28 May 2007

burning Kansas (City)

Peculiar news here from Kansas City, where an indie bookstore owner staged a public burning of books to protest "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 for burning.

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.

"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."


Thoughts? (Debra, I'm especially looking in your direction...)

6 comments:

Debra Di Blasi said...

Trevor:
Living in Kansas City, I can tell you this:

Prospero’s is NOT the sort of independent bookstore for which I wax nostalgically. It was – oh, excuse me – is predominantly a used bookstore, so you can image some of the tripe dumped on its doorstep. Maneuvering through one of those shops is headache-inducing, and I can never find anything worth my taste. Besides, there’s no one there who comes close to understanding my taste.

I wax nostalgically for the indies whose front tables contained books selected because of their magnificence, not because publishers paid hefty fees for prominent placement, or because the books were hip 30 years ago. (If I see one more Tom Robbins novel at the forefront of the "Classics" section...) I discovered Walter Abish on those bona fide front tables, and Le Nouveau Roman, and Booker Prize and PEN/Faukner winners, and so many more.

Most of the used bookstore owners I know in this state (and others, e.g., Berkeley) are not really that familiar with (perhaps not really interested in) the best, most relative literary art because they no longer live relative lives. Some owners are conspicuously retro, believing that literature ended with the Beats – not because of the writing so much as the lifestyle. (toke-toke!) They also tend to be men, so their choices are often gender-limited/limiting. And, come on, what serious bibliophile would refer to book-burning as “a good excuse for fun.”

By noon today (May 29, 2007) Tom Wayne’s story ran in 66 news sources, so the ploy worked. While I think it will make an interesting conversation piece (like coffee table books), it will not change readership anywhere, anytime, anyhow. I'd wager that this news item's media-shelflife is a day to a week at most because, as my mother tells me, “Rosie O’Donnell may be trying to get her own show again!”

I recently invited so-called “local independent bookstore” owners to my private publishing party in order to entice them to carry my books. Here’s part of our exchange (boldface emphasis is mine):

------------------------------
Dear Debra:

Since 1975, Rainy Day Books built and maintains its community customer relations with equal promotions of Debut Authors and Local Author as well as National and International Bestselling Authors. Our Author Events Calendar for the past, present and future lists those various Authors and it also states that, “Some Authors are Debut Authors while some Authors are International Bestsellers.” We produce 300+ Minor and Major Author Events each year. We are all very busy here and we are, at times, difficult to contact. We offer Consignment Sales for Authors that want us to offer their books to our customers. Our book purchases and book sales in our bookstore, on our website and at our Author Events are based on what readers want to buy from us. We are leaders in the bookselling business, so naturally we want to stock what customers want to buy from us. We stock 34,000 Titles in 2,500 square feet of retail space. Our bookstore is packed with books that are in constant rotation of what is new and what is old, and most importantly, what customers want to buy from us. We have Staff Reading Recommendations sections on our website and in our bookstore. We will be hosting John Grisham [ack!!!] soon, who will tell you about how many times he was rejected until, through his patience and persistence, he received recognition of his work and the book sales that go hand-in-hand with writing really good books. [ack!!!!] I encourage you to have faith and be patient and persistent. We are happy to help you however possible.

My best to you,


Roger

Roger D. Doeren
Chief Operations Officer
Rainy Day Books, Inc.
2706 W 53rd Street
Fairway, Kansas (KS) 66205-1705 USA
Phone: 913-384-3126
Fax: 913-384-9209
E-mail: Roger@RainyDayBooks.com
Website: www.RainyDayBooks.com
Cc: Vivien Jennings and Steve Shapiro
-----------------------------

Rainy Day Books is also NOT the sort of independent book store for which I wax nostalgically. They are still in business because, as you can tell by his letter, they cater to mediocrity at best. They are absolutely no different from Barnes & Nobel, who now DOES carry my books when I ask them to.

Truth is, I learn more from amazon.com about new books that interest me and agree with my taste because of the site's fairly responsive referral system. No, it’s not the same as a book geek explaining to you why, exactly and precisely, this or that book is an amazing work of art. Those guys are now working at places like Rainy Day Books because they need a job somewhere. I suspect they are on large doses of anti-depressants.

As for book-burning, in general: I’d be a hypocrite if I said all books are sacred. I’ve torn apart a book by Rush Limbaugh for a series of mixed media drawings, and clipped images and text from old hardbacks for various other purposes. I’ve thrown away awful fiction paperbacks, and books that were water damaged. On the other hand, I own books the loss of which would send me into a deep malaise, and own two copies of some books just in case.

Tom Wayne will make more money from his book burning than he’s probably made all year. He will have his 5-10 minutes of fame, Internet immortality, and “fun.”

What can you do.

debra

Charles said...

seems like a waste, but then again, if debra's right, maybe a bonfire of certain sub-literate titles might do kc a housekeeping favor.

Ian said...

Leaving aside the traces of burning of banned books or literature a regime deems unfit and the like that the act suggests, what this incident does is simply trivialize the word on behalf of a marketing stunt for the bookstore. The products this store owner claims to hold dear are revealed to be nothing more than a worthless commodity, of so little value that disposal by burning is the best he can up with. That's what chills me.

Debra Di Blasi said...

UPDATE: Hmmm... I wonder if the following has anything to do with my debate with Rainy Day Books a month ago. (Rhetorical.)

from The New York Times:

"At a dinner party given by Alfred A. Knopf [at BookExpo America] for some of its authors, Vivien Jennings, president of Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kan., railed against authors who link from their Web pages to Amazon.com or even sell autographed copies of their books directly to consumers. “We host a lot of book signings,” Ms. Jennings said. Authors who sell their own books “are particularly hurtful to us.”

In February, I called Rainy Day to ask them to handle the book signing at my recent publishing party but they did not return my two telephone calls (which is why all of this broohaha began). Ouch. That hurt.

FULL ARTICLE AT: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/04/arts/04book1.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

--Debra

Eric Wahl said...

Having been born and raised in KC, I can at least say that Prospero's was never really much to shout about. But Rainy Day, at least to me, always seemed to do a good job balancing between local/indie/avant books and wide-release schlockbusters. They have to pay the bills, you know. The only KC bookstore for which I wax nostalgic was that one next to what used to be the original Tivoli Theater. A major reason I fled KC in 98 was the rapid succession of closings of such places and the city's worsening habit of destroying its own history in order to build/"remodel" Disneyfied versions of its past.

Debra Di Blasi said...

Eric:
The bookstore for which you wax nostalgic is indeed the one for which I wax nostalgic: Whistler's Books.

And sure, Rainy Day has to pay bills. My point is that they pay them much in the same way Barnes & Nobel pays them. The balancing act about which you speak is, alas, no more.

signed,
semi-optimistic-for-no-particularly-good-reason-in-KC,
Debra