Friday, July 1, 2011

I have 350,000 books...

Shaunna Raycraft, from Pike Lake, Saskatchewan, stepped in when her widowed neighbour began to burn her husband's collection of books. "There was a house floor-to-ceiling with books. He was the collector; she had tried to get someone to appraise the books but they wouldn't come out [to the rural setting]. She didn't know how to deal with them so she started to burn them," Raycraft told Canadian national broadcaster CBC.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pensioners burn encyclopedias

Things are pretty grim in Wales.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In the Adelaide Papers

FIRED UP: Farmers protesting over the Murray-Darling Basin Plan burn copies of its guide in Griffith yesterday. Picture: GABRIELLE DUNLEVY

Thursday, October 7, 2010

1978: "Art in the Age of Capitalism"

I was recently contacted by Tom McCulloch about a book burning in Mildura (Victoria) in 1978. He tells me that following the Mildura Sculpture Triennial of that year he had an Exhibition Exposition printed which included illustrations of Nick Spill’s photo “Art in the Hands of Capitalism”, which was apparently the trigger for the City Council to declare the book in breach of its ban on ‘nudity, pornography, obscenity and blood-letting’ in the Triennial. Tom says that the photo shows Nick and his girlfriend simulating sex in a rather satirical, humorous way.’

‘Much more scandalous,’ Tom continues, ‘was the Book’s inclusion of letters to the Council from artist Peter Tyndall, in which he put some logical questions about the Council’s right to ban artists from experimenting with boundaries, etc.’ The incident was widely reported in 1978 and the visiting German artist Klaus Rinke later made this burning part of his exhibit at the Art Gallery of NSW in the Biennale of Sydney.

Recently some facsimile copies were made and sold at the Mildura Arts Centre, and Tom also spoke at a recent symposium in Mildura, where his paper was received enthusiastically; the remaining copies of the reproduced book sold out at the coffee break.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lord Gardenstone: This wreck was easy in a stupid age.

Lord Gardenstone (1721-1793) was a distinguished judge, bon vivant and a wonderful eccentric noted for his fondness for pigs: he was ‘distinguished for his conviviality, at a period when, especially in Scotland, it must be admitted that real proficiency was requisite to procure fame in that qualification’ (Robert Chambers, A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Scotsmen, 1835).

He also found time to be an occasional writer, and his Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1792) is a charming selection of some of his pensées and poems, which unsurprisingly includes a rollicking ode ‘On Hard Drinking.' The same collection also includes the following poem 'On the Loss of Ancient Literature':

Friday, September 18, 2009

Stephen King: Firestarter

Coming up for auction at Bonhams in the US in the next few weeks is this rare limited edition copy of Stephen King's Firestarter, the novel perhaps more famous as the vehicle for a young Drew Barrymore -- she plays Charlie McGee, on the run from the government with her father, because of her powers of "pyrokinesis". This ability to set things alight by staring long and hard at them leads to all sort of moments of high cinema, including her chance to utter the immortal line "Get out of here, you bastard, I'll burn you up! I'll fry you!"

The original novel by King was released in this limited edition of 26 copies, bound in aluminium-coated asbestos cloth. Known as the "Asbestos Firestarter", it was produced in honour of the earlier asbestos-bound limited edition of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Burning Bookmark: now only $3

Now available via the internet: the burning bookmark.

The copy-writers have had a field day with this one: "
Are you diving into a smoldering novel? Browsing through some incendiary literature? Give the book-burning-bunch something to get hot about with this flaming placeholder. Wedge it snugly between the pages of your favorite edition of “Fahrenheit 451” and let this stylized flame show you quickly to your saved spot. You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them!"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Books as Decoration?

This seems almost too wonderful to be true, but a woman on the interweb is encouraging people to jazz up their family snaps by collaging them onto a background of ripped up books, in this case a thesaurus that was asking for it. Wonderful.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Books as decoration: Vinothek

Hip new wine bar in Crown Street in Sydney shows that print is mostly dead. Some used book dealer is on to a good thing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Papetoai

‘In one of the visits which Mr. Nott made to the residence of Taaroarii, for the purpose of preaching to his people, he was followed by Patii, the priest of the temple in Papetoai, the district in which the missionaries resided. This individual appeared to listen most attentively to what was said; and after the conclusion of the service, he and Mr. Nott proceeded together along the beach towards the settlement.As they walked, Patii fully disclosed the feelings of his mind to Mr. Nott, and assured him that on the morrow, at a certain hour, he would bring out the idols under his care, and publicly burn them. […]
Patii, however, was punctual to his word. He, with his friends, had collected a quantity of fuel near the sea-beach; and, in the afternoon, the wood was split, and piled on a point of land in the western part of Papetoai, near the large national Marae, or temple, in which he had officiated. […]
A short time before sun-set, Patii appeared, and ordered his attendants to apply fire to the pile. This being done, he hastened to the sacred depository of the gods… When he approached the burning pile, he laid them down on the ground. They were small carved wooden images, rude imitations of the human figure; or shapeless logs of wood, covered with finely braided and curiously wrought cinet of cocoa-nut fibres, and ornamented with red feathers. […]
Patii tore off the sacred cloth in which they were enveloped, to be safe from the gaze of vulgar eyes; stripped them of their ornaments, which he cast into the fire; and then one by one threw the idols themselves into the crackling flames – sometimes pronouncing the name and pedigree of the idol, and expressing his own regret at having worshipped it – at others, calling upon the spectators to behold their inability even to help themselves. Thus were the idols which Patii, who was a powerful priest in Eimeo, had worshipped, publicly destroyed.’

Reverend William Ellis, Polynesian Researches, During a Residence of Nearly Six Years in the South Sea Islands (London, 1829)

Friday, July 3, 2009

On Raiatea

The missionary ‘Papeiha requested the people to attend a general meeting which was to be held on the following morning… At the appointed hour, the whole of the inhabitants of the island assembled, and, after having spoken to them of the immense labour they formerly bestowed in the erection of the maraes, and in the worship of their gods, he exhorted them to let their “strength, devotedness, and steadfastness in the service of the true God, far exceed.” He then made the following two propositions: first, “That all the maraes in the island should be burned, and that all the remaining idols should be brought to him, in order that he might forward them to us at Raiatea, that we, with our people, might also rejoice in the triumphs of the word.” The second proposition was, “That we should commence immediately building a house in which to worship Jehovah.” To both these proposals the assembled multitude yielded their cordial assent. As soon as the meeting broke up, a general conflagration of the maraes took place; and so complete was the destruction, that, on the following morning, not a single idol temple remained unmutilated.’

John Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands (London, 1838)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Books as decoration

My new hobby is to keep an eye on how books are increasingly being used as decorations. There was a fashion for this in the interwar years, when people took fancy old bindings and made them into cigarette cases, but now people are being much more imaginative. Certainly if the glossy magazines are to be trusted, the only thing books are good for is to hold up shells and small antiques (although I have a sneaking admiration for another design favourite, people who sort their books by the colour of their binding).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Erasing cigarettes

A friend sent through a link to this recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which is a bit of a stretch, but I think has a natural home here on the blog. Apparently Manly Council has gone around its digital collection of paintings by the smoking enthusiast Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo rubbing out the cigarettes. My hope is that they bring the same zeal to author photos of the same era, and appoint an official to go through the municipal libraries scratching out the offensively dangling Gitanes that have been the preferred prop of the author for generations.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Burn all your books: Voltaire

Voltaire, who had already had any number of his books burned in Paris, Geneva and Rome, published his Dictionnaire Philosophique in 1764, to the by now typical reaction from authorities. The book was banned and burned, and even owning a copy was considered dangerously close to sedition.

Interestingly, Voltaire is a good example of how common the rhetoric of book burning was in the eighteenth-century. In his entry on “War” in the Dictionnaire Philosophique, he wrote:

“Wretched physicians of souls, you declaim for five quarters of an hour about some pinprick, and you say nothing about the disease that tears us into a thousand pieces! Philosophical moralists, burn all your books. So long as the whim of a few men causes thousands of our brothers to be honourably butchered, the portion of mankind devoted to heroism will be the most frightful thing in the whole of nature.”

Friday, January 30, 2009

Burning Manuscripts: Tom Paulin

It’s a favourite habit of writers to become nervous about their early writings. I was reading Tom Paulin’s The Invasion Handbook the other day, a work which sent me rummaging around on google, trying to follow some of the more difficult leads. I ended up looking at a few interviews with Paulin, including this one from the Guardian in 2002, in which he alludes to an earlier trip to the incinerator:

‘By the time Paulin left school he knew he wanted to write, and when he went to Hull University to read English in 1967 it was with the express intent of later returning to Belfast for a teaching job that would allow time to write. “But I didn't get anywhere with my writing at Hull,” he explains, and describes his early unpublished work as “inchoate”. He later burnt it all. “Maybe I am not so happy about that now. It was something I did in my 20s. You go through a bad time and think ‘where am I going?’. And I thought I would just clean everything out.”’

Nicholas Wroe, The Guardian 23 March 2002

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

1933: The Nation

Curiously, although there were many cartoons on the Nazi bookfires in 1933, the majority of them were openly mocking. The Nation, the left-leaning American weekly was no exception, publishing this cartoon by Georges Schreiber in which a group of moustachioed militarists, industrialists and SA men caper about in the nude, looking something like a George Grosz caricature. Hitler looms large over the pyre, holding a copy of the works of de Sade, while on the fire are copies of the Old Testament, the Nation itself, and the writings of Thomas Mann burn (Thomas Mann, of course, was not on the first Nazi blacklists). What the juxtaposition implies, of course, is that the wrong books are being burned, while the decrepit figures suggest the bankruptcy of their ideas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Burning Books: sport travel and leisure interests

This is a screen-grab from the Australian site for Palgrave Macmillan. They're good eggs, on the whole, with good ideas, but I confess I'm not sure what to make of the fact that they've listed my book in "sport travel and leisure interests". I picture a chap in a sports coat smoking a pipe. 'Well, yes, I do enjoy a good fire, but it's more of a hobby really...'

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fahrenheit 451 Cake

The good folk at the Library of the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) have recently hosted their third annual Edible Book Festival. Unheralded among the prize-winners (further proof that literary prizes are unreliable, in my opinion) was this entry by Klara Kim. I particularly like the two pocket-books of matches on the back of the truck.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ian Morrison (Australian Book Review)

My thanks to Ian Morrison for his kind comments. Anyone who reads the piece will appreciate the humour of Ian's very droll contributor's note in the issue, which comments simply: 'Ian Morrison works as a librarian. The opinions expressed in this review are not necessarily those of his employer.'

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Burning Books: really makes you think

A while back The Times published a banner piece by Rod Liddle under the line ‘Burning is too good for them’. Liddle is evidently the thinking man’s thinking man, and without much ado launches into his list of books too callow or just stridently awful to be endured. Anthony Powell kicks things off, before Liddle goes further afield, asking some other cultural arbiters for their own favourites: Aphra Behn gets a mention, as well as Salman Rushdie, Alice Walker, Dostoevsky, and Don Quixote.

What is interesting is that the piece finishes on the forlorn note that perhaps such a robust clearing away of the bores and box-tickers might allow some unjustly overlooked books to be reconsidered (Liddle nominates David Storey, Heinrich Böll and Vladimir Voinovich).

Forlorn is right. The piece generated 91 comments online: by my count, 6 upbraided him as a monster for even suggesting a book might be burnt (“Before you go thinking about burning books read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Good book, and really makes you think.”) In fact, only 10 have taken him up on his offer to rehabilitate authors, and then usually only to defend Anthony Powell from his singapore whipping earlier on.

In the end, and excluding a few that might be thought to drift from the topic, the remainder of comments are all red-blooded calls for the bonfire, delivered with varying degrees of wit and coherence. We learn that Ian McEwan appeals to “introverted people”, that Catch 22 has “no real plot and not enough laughs”, that Arundhati Roy should just say that it is raining and then get on with it, and that Stephen King should have given up after his “accident”.

My favourite are two successive remarks by a chap in Hyderabad: the first announces “I am not for burning books. How stupid an author is or a book is pales before the enormity of the stupidity of readers who make it a hit.” This is immediately followed by his nominations: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

Friday, December 5, 2008

These might be the books that Hitler burned

Nothing warms a publisher's heart faster than the prospect of someone trying to censor one of the books they publish. This advertisement, currently being flogged on eBay, dates from 1965 and sports the wonderful tagline 'These are the Books that Hitler burned'.

