Book burning, or bibliocide, is usually something we associate with ideologues, political or religious, fearful of the free flow of ideas.  Here it is a bibliophile scholar who burns them as the only source of fuel during a wartime winter. Note the way he selects some for burning, and the choice he makes with others that he can’t bear to see go up in flames.

Such quiet, unflinching fortitude is humbling.

‘In the winter, the scholar and his wife ran out of firewood, and so began to burn their books for heat and cooking. ‘This forces one to think critically,’ Andras remembered his friend saying. ‘One must prioritize. First, you burn old college textbooks, which you haven’t read in thirty years. Then there are the duplicates. But eventually, you’re forced to make tougher choices. Who burns today: Dostoevsky or Proust?’  I asked Andras if his friend had any books left when the war was over. ‘Oh yes,’ he replied, his face lit by a flickering smile. ‘He still had many books. Sometimes, he told me, you look at the books and just choose to go hungry.’’

Source: Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History (London: Vintage, 2004), pp. 190-91

Photo credit: Jakob Owens,


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