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May 28, 2007

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Dr. Zom

It's still early in the voting for Fucktard of the Year, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Tom Wayne and William Lethem, the co-owners of Prospero Books in Kansas City, have such a huge lead in early reporting that it would be impossible to surmount the sheer amount of fucktardedness boiling inside their personage.,

Gee Tod, tell us how you really feel....

Actually, I believe that is the funeral pyre for your inability to run a successful business, or, at the very least, to spend a couple bucks to rent a dumpster and just throw the offending volumes away.

The bookstore is quite successful, thank you. I imagine if you read the article you would have understood that these were books that were in storage. Many attempts had been made to give them away to various organizations. Charities turned them down, prisons wouldn't take them, etc. Other avenues are still possible and being explored.

And you don't seem to concerned about throwing the books away. Is it just the burning of them that offends you? Next time we'll use a wood chipper.

It's cute that you found the web site explanation pretentious. Since you've had your short stories published by the Santa Monica Review we'll assume you know the definition of the word. Enjoy the merlot.

If you were doing it in real protest, would you send out a press release?

Uh, yeah, especially if you wanted someone to notice it. The guys at Prospero's are trying to start a dialogue on the decline of literacy in this country - that includes your books, too. I'd call you a fucktard here but I have more class than that.

It's not as much fun as burning them, but it's less pretentious, you wouldn't be accused of being publicity mongering fucktards and your true intentions -- clearing up some shelf-space -- could be achieved without the glare of your false indignation messing things up.

As mentioned in the article - you did read the article didn't you Tod? - the books had nothing to do with shelf space. These were storage books.

If you were doing it in real protest, would you call it "fun?"

Protest better be fun. "If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution," said Emma Goldman. What do you have against fun?

Danny Barer

"The guys at Prospero's are trying to start a dialogue on the decline of literacy in this country - that includes your books, too."

Er, maybe my own literacy is declining, but I'm having trouble identifying what the pronoun "that" refers to in this sentence. Literacy? The decline of literacy? A dialogue? This country?

tod goldberg

I did read the article, even once for comprehension, because the first time I was so drunk off of the complimentary Santa Monica Review Private Label Merlot it all just felt like a mishmash of bad ideas. The second time, when I was under the clear-headed influence of Better Nutrition's Echinacea Smoothie and Simon & Schuster's pungent, yet sweetly refreshing frozen Jagermeister popsicles, I still saw your straw men shifting in the wind. First, Dr. Zom, you have to decide if it's them or you who is doing the book burning, because your pronouns shifted quite a bit there. If it's you, then sign your real name and get your dialog for literacy moving forward here in the land of merlot and fucktards. Believe me, I'll listen, because I'm in total support of literacy and am willing to hear how what is little more than a stunt is going to be remembered as the "act of art" that challenged the rising tide.

It is the burning that offends me, just as the wood chipping might or any other wholesale destruction. You can throw a book away without actually destroying it. Putting a book in the garbage is sad in some way, but destroying it, with all of the social and historical implications inherent therein, speaks of malice. You want to rip off the covers of mass markets and remainder them, as the big boys do, fine. It's a business practice that, while upsetting in a clinical way, is what you expect when you don't sell. But as a second hand retailer, one who can choose which books to purchase, opting to destroy them as an "act of art" in the name of literacy is repugnant.

I suppose it's hard to throw out 20,000 books in a physical sense, but the energy expended in gathering them all up and burning them seems excessive, too. Why, with all the time it would take to simply move the books from storage to the pyre, you could probably do some good with your love of literacy and your desire to help others find a love for words.

I don't have anything against fun. It's fun to make mockery of fucktards, for instance, and I do that every week. But you know what is also fun? Not couching my actions in self-righteousness. You want to get rid of books? Fine. Get rid of them. But don't pretend that you're doing it for anything other than getting rid of them. You think someone read that article and said, "You know, I better get to the school board meeting Tuesday and demand more creative writing classes and literature classes in secondary education! Those guys at Prospero's have opened up a window of thought in my mind that never existed prior. I love those guys and their act of art!"

You want to protest something, great, have at it. But you better come with an action plan in place, too, something better than "We're going to use our profits to publish more books, since no one wants to read the ones we have." I may not be a smart man, what with all the drinking, but I do know a little bit of algebra, and the end result of your equation, when you solve for the unknown, is still a warehouse filled with books people might not want.