Although a few decades had passed, it was still early enough, apparently, to try and move copies of the well-known 'Great Books of the Western World'. One doesn't like to suggest that the publisher's are being deliberately misleading, but it must be said that the long list of authors doesn't appear to include all that many that were blacklisted by the Nazis. Marx and Freud, certainly, and I know that Spinoza was singled out as well. But at a guess, probably not Nietzsche.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Paper Salvage: Germany 1943

I've not read much about paper shortages in Germany during the Second World War, but there's every reason to expect that the production of paper was a serious concern -- certainly by the end of the war there was a marked deterioration in paper used in cheap publishing, with many books of this period printed on thin, grey, brittle stock. This poster, for a paper salvage drive in April 1943, certainly confirms that it was a serious issue for the Nazi government, and for that matter, that paper drives in all countries were targetted at children. It does seem unusual that the children depicted here are in casual clothes rather than Hitler Youth uniforms. It's also worth pointing out that while newspapers are evidently the main focus, that the likely looking lad in the front does have a book tucked under his arm -- although book pulping represented a significant proportion of paper pulping, it is uncommon to see it directly alluded to in advertising.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Burning of the Library of Algiers

I was recently contacted by Larry T. Nix, who shared with me a page he has prepared on a selection of philatelic items which commemorate the burning of the Library in Algiers in 1962. The burning was part of a series of attacks made on social and cultural centres in Algeria by the militant OAS as part of their violent resistance to Algerian self rule: the library and the surrounding campus of the University of Algiers were set alight by the detonation of phosphorus bombs in early June 1962.

Although I’ve not seen exact figures, it’s clear that this resulted in serious losses to the Library, and it’s interesting, in this light, that it is the burning of the Library which continues to have the greatest resonance. As Larry’s page shows (, the burning of the Library has been commemorated across the Middle East, although it is probably fair to say that the attack is not as well known in the West.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

'Burning Several Poems of Ovid, Martial, Oldham, Dryden, &c' (Isaac Watts)

The early eighteenth-century writer Isaac Watts was well-known for creating many hundreds of hymns, any number of which are currently being subjected to breathless covers on YouTube. He was also a poet, and in his Horæ Lyricæ: Poems Chiefly of the Lyric Kind, including an entertaining work entitled ‘Burning Several Poems of Ovid, Martial, Oldham, Dryden, &c’. The poem is said to be about how the notorious John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (here Strephon), recanted his saucy ways, and ‘refined’ his soul by throwing some of his own poems into the fire.

Fair enough, but I’ve never been quite sure about the title of the poem, which seems to be suggesting that Watts (or at least his editor) would have preferred to burn more than just the works of Rochester.

The poem:

I judge the Muse of lewd Desire;
Her Sons to Darkness, and her works to Fire.
In vain the Flatterers of their Wit
Now with a melting Strain, now with an heavenly Flight
Would tempt my Virtue to approve
Those gaudy Tinders of a lawless Love.
So Harlots dress: They can appear
Sweet, modest, cool, divinely Fair,
To charm a Cato’s Eye; but all within
Stench, impudence and Fire, and ugly raging Sin.
Die Flora, die in endless Shame,
Thou prostitute of blackest Fame,
Stript of thy false Array.
Ovid and all ye wilder Pens
Of modern Lust, who gild our Scenes,
Poyson the British Stage, and paint Damnation gay,
Attend your Mistress to the Dead;
When Flora dies her Imps should wait upon her Shade.
Strephon of noble Blood and Mind
(For ever shine his Name!)
As Death approach’d his Soul refin’d,
And gave his looser Sonnets to the Flame.
“Burn, burn, he cry’d with sacred Rage,
“Hell is the due of every Page,
“Hell be the Fate. (But O indulgent Heaven!
“So vile the Muse, and yet the Man forgiv’n!)
“Burn on, my Songs, for not the silver Thames
“Nor Tyber with his yellow Streams
“In endless Currents rolling to the Main
“Can e’er dilute the Poyson, or wash out the Stain.
So Moses by divine Command
Forbid the leprous House to stand,
When deep the fatal Spot was grown,
Break down the Timber and dig up the Stone.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Asbestos Books: Dr Bruckman's Incombustible Paper

A bookseller in the UK, Keith Fletcher of Hertfordshire, writes to tell me of the following curious item he currently has in stock, Charles Owen’s An Essay towards a Natural History of Serpents (London: Printed for the Author, 1742). Keith’s note on the book is tremendously good, and more than worth posting here:
"A wide-ranging study of snakes and other reptiles including salamanders, chameleon, and crocodiles. The author’s considerable erudition leads him into the investigation of the pharmacology of poisons, not just of snakes but animals, insects and plants as well. He treats also the folklore of his subject and, for instance, when discussing the salamander’s resistance to fire digresses for a full page (p.95) on the subject of asbestos and ‘incombustible paper’. “Whoever would be further informed about this wonderful incombustible stone, may peruse Dr. Bruckman, Professor at Brunswick, who has publish’d a Natural History of the Asbestos, or Incombustible Paper; and what is most remarkable has printed four copies of his book on this paper, which are deposited in the Library of Wolfembuttle” (p.95). [Keith comments: I find nothing in the on-line catalogue of the Herzog August Biblioteck at Wolfenbuttel - but surely they weren’t lost in a fire!]"

Friday, October 3, 2008

Destroying manuscripts: Captain David Porter

Captain David Porter was a famous American naval commander, the only American commander to sail against the British in the Pacific Ocean during the War of 1812. After success in the Atlantic, he exceeded his authority by choosing to round Cape Horn, ultimately capturing more than a dozen British whalers and doing damage to British shipping estimated at more than half a million pounds. Porter even illegally annexed Nuku Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas. He was later blockaded at Valparaiso, and forced to surrender. Nonetheless, when he eventually returned home he was hailed a hero and went on to have a lengthy and controversial career in the Americas.

