May 28, 2007


Bookstore Owner Burns His Own Books


Pamela Mortimer



Missouri bookstore owner Tom Wayne held a bonfire yesterday to burn a substantial portion of his collection in order to protest the decline of the printed word.



When Tom Wayne, Owner of Prospero’s bookstore in Kansas City, MO attempted to give away some of his vast collection of books, he was sadly disappointed. Over the past ten years in which Wayne has operated Prospero’s Books – a used book store – he has stockpiled thousands of books. Books, which he wants to get rid of but can find no takers. It’s bad enough that people aren’t buying the books but Wayne couldn’t even give them away. When he approached thrift stores and libraries to offer a donation, they refused, saying that their stacks were full. Tom Wayne did not take the news well.


Although Wayne was disgusted, he wasn’t not surprised. To prove his point, he referred to a study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts taken in 2002. Less than half of the adults who responded to the survey claimed to read for pleasure. That figure is down nearly 57% since 1982. Wayne believes that reading books – and his business – have declined due to the public getting their information from the Internet or television.


This latest development was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Wayne purported that an unread book is equal to a burned one. So that’s what he did. In a well publicized event, Wayne began burning his books. Included in his collection are books such as Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities", Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" and lesser known, more collectible items such as a bound report from the Fourth Pan-American Conference that took place in Buenos Aires in 1910.


In essence, Wayne stood outside his bookstore and began a book-flavored barbeque in protest of society's diminishing interest in the printed word.


"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators as he lit the first batch.


"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."


How positively Shakespearean.


The barbecue lasted for nearly 50 minutes before the Kansas City Fire Department arrived on the scene. Apparently, Wayne didn't have a permit for burning. He plans to rectify that oversight. In fact, he promises monthly bonfires until his cache of books, numbering near 20,000 tomes, is depleted.


Marcia Trayford, one of the attendees of the sale/burning, paid $20 save an armload of volumes on education, art, and music.


"I've been trying to adopt as many books as I could," she said.


Dozens of other people clamored to search through books as they prepared for their fiery death. No sales figures for the event were reported.