Dr. Zom

I apologize for the shifting pronouns - I am a friend of the bookstore and occasionally fill in at the counter, but I don't work here. I was at the burning and have spent most of today fielding phone calls from around the country while Tom did interviews with CNN, BBC, etc.

The wholesale destruction of books puts you off? Don't peek in the dumpsters of libraries or bookstores. They're full of books. Second hand bookstores can choose what books they have? Have you ever worked in a used bookstore? People leave boxes of books on the doorstep overnight. Hard to throw books away? Also expensive. 20,000 books fill a lot of dumpsters.

You may question their motives but the bookstore's claim that they wanted to start a dialogue about literacy certainly seems to have worked. Today I talked to people from Colombia, Canada, Texas, Florida, California, Idaho, Iowa, etc. The story has been all over the news and blogs. Somebody's listening and talking about it.

And as for the profits made from the book burning, well, you got me there. That $400 dollars is going to go far.

HelenKay

Happy to spread the insanity your way, Tod. Like you, this offends me on so many levels. I will try not to be cute since Dr. Zom seems to hate that, but the real problem here is in the message. Forgetting for a second the reality that burning a book won't convince someone to buy a book - an obvious fault in the plan of these bookstore owners - what does this act say about the acceptability of burning books as a general practice. If it's okay to burn a book to bring attention to the cause of literacy, why isn't it okay the burn a book to bring attention to whatever cause the religious zealots are peddling when they burn NATIVE SON or HARRY POTTER books or whatever? It's all offensive. It's not okay just because the cause behind the book burning is one that most of us find important.

Frankly, this appears to be little more than a poorly conceived PR move that manages. The owners co-opted a truly offensive practice (book burning) and now try to justify it. Cute or not, these bookstore owners missed the opportunity to bring real attention to the cause of literacy. Instead they opened the door to the idea that some book burning might be okay. It's hard to imagine a more harmful message.

Cleo

If it's all for literacy, why didn't they give away the books they were going to burn instead of sell them, since they we're going to burn them anyway. Instead of a dialogue on literacy these idiots should have a dialogue on double speak.

Isn't this the same place where those ClassKC people are from?

tod goldberg

Dr. Zom, people are talking about it for all of the wrong reasons. They aren't talking about literacy, they are talking about a bookstore that burned their stock -- I assure you they are two entirely different things.

The more you attempt to justify your arguments, I'm afraid the limitations of it become even more crystal clear. Bookstores and libraries throwing away books is one thing, a bookstore sending out a press release so people could watch them burn books is an entirely seperate issue. You want to hang a lantern over literacy issues? Maybe donate those hard earned dollars for non-burnt books to a school that can't afford new books. Maybe by a kid a computer. I can't help but think that this position of burning books for the cause of literacy -- which, again, I think is a ruse, but I'm not going to convince you, now that you've experienced the ebullience of talking to the media, which I know is very spiritually edifying -- will simply allow those who find certain books to be filth to do the same exact thing, because that's a position they believe in, too. They just don't call it an act of fucking art.

You still haven't told the world how this act will get people to read books. What is your action plan? What will change because of this?

Michael Atherton

I live in Kansas City and can support the good that Prospero's does within the community. It's an excellent book shop and I've happily attended many readings, bands and poetry reasings but this silly stunt is nothing more than really cheap advertising and Dr. Zom is doing no one any favors with his gleeful ignorance about how much fun the book burning was. They've lost a customer here.

Dr. Zom

Just to clarify - I did no talking to the media. I remain spiritually unedified. What I did do was answer phone calls from regular people all over the country who had seen the burning on the news and called with concerns and support. Many understood what the bookstore was trying to do and many offered to buy books or help find them a good home. One guy in Nebraska offered to come down and take them all until the logistics and expense of moving 20,000 books (roughly a semi trailer) dawned on him. We also informed him that he could easily find a giant stack of books on his own by checking the dumpsters behind libraries and bookstores. He said he would and wished us well. We also received some information on shipping the books overseas to our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're looking into that.

As to giving them away - the article mentions that many attempts were made to give the books away. In fact, they are out on the sidewalk right now outside Prospero's. You can go take them all! In fact, there are always books on the stands outside Prospero's - 24 hours a day. People pay a nominal buck a book during business hours (people actually like to pay as opposed to getting them for free it seems - honest midwesterners) but at night they are anyone's for the taking. They'll still be there tomorrow.

I understand HelenKay's (and your) concern about somehow legitimizing book burning but I doubt that the self-declared censors and protectors of America's morals need any prodding from two guys with a small bookstore in the midwest. Books have been burned by people long before the world ever heard of Prospero's and I'm sure they will be again. If you want to blame future book burnings on Tom and Will go ahead but I think that's a rather weak argument.

