I hate seeing violence and destruction, but the armchair revolutionary in me knows it is often necessary for change. Fuck the statues, and flags, and buildings, and institutions of oppression; but please, everyone lay off the libraries. Yes, they’re often filled with misinformation and oppression-enabling texts, but the best way to discredit and destroy those thoughts is with new ones. Leave the words alone so the future worlds we build can track how we got to this point and see where we went after. This book on burning books outlines what we’ve lost.
A third of the way into his rich and meticulous 3,000 year history of knowledge and all the ways it may be preserved (or not), Richard Ovenden casually mentions that he and his wife once had to clear the house of a family member – a job that involved deciding which letters and diaries should be saved, and which, ultimately, destroyed. As he notes, such decisions are taken everywhere, every day, with few consequences. But occasionally, the fate of such documents can have profound consequences for culture, particularly if the deceased person had a public life. Think of Byron’s publisher, John Murray, tearing up and then burning the manuscript of his memoirs at his house in Albemarle Street; of Philip Larkin’s secretary, Betty Mackereth, feeding his diaries, sheet by sheet, into a Hull University shredder.