What’s interesting here, however, is that Porter always intended to sail into the Pacific, and was anxious that some of his crew might have guessed his intentions and leaked their suspicions in letters or journals. Hence this note, which appeared in the 1815 edition of his voyages:

“Prior to the pilots leaving us, I caused him to deliver into my possession all letters which might have been given him by the crew, apprehensive that, from some accidental cause, they might become possessed of a knowledge of our destination; they all however contained only conjectures, except one, the writer of which asserted, as he stated from good authority, that we were bound on the coast of Africa: as come of their conjectures were not far from being correct, I thought I best to destroy the whole of them, and forbid the pilot’s taking any more without my consent. To the officers who were desirous of writing to their friends, I enjoined particularly not to mention the movements of the ship in any way.”

It’s not insignificant, in this regard, to point out that it is thought his book was suppressed when it was first published.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Paper salvage: Random House 1945

On the whole, American paper and book-stocks survived the Second World War in better shape than those in the UK, but there was still pressure to minimise paper loss, and a concerted push for paper salvage -- interestingly enough, one of the changes reported in the papers was that graduating classes across the country increasingly chose to avoid burning their textbooks when they graduated, taking their books to the pulping machines instead.

Books tended to become shorter and smaller, and there was less empty space up for grabs -- no luxurious blank pages, for instance, and only very minor breaks between chapters. There were also a series of impromptu design logos, that publisher's placed at the head of their books: the one pictured here comes from a copy of Gertrude Stein's account of life in Vichy France, Wars I Have Seen, published by Random House in 1945. Attractively, the Random House logo is here set against the background of the famous "V for Victory" symbol.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Looted books: Hungen 1945

During the Second World War, the Allied command became increasingly aware of the effect that the war was having on culture, broadly imagined, and several committees were set up to try and assess, maybe even minimise, the damage. Priorities included the restitution of looted fine art, and the preservation of architectural heritage (this second, it is well to point out, in large part because of their concerns about the impact of Allied bombing in Europe).
This led to the creation of the 'Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives' office (MFAA), a small group of officers with backgrounds in fine arts. These officers were loosely attached to the ground forces, and would zoot about the continent armed with cameras and Baedekers, cataloguing the damage, doing makeshift repairs and, ultimately, collecting portable material into depots for possible restitution. Although few people had anticipated the size of the problem, one of the major concerns turned out to be looted books, many millions of which ended up in the American Zone of occupation.
This was partly because Frankfurt, the "capital" of the American Zone, had been destined to be the centre for Nazi research into the "Jewish Question", and thus housed an enormous number of books looted from the libraries of Europe. The biggest MFAA find was in Hungen, about 50 km north of Frankfurt, and these two photos show the before and after: books dumped in a cellar, followed by books being properly shelved and catalogued. Ultimately, these caches would lead to the creation of the Offenbach Archival Depot, but more on this another day.
These two photographs are from a contemporary article by the first professional librarian attached to the MFAA, Leslie Irlyn Poste (see his 'Books Go Home From the Wars', Library Journal 73 (1 December 1948), pp. 1699-1704).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Burning Books: Ulysses (via Larry McMurtry)

An old mate of mine has just sent through an email about Larry McMurtry's new work, Books: A Memoir. McMurtry's book, a tale of his lifelong love of books, includes the following charming story, which is a particularly useful addition to the blog:
"The first literary critic I can recall reading was an English journalist who called himself Solomon Eagle, and who wrote hundreds of light essays of a bookish nature for a great variety of London magazines. I bought a book of his called Books in General and read it several times. Solomon Eagle was in fact a rather lightweight English man of letters named J.C. Squire. There are at least two series of Books in General - in time I acquired a respectable shelf of the now forgotten J.C. Squire, who was decidedly not a modernist. He was a big fan of Dr Johnson and a savage enemy of James Joyce. For a time he had some power in the London literary world - he even edited the London Mercury. When a review copy of Ulysses reached him - and there weren't many review copies of Ulysses sent out - Squire flung it in the fireplace, from which, fortunately, it was saved by a young editor who had better sense than his boss."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Paper Salvage: 1939

Paper salvage and recycling was actively pursued during the war, particularly in Great Britain, where paper stocks of all sorts were in short supply. This official advert by the 'Waste Paper Conservation Bureau' in the London Times sketches out the guidelines, especially for the home: "the small quantities which accumulate every week in Britain's ten million homes represent thousands of tons. The problem is to collect these small individual quantities immediately into one vast continuous stream of supply."
How to do it? Here, householders are encouraged to "hand it to the dustmen weekly" (it all sounds so civilised: here you go sport: last week's Evening Standard). Otherwise, people in remote areas might like to ask the boy scouts to come around.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not burning manuscripts: Patrick White

Australia, on the whole, doesn’t seem to have a particularly rich history of book burning, at least in terms of well-publicised events or dramatic losses. Indeed, recent discoveries would seem to confirm that the most infamous burning of an author’s manuscripts, when Sydney literary agent Barbara Mobbs burnt the papers of Nobel laureate Patrick White in Centennial Park, is a furphy.
White himself is known to have had a bit of a taste for literary cleansing, destroying a selection when he moved from Castle Hill to Centennial Park in the 1960s. In 1977 he cheerfully responded to a request from the National Library of Australia with the comment “I can’t let you have my papers because I don’t keep any. My manuscripts are destroyed as soon as the book is published and I put very little into notebooks, don’t keep my friends’ letters as I urge them not to keep mine.”
David Marr has been the most prominent guardian of White’s heritage, and in a 2006 article he remembered how the writer had similarly informed him not to “bother hunting for drafts and manuscripts. They’ve all gone into the pit.” As a result, it came as a bit of a shock for Marr and other keen White-fanciers, when it was revealed that an immense hoard of papers had been offered to the National Library of Australia by none other than Mobbs herself (see David Marr, ‘Patrick White’s return from the pit,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 3 November, 2006).
Although Mobbs did reveal that she had culled the papers, there were still no fewer than 33 archive boxes left, stuffed with notebooks, annotated correspondence, even his scruffy old beret. Mobbs told reporters: “I couldn’t burn them in a blue fit.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Burning Books: Gleebooks

On Thursday, 25 September 2008, I will be in conversation with Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, at Gleebooks in Sydney. The event kicks off at 6.30 for 7, and reservations can be made on 9660 2333 (or see the link at right).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Louvain: Furore teutonica diruta