It's also been fascinating to see what a impassioned response burning books provokes in people. Throw them in a dumpster? Sure! Dump them in a landfill? Doesn't bother me! But throw one book on a barbeque grill and it's hell to pay! The angry people don't seem to care that the books are being destroyed - they just don't like the method.

As to how this act will (or could) get people to read, to tell you the truth I don't know. After all, the Boston Tea Party just wasted a bunch of tea. The store's goal was to get some people talking about the waning importance of books in our society and Tom laid out his thinking quite succinctly during his monday AirAmerica interview (check their website if you're interested - it was the Air Americans' show). The goal was to start a dialogue - they did. As to getting people to read I guess they'll just have to go back to promoting local authors, publishing books, and generally running the book store.

I'll leave you with this quote from the the back of the Prospero's Books t-shirt.

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them." - Joseph Brodsky

And my personal favorite:

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." - Ray Bradbury

As to an action plan, come on, we both know there's only one action plan:

Max: Thunderdome. How do I get in there?

Aunty Entity: That's easy. Pick a fight!

HelenKay

One last comment, Tod. After this I will let Dr. Zom have the last word since he appears to want it.

Dr. Zom - You continue to assume that the writing community supports getting rid of books by any means other than burning. You're wrong. I think you know you're wrong about that as well but are trying to find any argument, no matter how baseless, to suggest those of us who are offended shouldn't be.

Authors tend to be the loudest opposition to this practice and to many of the odd and antiquated practices of the publishing industry. Talking about woodchippers and dumpsters and dumpsters, while obvious attempts to cloud the issue, miss the point. What we're talking about here is a specific practice chosen by those you are defending - book burning. An act historically used as a means to censor content. No one is saying their act will incite others to burn books. Again, you're missing the point (purposely, I think). The tragedy here is that by borrowing the book burning practice these bookstore owners have said that it is okay to burn books if your cause is just. Problem is everyone thinks their cause is just, including those who burn books to censor content.

My guess is that these owners fundamentally do not support folks who burn books based on content. That they do not see the potential damage in being on the pro-written word side of this debate yet conceding that book burning in some instances is just fine is a mystery to me. When the next group burns ROOTS or another book based on content, and they will, are these bookstore owners going to say it's okay since the people protesting believe their cause is just? Seems to me the owners have boxed themselves in a dangerous side of the censorship debate.

shauna mckenna

This is a-w-s-u-m.

Since you've had your short stories published by the Santa Monica Review we'll assume you know the definition of the word. Enjoy the merlot.

Man, I haven't felt so comeuppanced since the ULA pointed out my capitalist piggery for being a broke amateur writer attending free readings at the KGB bar in New York.

I agree that yeah, you would send out a press release for a protest, but I think most people would also form an ancillary organization devoted to the cause in order to make a distinction between the business and political activities.

I don't doubt the sincerity of their concern for national literacy, but using the proceeds of the fundraising for the publishing business is pretty sketchy. Donate the $$ to a literary nonprofit with community outreach activities, if you feel there needs to be some financial transaction involved with disseminating the surplus books. Even taking those best of intentions into account, it's an act beyond hubris to assert that the survival of your indie press is a curative to national literary disaffection.

shauna mckenna

P.S. I haven't been published by the Santa Monica Review. I do live in Los Angeles. I prefer Chianti to Merlot, and Dos Equis to both. That is all.

Adolf Hitler

I don't see any problem with burning books. Next time the Bookstore has a book burning party, let me know and me and my friends Heinrich and Jospeh will come with our own special books to burn.


BTW that name Goldberg where is that from? Please come to the SS headquarters and let me measure your skull.

Yavol.

Adolf

Tanya

I own 2,500 books and have another 3,500 on my Amazon.com wishlist. I cannot get rid of them in any way (except very occasionally by donating a few to my library).

You can ship me the 20,000 books and I guarantee to find each and every one of them a good home - no dumpsters, landfills, wood chippers and certainly no barbecues. Very few would stay with me as I simply don't have the room myself so I'm not being selfish.

My purpose in life is to find good, loving homes for books. Let me help save the books. And for crying out loud, stop whining about nobody wanting to take your books because people DO want them!

