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.

10 Comments to “In which I support book burning”

  1. Burning old textbooks and notes was quite a ritual in our school. I was never a part of it because my textbooks all went to this next door friend of mine who was a year junior, and liked the fact that all answers were marked on his textbook…

  2. Have NOT read Twilight- just reading the blurb was disturbing enough.

    Not in a personal way but because all the kids in the teen’s class were reading it. I did not pay for it or burn it but just told her that there are far better books for her to read.

    For once (after a long long time), we were in agreement – and we bask in the light of perfect agreement – Twilight-less while she has her long list of MUST-read books :)

    BTW first time here – followed you from Varali’s blog.

  3. Excellent. We really should make a bonfire of it – my contributions will include a lot of books with fruits and colours in their titles.

    aand: What a liberated school you seem to have attended. And what a deprived childhood I seem to have had.

  4. aandthirtyeights – Giving away textbooks is a far more productive way of getting rid of them but I’m sure it’s less satisfying!

    Shankari – hi and welcome! Twilight is disturbing in many ways, though I’d recommend it to adults with a sufficiently skewed sense of humour. But really, if your teen’s a reader I’d like to think she’d just mock it anyway.

    Varali – Examples of such fruit-and-colour books? I honestly can’t think of any.
    And I assumed the book-burning at aand’s school was not an officially sanctioned ritual!

  5. Mango-coloured Fish (Kavery Nambisan), House of Blue Mangoes (Davidar), etc.

  6. I had a fundamentalist customer once explain to me that you can tell if a book was inspired by Satan by the way the pages curl (or not) when burned.


  7. Varali – I have read neither, but from what I hear of the Davidar book at least, Right is on your side.

    Daisy – That’s genius! It’s sort of like Tudor witch trials by drowning. If I remember right, you’d throw a woman into water and if she floated she was a witch and would be killed. If she was innocent she’d merely drown. You can’t tell whether or not a book should be burnt until you test it by burning it. It is perfectly logical.

  8. Mmm. I read the whole series, and it reads a bit like very prissy Victorian-era porn in places, while simultaneously sounding like fanfiction (I’ve read a good deal of fanfiction, in my day. And it’s not something I’d ever admit to in real life ). But it’s just that, after the fiftieth description of how perfect Edward is, and how he sparkles, my patience is sorely tested- what one tolerates on a Livejournal/ screen, is not so easily put up with in a physical, ink-and-paper book.

    I think you might find this funny, do click:

  9. Oh, wait, now I read the old Twilight post and realised you’ve read all of cleolinda’s stuff…silly me.

  10. What do you think about WIKILEAKS?
    Hope for answer

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