One of the most infamous events of the First World War was the burning of the Library of Louvain during the German advance through Belgium in August 1914. During the 1920s the Library was painstakingly rebuilt through a combination of voluntary donations and restitutions made by Germany in fulfillment of part of their responsibilities in the Versailles Treaty.
A significant figure in this rebuilding was Cardinal Mercier, who lobbied hard, particularly in the United States. It was an American architect, Whitney Warren, who was awarded the design of the new library, and it was opened with some fanfare in July 1928. Although Warren’s design was applauded, one detail became a sticking point, an ornate balustrade that spelt out ‘Furore teutonica diruta, dono americano restituta’ (something like: “destroyed by Germanic fury, restored by American generosity”).
Although part of planning for the new library since its inception, and although the script was so baroque as to be almost unreadable, floods of protests were issued, as such a partisan statement began to be criticised by international players like President Hoover, the University’s Rector and even the Pope. Although Warren was adamant, the Rector had his way, removing the ornate balustrade and replacing it with wooden blanks in time for the opening ceremony. Now counter-protests began, among them one particularly stylish one by the former foreman of the library’s construction, one Edmond Felix Morren. With great dash, he climbed up on the roof and patiently broke every blank balustrade: hailed by police, he is said to have replied, “I am doing a job, and I am not quite finished.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Burning manuscripts: Sir Everard Home

Sir Richard Owen was one of the great names in natural history in the nineteenth century. As a young man he was appointed the assistant cataloguer of the famous Hunterian Collection, a collection of more than thirteen thousand anatomical specimens, purchased by the Crown on the death of their owner, the surgeon John Hunter (not to be confused with the naval officer of the same name who sailed on the First Fleet to Botany Bay). The Crown passed the Hunterian Collection to the Royal College, stipulating that the collection be made public, founding a lecture series and a small dedicated museum.
Owen's predecessor had been the surgeon Sir Everard Home, who had worked alongside Hunter (the men were brothers-in-law), and became caretaker to the whole estate. It quickly became apparent to Owen, however, that far from preserving Hunter's careful documentation of his extensive collection, the bulk of the manuscripts had been destroyed or lost, meaning that Owen had to effectively start from scratch before he could hope to produce a catalogue.
The story goes that the Hunterian collection was delivered to Home in 1800, in expectation that he would produce his own catalogue, but by 1818 all he had produced was a limited synopsis, while, at the same time, he had published a raft of essays over his own name. Things took a turn for the worst in July 1823 when he told a colleague that he had burned all of Hunter's papers: it had been Hunter's dying wish, he claimed in a later enquiry (although it was not quite so clear why he had taken thirty years to get around to it). Those with an incendiary bent may not be surprised to learn that it is now commonly held that Home had been systematically pillaging Hunter's own notes and publishing them over his own name, and that he had burned the evidence to avoid being caught out. Very few of Hunter's papers survived the blaze.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Burning manuscripts: Henry James

Henry James was not averse to firing up some of his own papers and manuscripts, and seemed to positively enjoy burning his correspondence (he talked with distaste about the ferreting of biographers, and in 1910 he wrote to Henry James III with the comment that his “sole wish is to frustrate as utterly as possible the post-mortem exploiter - which, I know, is but so imperfectly possible”).

It was something of a theme in his fiction as well, best seen in his short story Sir Dominick Ferrand, in which an enterprising young man hopes to turn a few dollars by selling the highly indiscreet papers of a public figure to some filthy boulevard paper. A moral looms, however, as the young man finds himself haunted and frustrated in love as he wrestles with the problem, until he finally relieves himself with an old-fashioned bonfire: “Baron went at the papers with all his sincerity, and at his empty grate (where there lately had been no fire and he had only to remove a horrible ornament of tissue-paper dear to Mrs. Bundy) he burned the collection with infinite method. It made him feel happier to watch the worst pages turn to illegible ashes - if happiness be the right word to apply to his sense, in the process, of something so crisp and crackling that it suggested the death-rustle of bank-notes.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Paper Salvage: Mein Kampf

The wartime paper shortages were not always without their comedy, as with this image from Britain, which crossed the Atlantic to be published in the New York Times in November 1941. Paper salvage drives were routine across Britain, where "sorters" looked through the great tonnes of books to make sure that nothing considered valuable was lost. It's easy to imagine that this would have been a rather grim business, but equally, not without its chances for comedy. This photograph, for example, is rather cheeky, as the sorters lounge on a pile of copies of Mein Kampf, donated as waste paper. Although not quite a book burning, it's quite clear that the pulping machines have a certain charm. And it's absolutely certain that the machines were considered fascinating: they were often set up in town squares or the like, so that the good burghers could wander past for a look. Bands and speeches were not, of course, considered good form.

Friday, July 18, 2008

1933: Paul Tillich

Not many contemporaries actually gave an account of what it was like to attend the 1933 bookfires in Germany. One person who did was the theologian Paul Tillich, who witnessed the fires in Frankfurt am Main. In May 1942, as book burning began to be adopted as one of the standards of Allied propaganda, Tillich took part in a broadcast for the ‘Voice of America’ program (at least, Tillich wrote the piece: the actual broadcast was read out by an actor). The piece, which was broadcast in Germany as well as the United States, is worth quoting at length:

“Many of you still have a picture in your minds of the events of that day. I myself experienced them from a particularly good vantage point and I would like to describe how the scene impressed me. It was in Frankfort on the Main. We stood at a window of the Römer, the ancient building where German emperors were crowned. On the square, which dates back to the Middle Ages, masses of people pushed forward, held back by black and brown shirts. A woodpile was set up. Then we saw a torchlight procession pouring out of the narrow streets, an ending file of students and party men in uniforms. The light of the torches flickered through the darkness and lit up the gables of the houses. I was reminded of paintings of the Spanish Inquisition. Finally, a wheelbarrow or cart drawn by two oxen jolted or stumbled over the cobblestones, laden with books which had been selected for the offering. Behind the wheelbarrow strode the student pastor. When he halted before the stake, he climbed up and stood on top of the wheelbarrow and delivered the damning speech. He threw the first book on the burning woodpile. Hundreds of other books followed. The flames darted upward and lit up the dream picture that was the present. Time had run backward for two hundred years.”

