Monday, August 15, 2011

`Try to Burn a Piece of Granite'

My father-in-law passed along a tip which like so many kernels of information gleaned from the digital pastures of plenty he could no longer trace to its source. During the recent tantrums in London and elsewhere in England, it seems, vandals and thieves had spared the bookshops. On blocks where most businesses were sacked, W.H. Smith and others remained largely intact. A quick online search confirmed the happy rumor.

My first thought was that the rioters hadn’t recognized the paper artifacts arranged on tables and shelves, and correctly deduced they were not edible, potable or sellable, and moved elsewhere to enjoy the sheer pleasure of assisting entropy in its great work of returning the world to chaos.” I remembered a piece I had read years ago by a forgotten English writer, Sir John Collings Squire (1884-1958), once the literary editor of The New Statesman. He was a poet and tastemaker in his day, and like most writers was politically naive and stupid, but he could tell a story and turn a phrase. What I remembered were his amusing efforts to destroy a cache of justifiably unwanted books:
“Now, no one would have bought these books. I therefore had to throw them away or wipe them off the map altogether. But how? There were scores of them. I had no kitchen range, and I could not toast them on the gas-cooker or consume them leaf by leaf in my small study fire - for it is almost as hopeless to try to burn a book without opening it as to try to burn a piece of granite.”

[Cynthia Haven takes on the same matter.]


Anonymous said...

When Ezra Pound challenged him to a duel, Squire suggested that they settle the matter by hurling unsold copies of their books at one another.

Larry Anderson said...

You neglect to mention, as the linked story does, that one bookstore was in fact vandalized. To quote the linked Economist story:
"The sorry exception to the prevailing book amnesty is Gay’s The Word in Bloomsbury, London’s first exclusively lesbian and gay bookshop. Staff arrived on the morning of August 8th to find the shop window had been smashed with a rock and the books on display pelted with eggs. No other shops on the street were targeted and no books were taken."

The fact that no books were taken is perhaps consistent with a point made in your own comment about the perceived value and utility of books. Bu this bookstore, and its contents, apparently represented something the vandals chose to target, even as they spared they other shops on the block.