Mind Matters

by Rev. Robert H. Tucker


Number 369
May 22, 2000

Tom Paine

Book Burning

Teddy Roosevelt, when finished with a page in a book, would rip it out and toss it on the floor. I found it easy to picture the vigorous Teddy doing that. At the same time, I found myself cringing at such a cavalier treatment of a book (almost a sacrilege). In contrast, I could immediately produce a day of guilt over a miniscule accidental tear on a page

No such guilt overtakes me today. Although rarely done, I have been known to tear out a critical page or chapter while discarding the rest of an unimportant book.

What caused the change was my assigned responsibility to rapidly dispose of the roughly 2500 books reposing in the library of a seventy-five year old junior high boys' boarding school in Turkey. I was helping to close down the school, and the library contained the unwanted books of missionaries who, as they departed Turkey (or life itself), left their books to lighten their journey.

A hundred or so more recent books were claimed by current teachers, but no one was eager to take the complete set of Charles Dickens with its crumbling covers and eye-straining  type, nor Wendell Willkie's (1940 Republican presidential candidate) book One World.

First dispirited and then frustrated, I finally became, by necessity, a relentless, pitiless and zealous book burner.

The change from dispiritedness to zealotry came about because burning books turned out to be a ponderously difficult task. The outside cover of the books would burn without too much difficulty, whereas the edges of the solid mass of pages were only slightly singed. Ripping the books apart helped but, after a few dozen books, my finger muscles gave out. Increasingly frustrated and exhausted by the book burning effort, I finally dug trenches and buried the books. (I sometimes wonder if, in some future millennium, archeologists will dig up that horde and if they will wonder what secret 'Dead Sea scrolls-like' sect lived in that area and what persecution caused them to bury such treasure.)

Necessity is often looked on as 'the mother of invention,' but Thomas Paine also wrote of the "calamitous necessity of going on." The necessity of 'going on' with the closing of an institution turned me into a book burner.

In the long years of my life, knocking books off the high pedestal of respect on which I had placed them was not the most serious erosion of values I have experienced. Although traumatic for me, that experience has made me more sensitive to other times - far more serious times - when I allowed personal desire or inconvenience or laziness or the requirements of the organization to become the 'necessity'  that all too often overcame the values and virtues which I knew to be true and right.

--Robert H. Tucker
22 May 2000
© Robert H. Tucker, 2000.

Go to Mind Matters Table of Contents Page.

Go to Bob and Maggi Tucker's Homepage.