Archive for September 10th, 2008

September 10, 2008

In which I support book burning

(More on Twilight. An edited version of this appeared in the NIE last week)

If you have been into a bookshop anywhere in the last month or so, you’ve probably noticed a pile of shiny black books with dramatic red and white cover art displayed prominently somewhere in the vicinity. These are Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, an enormously popular series of young adult fiction about the relationship between a young girl and a vampire.

Reading the first book in the series did not awaken in me any desire to read the rest. So I haven’t read Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the series that was released at the beginning of August. All I know is that some fans, horrified at the sheer badness of the book, have reacted by burning it.

Confession time: At the end of one school year, I came home and gathered all my textbooks for a particularly hated subject that could be dropped next year. I then burnt them. And it was a wonderful feeling.

I like books. I buy them all the time, refuse to let go of them and despair of ever finding storage space. I don’t look like a book harmer. When I browse, I’m not secretly imagining myself mutilating the magazines, breaking the spines of hardcover editions or even burning the paperbacks alive. But I certainly don’t treat books with the kind of reverence that is often expected of me. I cannot, in a room full of books, throw a fit if some are on the floor. Sometimes I accidentally sit on them, or touch them with my feet. I have occasionally fallen asleep on one and woken up to find it bent into terrible shapes. My liberal views on the subject of dog-earing shock and horrify many of my more religious-minded friends.

In school sometimes, if my foot happened to touch my bag, there was none of the horrified hand-touching-bag-touching-forehead gesturing that seemed to come automatically to so many of my friends. Yet the basic idea behind the action makes me happy. I love living in a culture where books are revered in that way, even if only a few of the people doing it are actually reading. Books do have a strong symbolic value.

And because books themselves have that symbolic meaning, so do censoring, banning, and yes, burning them. Throughout history, the people who have burnt books have been exactly the sort of people one doesn’t want to associate with – people who simply cannot accept perspectives or thoughts other then their own. I cringe automatically at the thought of books being destroyed on a large scale; stories like that of the destruction of the library of Alexandria are liable to give me nightmares.

Then again, once you’ve bought a book and read it (historically, most book burners omit this step) it’s yours to do with as you please. And as someone who has bought much-anticipated books in the past, and stroked their covers (eyewitnesses claim that crooning and baby talk were also used) all the way home, I can’t demand that our reactions to books we care about not be physical, even when those reactions are destructive ones. I understand where those Twilight fans are coming from, and I sympathize.