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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Fire! By Stacy

The library’s new community reading event, “One Book, One Community: Stillwater Reads Fahrenheit 451,” is now underway.  If you were not able to attend the Kick-Off event, you can come to the library to register, sign-up for a book discussion and get a free copy of the book (as long as supply lasts).

I always thought “Fahrenheit 451” was about censorship, but as I read it, I realized it is so much more complex.  The complexity is illustrated by a famous Ray Bradbury quote, “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”  

The truth in that quote felt like a burning jagged dagger slamming through my heart.  We spend so much time playing video games, reading celebrity gossip updates and marathoning TV shows that we are actually creating our own censorial environment by choosing not to read.  But alas, the public’s choice not to read doesn’t get the same headlines that a book burning does, and since book burnings are in fact pretty awful anyway, I thought I would look into some of the worst.

One of the first documented book burnings took place in ancient China around 200 BC.  Scholars developed Confucianism and Taoism during a 500 year golden age of thought and writing. Unfortunately, around 213 BC/BCE, Emperor Qin and his advisors, who distrusted the scholars, ordered destruction of thousands of books.  The book burning lasted over three years.

During the Spanish Inquisition, Tomas Torquemada arranged for thousands of books to be destroyed during book burning festivals.  Objectionable tomes included anything written in Arabic or Hebrew and any other items deemed heretical to the Catholic Church.

 In the 1500s, the Spanish burned every sample of Mayan writing they could find.  The Mayans had developed a system of writing as far back as 100 BC and were prolific writers.  A Spanish Bishop noted of the burning, “…we burned them all, which they (the Mayans) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.”  Only a handful of Mayan writings remain.

One of the most famous book burning incidents took place May 10, 1933, when German university students burned 25,000 volumes to purify German language and literature.  Targeted books included anything by Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka, Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Helen Keller, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and James Joyce.

 During World War II, book burnings were plentiful.  The Japanese military policy ordered the destruction of libraries.  In China, the Japanese military burned eight major libraries and millions of books.  The Nazis had special troops, called Verbrennungskommandos, devoted to burning towns, bodies and books.  During the war, Poland alone lost around 16 million items in the Nazis quest to remove all Polish history.

Next week, I’ll move on to book burning incidents in our own country.  Until then, fight self-censorship and pick up ANY book and read!

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