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. To whit:
Tom Wayne amassed thousands of books in a warehouse during the 10 years he has run his used book store, Prospero's Books. His collection ranges from best sellers like Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" and Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities," to obscure titles like a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference held in Buenos Aires in 1910. But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full. So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books protest what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.
"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.
The fire blazed for about 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department put it out because Wayne didn't have a permit to burn them.
Wayne said next time he will get a permit. He said he envisions monthly bonfires until his supply - estimated at 20,000 books - is exhausted.
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. Oh, but wait, there's more:
"After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we've slogged through and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it's just kind of a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "And it's a good excuse for fun."
Wayne said he has seen fewer customers in recent years as people more often get their information from television or the Internet. He pointed to a 2002 study by the National Endowment for the Arts, that found that less than half of adult respondents reported reading for pleasure, down from almost 57 percent in 1982.
A good excuse for fun. Yikes. Well, on the bookstore's website, they explain it a bit more succinctly, albeit it with more unholy pretension than I can usually muster before, like, a whole pack of cloves and three or four hours of listening to Bauhaus imports:
As a used bookseller, we have put our money where our hearts are – surrendering our hours and our revenues to sharing the world of books and, more importantly, the ideas they contain with anyone who would listen.
During these ten years we have seen reading decline dramatically. The National endowment of for Arts study on literary literacy in America which painfully highlighted the rapid decline of reading in America. In our own community, we’ve watched as bookstore after bookstore has folded.
Yesterday, we performed an act of art – a wakeup call to all who value books and ideas. Over the last 10 years, Prospero’s Books has 20,000 books we’ve collected that people simply will not read. We receive hundreds more each week.
At Prospero’s we fundamentally believe that the literary arts are not dead. We believe that there is still much about the human condition and our time still needing to be said. In so saying, we challenge you to get involved in two ways:
1. email these stories to your friends
2. call your local TV, radio, newspaper, blogs, etc. and tell them what is going on
3. For $1 a book (+ postage), you can save these books from the flame. We will not take these $s as profit, but will use them to publish new books.
Well, that makes sense. Except that, as far as I can see, at least two of their new books are by the store's owners, Wayne and Lethem. Maybe if they framed their argument a little differently -- Unless you pay us $1 a book, plus shipping, so that we can fund our self-publishing empire, The Hunt For Red October burns! -- I could get behind this whole charade.
I find this distasteful on a lot of levels, particularly since it smells less like a protest and more like a business decision/publicity stunt. If you were doing it in real protest, would you send out a press release? Would you ask people to call their local TV, radio, newspaper, and blogs (don't any of you motherfuckers call this blog...I'm warning you...I have blog caller ID...) if there wasn't a way to make a buck? (And if TV and radio and the internet are to blame for all of this book burning, as Wayne suggests above, isn't it hypocritical to turn to them to save the books from the pyre of pretension?) If you were doing it in real protest, would you call it "fun?" If you can't sell the books, why the fuck did you buy them in the first place and why are you continuing to take in hundreds of books a day?
Burning books you can't sell makes for good copy -- hell, you've got my attention, so bully for you and all that -- but what does it solve? Are you somehow increasing readership by doing this? Are you somehow encouraging kids to step away from their PlayStations by showing them how utterly disposable words are? Are you, in fact, exacerbating the situation by publishing poetry, which, I think we can all agree, no one reads, no one wants to read and, at base, is responsible for some of the world's worst ills: Slams, spoken-word on college campuses, people reading in the "poet voice" even when they aren't reading poetry, Michael Silverblatt's odd interviewing technique and the preponderance of people taking their author photos in stairwells, dilapidated buildings, and up against walls.
My advice is simple, then: If you can't sell the books, just let people take them for free for a few months and then, the rest, throw out. 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.
(Oh, one other thing: If you could, uhm, not burn my books, I'd appreciate that. Now, Lee's books, sure, that's fine.)
UPDATE: In the comments, a friend of the store in question and sometime counter-person says, essentially, No, You're a fucktard! And I reply, No, You're a fucktard. And then Romance Author extraordinaire and former officer of the court HelenKay Dimon rules that No, Tod isn't a fucktard, but this friend of the store sure is and then, well, two men enter, one man leaves and it's all Thunderdome. Check it out.
[Thanks to HelenKay for making me insane.]