What Does Book Burning Solve?

On a sunny afternoon in late June, the contents of my book bag were emptied out in front of a raging fire. There were all the papers that I had brought home from the 6th Grade, which was substantial since this was the last day. There were a couple of very old history and science books, and one piece of Science Fiction that I wanted to read for ages but didn’t get to was “Cities Of Lead And Gold” by John Christopher

The books were shredded, ripped apart and then tossed on to the fire with a large “whooph” just before they too began to burn. This was done to teach me a “lesson,” because I was too much of a “smartass.” You can’t be too young and too smart. According to the pyromaniac, It’s not healthy.

Few years later, I was lying on the kitchen floor with the heel of a boot on my face. My tears were falling as the pages of one of my most beloved books were ripped apart above my head because I failed to do something fast enough.

Few years after that, my paperback copy of Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” had the center cut out and was being used to hide cocaine by someone else, the same person who burned and tore up my books before. In the event that there was ever a raid by the police, who do you think would have been nailed for possession with intent to use? It wasn’t my coke since my drug of choice back then (and remained until January of this year) was alcohol. I flushed it down the toilet.

Each time my books were burned, ripped or defaced, I took what money I had or stole from this pig's wallet then walked down to the book store and bought a brand new copy. I was defiant. In the case of the first two books I hid them somewhere in my basement for a while then I kept them in my secret library out in the woods behind my mother’s house in a box I built in shop class with other “forbidden” text like Omni Magazine. In the case of "I, Robot," I simply replaced on my shelf where the hollowed out version once sat. When this monster went back for his cocaine he went into a rage, accusing my younger sister and brother of snorting it and me of selling it.

I took a beating for saying out loud for what I’m about to write now. This man was a Nazi. Or “Vichy” since this French-Canadian descendant celebrated “solutions” for all the world’s problems also included genocide of blacks, Jews, and “faggots and geeks” like myself who didn’t conform to his ideal society. He obviously believed in book burning, he thrived on hate and authoritarian rule with draconian punishments handed out like candy on Halloween.

What did this Nazi-wannabe get by burning my books? Was I deterred from reading them? No!

Did I stop coveting them? No!

Did I stop buying them? No!

Or did it make me want them more!?! YES!

What did he accomplish by burning or destroying my books? If anything, it made my love for reading more intense, and I read with a furor before he could destroy the other books in the house, even Hemingway, Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Were it not for this legitimate and imminent threat of these books being destroyed – I’m sure I never would have read them at that age. Nor would I have become Eric Renderking Fisk, the person you know today.

He also did me a huge favor by giving me the opportunity to prove that I was bigger and braver then I thought I was.

On the other end of the spectrum, he collected a pile of garbage on the other side of the basement from my room that I managed to carve out using antique furniture that was stored there. In that mess I found a leather bound copy of “Mein Kampf.” I literally shared the space where I slept and read a dozen feet away from what is regarded as one of the most evil books in the entire world. Here was a tome full of hate and loathing, containing part of the master-plan that the man who hijacked my family spouted off about every night.

As soon as I could, I burned it in the same fire pit where some of my books had been destroyed years earlier. I watched it burn with some of the wood I picked from the cord pile I stacked earlier that season. Soon its ashes were indistinguishable from those that were there before. It was gone, up in smoke.

Now the question that remains: am I just as bad as the small-town tyrant who burned my books? I burned one of his, he burned countless of mine. Let’s just say he burned 10, for the sake of argument. Am I 1/10th as bad as him? At what point did I go from being the defiant victim to being just another villain, or did I? Or was my action heroic since I feared that if this book got into the hands of my brother or one of his friends that the cycle of hate would begin again?

I mention this and confess to what I did for a couple of reasons. The most obvious one is because of its relevancy, up until a few hours ago a so-called pastor in Florida was planning a Koran-burning party, in part to protest the “Ground Zero Victory Mosque” plans in New York City.

What does it make us when we burn books? Who does that really hurt when we set fire to books that we feel threatened by, or we believe we’re intimidated by the readers of that book?

I look at what I went through in my adolescent years and I admit that I was afraid and intimidated at first at the person who was in a position of authority over me. He was put into a role that could have been a benefit to me but instead he acted out of anger, aggression and inflicted a lot of emotional and physical pain. At some point I snapped and rebelled and became a more avid reader and his intimidation backfired.

On the night of September 9th, while it’s unclear if so called Pastor Terry Jones in Florida will go ahead with plans of burning multiple copies of The Koran, I have to ask what will that make him if he goes through with it? If he and his followers burn those books that some people here on planet Earth find holy – who will they be more like?

Will he and his followers not be like the man who spouted hate at my family’s dinner table and tried to rule my life by destroying books that I adored and cherished? Will that act make him more like those who burned books in the rallies in Germany decades ago?

Does he really want to align himself with Nazis?

Will this not make him more like the Islamic fascists who do the same to the Bible and the American flag in other parts of the globe? If you act like those you hate, don’t you become them?

That’s always been my greatest fear… becoming what I hated when I was younger. It’s a daily struggle not to allow the darker forces in my life influence me. Sometimes I lose, but I mostly win. And I always struggle.

Burning piles of the Koran is not going to impede the Muslims who have given in to their base instincts and resorted to violence and intimidation. It’s not going to win over new converts to Christianity, and isn’t going to stop the violence over-seas. I can guarantee that if this man does go ahead with this book-burning party he will attract dozens if not hundreds of racists and Neo-Nazis to his flock. There will be bombings in Florida, if not in his own church within a year. Then what? What will the people of Florida do to retaliate?

Were nothing to happen after this book burning, what will this so-called pastor in Florida do to remain in the spotlight? What will he become to remain in the news?

How and where will this end? I burned one book in an effort to end the cycle of hate. Last time I checked, it’s still there.

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2010 July