In 1945 Tillich was temporarily blacklisted by the US Army because of his membership in the Council for a Democratic Germany, one of many such coalitions of left-leaning intellectuals set up by German exiles during the war.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Burning manuscripts: do the world a good turn

Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), the Duchess of Newcastle, was a writer and a celebrity, famous for her velvet-clad coachmen and her “hair about her ears”, as a clearly smitten Samuel Pepys noted in his diary (Pepys was one of hundreds who followed her about London, delighted with her extravagance). Pepys was even part of the group who hosted her at the Royal Society, where she admired some flashy experiments. She was immune to most scientific figuring, nonetheless, publishing her wonderful Observations upon Experimental Philosophy in 1666, in which she criticised the new science as the idle hobby of schoolboys. She dismissed, for instance, the new-fangled microscope as an instrument which merely showed the surface of things, rather than their causes. When told that the microscope revealed the common housefly to be the proud owner of hundreds of eyes, Cavendish was appalled: “if two eyes be stronger than a thousand, then nature is to be blamed that she gives such number of eyes to so little a creature.”
She was a poet, an aristocrat, a utopian, and a philosopher. All the more charming that in her Poems, and Fancies (1653), she begins with a brief envoi called ‘The Poetresses hasty Resolution’, in which she is admonished by Reason:

For shame leave off, sayd shee, the Printer spare,
Hee’le loose by your ill Poetry, I feare
Besides the World hath already such a weight
Of uselesse Bookes, as it is over fraught.
Then pitty take, doe the World a good turne,
And all you write cast in the fire, and burne.

Reason, of course, was no match for Cavendish, who dispatched her verse to the Printer with all possible haste.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Paper Salvage: has its limits

During the Second World War paper was a much straitened commodity. As a result, paper recycling and salvage drives, around the world but particularly in the United States and to an even greater extent in Great Britain, were commonplace. Among the great swathes of newsprint that were recycled, literally tens of millions of books were also pulped at this time, although most were committed to the machines only after being vetted by volunteers and librarians, who extracted rare and useful items and put them aside, usually donating the salvaged books to libraries, or sending them to POWs. This photograph, which I stumbled across in Life magazine for May 1944, makes an unusual counterpoint, but is also one of very few photos I have ever found of the good guys burning any sort of written material: even confidential papers, as here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Mortal Storm

A hit for MGM in mid-1940 was the boilover anti-Nazi film The Mortal Storm, starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It was based on the 1937 novel of the same name by Phyllis Bottome and featured a family of left-leaning assimilated Jewish intellectuals being squeezed out of German society, a position exacerbated when the daughter Freya falls for a sturdy peasant boy with strong Communist beliefs. It's not a bad read, all things considered, but it is the novel's conversion to film that is particularly interesting, because the latter included an influential book burning scene. In the novel, the elderly professor suffers the indignity of having his personal library vetted by stromtroopers, who confiscate a handful of blacklisted works. The scene, that is, shows the insidious effects of censorship extending into the personal home.
In the MGM film, however, there's a very different agenda, as this photo-essay from Life makes clear. In an important sequence, the director Frank Borzage pans from the professor having his class disrupted by noisy brown-shirted students, to the scene pictured prominently here, in which uniformed hordes burn books. The scene, which borrows heavily from the original newsreel footage, is probably one of the more accurate recreations of the events, right down to the inclusion of the "fire incantations". In particular, having the scene framed from the perspective of the sympathetic Professor helps shape the response to the meaning of the book burnings: significant, because it was only later in the war years that book burning became one of the most potent symbols of anti-Nazi propaganda.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Egypt's Culture Minister on "Israeli books"

Playing with metaphors of book burning is still politically fraught, particularly in the Middle East. Recently, Egypt’s Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, a liberal and touted as a candidate to head UNESCO, has drawn fire from writers and diplomats for proclaiming in parliament on 10 May 2008: “I’d burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt," in reply to questioning from an opposition MP (Hosni, it can be assumed, may not have been aware that this was the 75th anniversary of the original Nazi bookfires in Berlin).
As would be expected of any sure-footed politician, Hosni has since suggested that his remark needs to be put in perspective, but this has not stopped the Simon Wiesenthal Centre writing to UNESCO suggesting that as a “literary pyromaniac” he may not be the man for the top job. Hosni, it's apparent, regrets the remark, and later told AFP that he had merely used “a popular expression to prove something does not exist… A minister of culture cannot demand that a book be burnt, and that includes an Israeli book.”

(There are several reports online; here chiefly from the report published on the European Jewish Press website, written by Alain Navarro, 23 May 2008).

Monday, June 23, 2008

Burning Textbooks (2007?)

The habit of burning books to mark some special event has particular resonance for students. It's possible to find stories about rowdy youngsters burning their textbooks in newspaper archives, but even easier to type "burning books" into YouTube and see what happens. Generally, the tone is forced and the grinning sheepish: it's fairly easy to conclude that the videos say more about group psychology than the death of literature.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Smoking books: Ronald Searle

The British cartoonist Ronald Searle, known for his St. Trinians' cartoons and for his work on the Nigel Molesworth books ("A gerund left out. No place for it in one of my sentences."), was a prisoner of war in Burma and Changi during the Second World War. During this time, through illness and malnutrition, he went from 11 to 7 stone. Well-known are his sketches from this period, many executed with a burnt-match on whatever scraps of paper were to hand, and often hidden from the guards by leaving them under the bodies of those who had died of disease.
Like many POWs he was an avid smoker, but cigarette paper was at a premium. He would smoke the blank corners of his drawings, newspapers, and even, after he had read it five times, half of Pickwick Papers (but which half? Searle is mute on this subject).
Another book to be enjoyed twice, as it were, was Rose Macaulay's Minor Pleasures of Life. Many years later he met Macaulay, and "told her I had been able to add a further minor pleasure to her anthology. Sad to say she was not amused, looked me up and down with distaste and turned her back to talk to someone more respectable. Dickens, I feel, would have been more understanding."

