Burning Books—Why Not Give it a Try?

National book burning day 3

Burning books gets a bad rap.

Ever since Nazi fascists burned a pile of books in Berlin in 1933, we have associated book-burning with fascism. Ray Bradbury cemented that association in his novel Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, that depicts a futuristic society where the job of firemen is to go around setting alight all books and, sometimes, the people who read them. It’s worth noting that Bradbury’s futuristic society began not with fascist but noble intentions: they simply wanted to alleviate the displeasure of certain people offended by various views put forward in books, but once the floodgates were opened soon everything seemed at risk of causing offense… and thus everything simply had to be banned.

(Remind you of anything? Say, the current mania for trigger warnings, microaggressions, moral panics over offense, campaigns to censor people we don’t like?)

There have been book burnings in the years since, but not a great many, and rarely do they manage to attract a decent crowd. But it looks good in pictures, and it seems heinous—censoring speech and ideas, after all—so shouldn’t we ban book burning?

That was irony, if you missed it (an Act of proscription curbing proscriptive acts). Personally, I enjoy a good burning. It just feels good—which is no doubt what all those fascists and conquerors and highly offended do-gooders figured, too.

I don’t think I’ve had a greater literary experience than when I burned by bonfire a copy of The Celestine Prophecy. Watching the pages curl into themselves in what I might imagine as agony before they soil their ivory lustre with brown and finally disintegrate under ripples of orange and yellow—a beautiful memory of the worst book I have ever read.

That’s what I like to do with books so poorly written I would feel guilty if I passed them on to either friend or charity. I don’t want to be responsible for the suffering reading such a book might cause—and you will suffer if you read The Celestine Prophecy.

But that’s just a rationalisation. The truth is, I burned it because I’m hateful and sometimes being hateful in demonstrable ways that don’t hurt others feels good. In fact, it feels great!

Burn a bad book. That’s my prescription. Hell, burn a good book if you like—it just means there’s fewer second hand copies in existence, a boon for the author and publisher who receive no income from their sale anyway. Burn it the same way you’d burn Ikea furniture or white-anted fence posts or a big juicy joint.

To bastardise a Ben Harper song:

Let us burn one

from end to end

and pass it over

to me my friend.

Burn it long, we’ll burn it slow

to light me up before I go.


If you don’t like my fire

then don’t come around,

cause I’m gonna burn one down,

yes I’m gonna burn one down.


My choice is what I choose to do

and if I’m causing no harm

it shouldn’t bother you.

Your choice is who you choose to be

and if your causin’ no harm

then you’re alright with me.


1 Comment

  1. Well, if the pleasure of burning “The Celestine Prophecy” was so very great, then you have a treat ahead of you. There’s a sequel, “The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision”, which is the same as the original, but more so. But to attain pleasure from the burning of the thing (and the pleasure will be intense), you’ll have to read it first, which is something you may not survive.

    Personally, my thing is not fire but firearms. I like to put (multiple) bullet holes into certain books. It’s an act of love, you could say, for the books that I treasure. But this has become increasingly difficult as guns have become increasingly demonised, and now, sadly, guns are generally no longer available to most of us, for this purpose or any other.


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