to spin off in directions other than that intended. I suppose if my books left their readers unmoved I would be far less happy than with a mix of ecstatic praise and of reaching for pitchforks, tar, and feathers.
The other side of this coin that I've well and truly spent is the visceral horror many people feel about the burning of books. It's an iconic act of desecration that's heavy with the worst of associations. Perhaps the most infamous and recent examples have been the Nazis' organised burning of books they disapproved of, but history is stained with other examples dating back as far as the written word has been set upon anything that's flammable.
Generally the target for these incidents have been non-fiction, works espousing beliefs that the perpetrators cannot abide or risk contaminating others. I guess some fiction may have been in the mix too - certainly story telling has been used as a vehicle for ideas before, and ideas can be seen as dangerous.
I guess my reviewer in this instance is just using the burning as an expression of contempt, akin to using the pages for lavatorial purposes. It's my hope that they'll film the deed and stick it on youtube - I could use the publicity. But it's an interesting issue to me that in these days where our stories are truly indestructible, being endlessly reproduced in the flow of electrons across the world, that we still resort to such basics as fire when a story upsets us...
Anyhow - to conclude - two polls (click on them to vote):
1) Have you ever burned a work of fiction as an expression of disapproval of its contents?
2) Can you anticipate circumstances where you might burn a work of fiction to register disapproval?