Disposable books

In tension with the rather formal idea of burning books, which is often a very dread and serious business, there is the everyday disregard for the book as an object. Examples abound. Napoleon on campaign was rumoured to have thrown novels out the carriage window as he finished them, making, one biographer commented, his expeditions into a sort of impromptu paper-chase. Edward Fitzgerald would cut out sections of books which he disliked and bind up the remainder, while Charles Darwin was even more slipshod, and would routinely cut up books to make them more convenient, holding the battered fragments together with metal clips. A famous neurologist called Hughlings Jackson was known for sending relevant or interesting sections to friends, but also for cutting railway novels in half, so that he could be evenly weighted down, one half in the left pocket, the other in the right. Undoubtedly my favourite, the horror of all book-collectors, is the tale that Shelley would use the flyleaves of books, if nothing else was to hand, to make paper boats.
For many years I have been spreading the rumour that novelist Ford Madox Ford used bacon rashers as bookmarks while at the breakfast table, but I have conveniently forgotten the source of this no-doubt libelous story. It is true, however, that Wordsworth would open his books with a used bread-and-butter knife.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Library of the Burned Books: 10 May 1934

The Library of the Burned Books, a project of German exiles and anti-Nazi writers in Paris in 1934, was opened in time for the first anniversary of the first bookfires, on 10 May 1934. This snapshot was taken during the course of the evening when speeches were given by prominent exiles and supporters. Here, standing on the chair for his speech, is Magnus Hirschfeld, the erstwhile head of a sexual research institute in Berlin (he is considered a sort of precursor to the work of, for instance, Kinsey in the 1950s). His institute was deliberately targeted, and largely destroyed by uniformed students and Nazi functionaries. Fortunately, Hirschfeld was abroad at the time of the attacks, and he never returned to Germany.
The man standing to his immediate right, in three-quarter profile, appears to be Alfred Kantorowicz, the Library's head.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Velimir Khlebnikov

The Russian Futurist poet Khlebinkov was known by his friends to have been pathologically careless with his own manuscripts: Mayakovsky described how he had a habit of filling a pillow case full of papers, and then losing it. Even his great 'Incantation by Laughter' was rumoured to have been salvaged from the floor by his friend David Burliuk.
Moreover, Raymond Cooke has described how for Khlebnikov, the act of burning books or manuscripts evolved into a complex, but usually anti-authoritarian, gesture. In the comic poem ‘Malusha’s Granddaughter’ he calls for a ‘joyous fire’ to be made from the books which are tormenting young people like ‘fierce chains of penance’ - “thus does he characterize Marxist literature” wrote the critic Boris Yakolev in his attack New World (1948). Nor did he just attack Marxist writers like Kautsky and Bebel, but a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a historian, a medical bacteriologist, and so on: the line is ‘vse gorite! / Ogney slovami - govorite!’ (which Cooke translates as: ‘ all burn away! In words of fire - have your say!’
The ritual burning of books turned into something of a particular theme for Khlebnikov. In ‘Conversation Between Two’ (1913) a brief attack on Immanuel Kant turns into a more general call for book burning: “I long for a great bonfire of books. Yellow sparks, rapid fire, translucent ash which disintegrates when touched or even breathed upon, ash on which it is still possible to make out individual lines, words of boasting or arrogance, - all this is transformed into a black, beautiful flower, illuminated by fire from within, grown from the book of people, as the flowers of nature grow from the book of the earth.”
Raymond Cooke, Velimir Khlebnikov: A critical study (Cambridge University Press, 1987)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Louvain: "They Burned the Books"

One of the benchmarks of book burning in wartime propaganda was Stephen Vincent Bénet's enormously popular radioplay, They Burned the Books. Commissioned by the Council on Books in Wartime, and first performed in 1942, it became a staple of anti-Nazi popular expression, particularly on the tenth anniversary of the first major Nazi bookfires in 1943.
It had a contemporary release as a small booklet, but this image comes from a collected edition of Bénet's work, We Stand United of 1945. Although no caption is given, it is interesting to note that the image is evidently meant to represent the new library at Louvain, rebuilt and opened in 1928, in flames.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Burning Manuscripts: W. Somerset Maugham

Ted Morgan's biography of Somerset Maugham includes this wonderful description of the author making his own decisions about what to preserve from a lifetime of writing:
“He and his secretary, Alan Searle, held a series of ‘bonfire nights’ in the large stone fireplace in the drawing room of the Villa Mauresque in 1958. Piles of letters were thrown in, as well as some of Maugham’s manuscripts. Searle - horrified to see so much valuable material go up in smoke - tried to rescue choice items. Coming down to breakfast after a bonfire night, Maugham would rub his hands and tell Searle: “That was a good night’s work. Now we’ll burn everything you’ve hidden under the sofa.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

1933: 'Berlin Savant explains why books were burned'

At the end of 1933, six months after the initial rush of book burnings in Germany, Frederick Schonemann of the University of Berlin spoke at the Chicago council on foreign relations. The crowd was apparently already fractious when someone questioned him from the floor regarding the burning of the books. Schonemann’s reply was salutary: regarding the books burnt, he commented blithely, “a tremendous flood of books on nudism and of a general pornographic nature unfit for either juvenile or adult reading had inundated Germany, and these were burned. I am sorry to say”, he continued, “that the authors of many - of a majority - were Jewish.”
These cheap dismissals were met with more yelling from the crowd, including shouts about the fate of the books of writers such as Helen Keller and Albert Einstein. Schonemann showed he would be swayed neither by emotion nor facts: “No foreign books were burned. I think I am correct in saying that none of Miss Keller’s volumes was included.”
Kathleen McLaughlin, ‘Hecklers shout disapproval of Hitler defender. Berlin Savant explains why books were burned,’ New York Times, 15 November 1933

Monday, May 26, 2008

Richard Le Gallienne, poet and man of letters

“The whole question of censorship is, of course, difficult, but in view of the contemporary orgy of dirt in literature no one who possesses literary nostrils, so to speak, will deny the need of calling a halt in some way or another. A recourse to the old-fashioned ‘common hangman,’ or to the guillotine, for certain recent books and magazines and their authors and editors as well would, I am sure, gratify many readers who are far from squeamish and would be all to the good of the public health and public decency. Meanwhile the valiant action of Mrs. Bernard Shaw (cited by Mr. Jackson) in burning her copy of Frank Harris’ ‘My Life and Loves,’ “lest the servants should read it,” deserves a wide currency and imitation.”
Richard Le Gallienne, ‘Mr. Jackson on ‘The Fear of Books,’ New York Times, 25 September 1932

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Burning Textbooks (1907)

