Flame-Retardant Books

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One thing you can’t do with e-books? Burn ‘em.

I’m reminded of this today after reading that a British domestic abuse charity, Wearside Women, is planning on a Nov. 5 bonfire where the main fuel will be copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, the runaway hit from Random House by E.L. James.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the book, it’s subject matter is erotic and contains strong themes of sadism and masochism. The BBC reported Random House as saying, “the sex scenes are entirely consensual.” Nevertheless, a spokesperson for the domestic abuse charity said, “I do not think I can put into words how vile I think this book is and how dangerous I think the idea is that you get a sophisticated but naive, young women and a much richer, abusive older man who beats her up and does some dreadful things to her sexually.”

And so, a good ol’ fashioned book burning will be held.

I’m all for free speech and I would defend the rights of someone who wanted to burn books to make a statement, but burning books, no matter how “vile,” just rubs me the wrong way. I think it’s fair to say that the idea of burning books conjures in most people images of a certain iconic salute and endless jack boots marching in black-and-white footage. (I’m not going to say exactly what I’m referring to here because I think it’s not a completely fair comparison in this case, but I think everyone knows.)

To add insult to injury, factor in the Streisand Effect; from Wikipedia: “a colloquial term to describe the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide or remove a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.”

What I took away from this story wasn’t, “maybe there’s something wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey,” it was, “burning books are bad; Fifty Shades of Grey is really popular and I’m a bit more interested in what’s between the covers.”

I would wager that this bonfire only stokes the public’s interest in Fifty Shades.

Sad, because the Wearside Women spokesperson makes a pretty good point with the latter half of her comment to the BBC: “My main objection is that at a time when local authorities are making cuts to outreach and refuge services for women experiencing domestic violence, we have libraries wasting and grossly misusing public to buy a book which says: ‘domestic violence is sexy’. The money would be better spent supporting victims.”

Ah! Libraries shouldn’t be spending money buying Fifty Shades of Grey so the community can read it for free. That was completely lost to me because of the book burning.

I’m glad e-books aren’t so easily burned. Had Fifty Shades been an e-book only release, I wonder what more interesting, less distasteful form of protest Wearside Women would have found.

Something else you can’t do with e-books (but I wish you could).

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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