Angela

Burning books to prove a point? And really, the act seems to be about sheer laziness. I don't buy for a second, whether the books were in storage or on their shelves, that NO ONE wanted them. If they looked locally and they couldn't get anyone to take them off their hands, fine. But you might have to go outside your city limits on this one to actually get the books into the hands of the needy or less fortunate. There are hundreds if not thousands of schools, classrooms, teachers, students, families and shelters, etc that all need books. Let them decide what they should be. And if you were looking to make some $$$, ebay is always an option and you could have donated your winnings to whatever charity or press you saw fit. But then, I guess those choices were a bit too obvious and simple. These people have chosen to fan the flames with their press releases and TV interviews in the name of something all of us know to be a big load of BS. These booksellers, having been around long enough to know what it takes to even get a book published or on a bookseller's shelf, should be that much more respectful of the authors, the art and of the written word. I'm really disappointed to see Dr. Zom and anyone else speak up for these people and attempt to defend what clearly wreaks of poor decision-making and self-righteousness.

kara

angela, et al.

i'm a little late to the party, but here goes... i'm the wife of one the owners of the bookstore that the majority of you are bashing. i have to say that fucktard is my favorite that i've heard yet. i have my cents to throw in.

THE POINT OF THE WHOLE THING WAS TO RAISE AWARENESS ABOUT THE DECLINE OF READING IN THIS COUNTRY. period. they were hoping, at best, to start a community dialogue. the press releases were a hope that the papers might announce it and people would show up to save a few books. we had NO idea that the "story" would be picked up on such a huge level and we weren't prepared for this response. we are still swimming in emails and phone calls. it was not about making a buck. used book sales are not a lucrative biz. will started the bookstore after stockpiling books in his house - out of a sheer love for books, worked another job to keep it open and still does. no one is getting rich, and no one is aspiring to be. this has always been a labor of love for him, and for tom.

they tried for years to donate these books. ok, so they didn't branch out nationwide in the quest - do you have any idea how much it would cost to ship books out? they are two guys. again, the bookstore isn't a cash cow. indy used bookstores just aren't.

so instead of bashing the tactics, how about we talk about the point of it all - what ARE we ALL going to do that will encourage reading in a country that won't read - that can? i've had a thousand emails from people throughout the world begging for books. who are we going to send books to in our own communities that need them? where else can we? if the bookstore tried to send books to everyone that has responded, they would find themsleves in the ranks of the other 12 that have folded in the time they've been open.

as for will's publishing house - i know - it is simply AWFUL that he chose to start something that would get the finest regional poets published. yes, it is completely disgusting. his book and tom's were not self published, nor will they be funded by any proceeds from the books that are saved. yes - will knows how difficult it is to get published. out of his love and dedication for poetry came the publishing house. you will never meet anyone more dedicated to the written word and local poets, artists and musicians than he.

the prisons didn't want them. the shelters didn't want them. the books aren't chidren's books. the bookstores and libraries in this area alike throw out massive numbers of books. where is the outrage? it is the same thing, except instead of doing it silently, they chose to try and get a dialogue started about reading. such fucktards.

you know, people are actually writing in droves to say that they haven't read in years and this has made them go out to their local haunts and pick up a book. many others have said they are currently donating books in their own areas to those who need them - they had never just thought about it before. that really sucks, huh?

they have also helped the local literacy foundation raise money on more than one occassion. helen k - you say there was a better way to raise a discussion - what is it? and burning books won't make anyone come and get them? really? hmmmm... i'm looking at 3000+ emails that say otherwise.

just for kicks - head over to youtube and search book burning. there are pages of students that are torching their math books and books they don't like for fun.

as for the rest - how will we somehow inctie a mass reading rise in america - we're working on that. as i've said - we had no idea that anyone would even notice. we're still trying to figure out what to do next.
there is a great potential for change coming out of this.


and by the way, tod - thank you for talking about this. mission somewhat accomplished. and i heart your writing style. poet voice. niiiice. i know what you mean... and thanks for listening.

Laura

Althought I can't put things as... nicely... as the others have done, I do have a challege for these folks.

Get off your buns and DO something about literacy in this country. Tutor. Read to the elderly. Speak at English classes and business classes. Ignite the love of reading in the young people, who are our future. THAT'S how to change things, not with a silly "five minutes of fame" stunt.

Laura

Althought I can't put things as... nicely... as the others have done, I do have a challege for these folks.

Get off your buns and DO something about literacy in this country. Tutor. Read to the elderly. Speak at English classes and business classes. Ignite the love of reading in the young people, who are our future. THAT'S how to change things, not with a silly "five minutes of fame" stunt.

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