In June 1907, on the so-called 'South Field' between W 115th and 116th, Amsterdam and Broadway (New York), the class of 1909 at Columbia held a graduation party. “At 8:30 o’clock the class marched into the field, and the piles of textbooks were brought out in due state. Hal Taylor made the speech, and the books were piled on a kerosene-soaked heap. Then the class of 1909 danced about uttering aboriginal cries that go with such celebrations.” A passing man, the story continues, alerted the fire department. They duly doused the fire, although hampered by some of the students, who tried to make off with the hose.
‘Firemen Douse Students. Columbia Sophomores’ Book-Burning Ceremonies Have Wet Ending,’ New York Times, 1 June 1907, p. 1
Interestingly enough, the South Field is now the square in front of the "Butler Library", which opened in 1934. The Library was named in honour of Nicholas Murray Butler, educator and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was a vocal and influential supporter of both attempts to rebuild Louvain University Library after it was burned in 1914 and 1940.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Burning Textbooks (1937)

“In place of the age-old custom of burning the books out on the street, which is surrounded by a great deal of shrubbery and foliage, a community sing will be substituted, Daniel Feins, chairman of the numeral lights committee, announced. Feins explained that because of the fire hazard and because of a growing lack of interest in the book-burning celebration, it was to be abandoned this year in favor of a community sing.”
‘City College Lists Busy Finals Week', New York Times, 6 June 1937, p. 49

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Louvain: The Library of Louvain University, burnt in 1914.

The burning of the University of Louvain in August 1914 was one of the most infamous events of the First World War, and although debate raged over who was responsible (German soldiers, or retreating Allied forces, depending on which side you asked), the Library became a propaganda symbol of the excesses of German "incendiarism". Many books and pamphlets were published denouncing the crime: this image of the burnt-out shell of part of the library is from a small booklet published in 1915 by Paul Delannoy, a professor and librarian at the University of Louvain. His book, L’Université de Louvain: Conferences données au College de France en février 1915 (Paris: 1915) is an anti-German polemic, and he calls the destruction of the library, burnt during the German advance through Belgium in 1914, an "eternal stigma" to German militarism, and hopes that the rebuilding of the library will represent the triumph of "right over force, of civilisation over barbarism".

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hanif Kureishi, 'So what would you burn?' (New Statesman, 13 December 2004)

Jonathan Swift, 'On burning a Dull Poem' (1729)

Chicago 1928: "Big Bill" burns "Pro-British" books

1920s Chicago mayor 'Big Bill’ Thompson had been an outspoken critic of American intervention in the First World War (earning him the nickname ‘Kaiser Bill’). During the 1920s his anti-British stance developed to the point that he regularly expressed a standing offer to punch King George ‘on the snoot’ if he ever dared visit Illinois. In 1928 Thompson, acting on a tip-off from the self-styled ‘Patriots’ League’, deputed his friend U.J. ‘Sport’ Herrmann to take four of the most invidious pro-British books to the shores of the lake and torch them. Although it is not even absolutely clear whether the books were eventually destroyed or merely quarantined, Big Bill's posturing was the delight of pundits and cartoonists: here Thompson and his mate Herrmann light their pipes on the 'Lamp of Wisdom'.
Intriguingly, Herrmann was a famed philanthropist, who once lent the same library a quarter of a million dollars. He stayed on the library board after 1928, and became its president in 1933. He is reputed to have told Big Bill that he would help destroy the pro-British books, so long as he wasn't forced to actually read them. Many people have tried to make something of the fact that his yacht was named the 'Swastika', but I will resist.

Paper Salvage: "though the burning of books remains the most perverse gesture", H.D.

H.D.'s wonderful poem was published in 1944, and is the most insightful comment on one of the ironies of wartime propaganda: that book burning was being pilloried as the hallmark of the barbarian, but that paper was so scarce that millions of books were being patriotically pulped.

Anti-Japan protests, The Economist 2005

Veit Harlan and "Jud Suess"

Ian Rankin, 'So what would you burn?' (New Statesman, 13 December 2004)

Jerry Doyle cartoon, May 1943

Salman Rushdie & Absolut Vodka

I can't remember where I actually came across this advertisement -- I have a vague memory that it was in the Sydney Morning Herald supplement, the 'Good Weekend', about 4 or 5 years ago. Whatever the case, it's a striking addition to the famous series of Absolut vodka advertisements, showing Rushdie is willing, on occasion, to display a rather cheeky sense of humour about the now infamous fatwa and the burning of The Satanic Verses.

"I Commit to the Flames" (1934)

The dustjacket of one of the surprise publishing hits of 1934, theatre critic Ivor Brown's I Commit to the Flames (the title is a direct nod to the so-called Nazi "fire-incantations", the speeches made as books were hurled into bonfires). The book was first published in January, and had gone into a fourth impression by June.
Brown's occasionally funny book includes swipes at all manner of writers, from "Sex-Professors" to T.S. Eliot, from D.H. Lawrence to the music of someone called King Congo. It is all, it would seem, modernity's fault. And the solution? "For some kinds of rubbish the incinerator is the only remedy."

"Books like these are BURNED in the slave countries", New York Public Library, 1942

Brooklyn "Nazi-Banned Library" opened by Albert Einstein, December 1934 (from Jubilee Book of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, 1946)

The 'American Library of Nazi Banned Books' was a project of the reformist Brooklyn Jewish Center. It was inaugurated with fanfare before a crowd of 500 guests in December 1934, allowing the organisers plenty of time to prepare for an official opening planned for the second anniversary of the Nazi bookfires in May 1935. It was officially opened by Albert Einstein, who hoped that this American library might snatch some of the banned literary works from oblivion.The Library was openly modelled on the so-called "Library of the Burned Books" in Paris, which had been opened by German exiles in May 1934.
The text of Einstein's speech can be read online; see Einstein Archives Online, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem & the Einstein Papers Project, California Institute of Technology, Nr. 28-293.00.

British Museum & Paternoster Row, circa 1940

Two amazing photographs of the damage wrought in London by the Blitz. An almost contemporary report on the 'War on Books' commented:
“The general public, especially in London, still remembers vividly the big fire raids around St Paul’s when, in Paternoster Row and adjacent streets - the long-established centre of the book trade - more than six million volumes were destroyed. Millions of others have been lost in bookshops and libraries in provincial cities, and millions more in damaged, gutted, or burnt-out warehouses, printing and binding works. A total of twenty million volumes destroyed would probably be an underestimate.”
John Brophy, Britain Needs Books (London: National Book Council, November 1942)