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Book Burning

In October of 1980 I led a book burning here in New York City. We had a
small parade of writers, artists, printers, book designers, bookbinders, a
paper conservator and a suburban homemaker.  Two people carried  a platform
of burned books while I held a flaming one in one hand and a megaphone in
the other. The first site we demonstrated at was the IRS building at Church
and Murray streets. The books we were burning were the IRS "Code"-- the
manuals with the tax rules. The occasion was the Thor Power Tool decision--
the ruling that warehouse stock could not be deducted for tax purposes
until it was sold or destroyed. Although the decision related to machine
parts, it applied across the board, including backlists of publishers. 

Our placards (and chant) read "Burn the Law, Not the Books!"  We paraded
from there to the spot outside the Stock Exchange (in front of the statue
marking George Washington's inauguration), where there is a brass plaque
marking the site of Peter Zenger's "Freedom of the Press" trial. There we
repeated the book burning and chanting.  

The Thor decision created the remainder business, as publishers were forced
to sell or destroy their overstock in the same year it was produced in
order to write it off.  That's why you can't get a book that was published
ten years ago any more. Books used to be "in print" until the last copy was
sold. It wasn't unuaual to find a 20 year old book still available from the
publisher-- even a special interest book. Not today. 

It was a complex issue.  At first I thought I might go to jail (it was
illegal to make a fire in public) and the Civil Liberties Union was
standing by to defend me. But I went to some meetings of the publishing
trade on the Thor issue, and discovered that book publishing was being used
by the mega-corps (CBS, etc.) to sequester corporate profits, and as tax
shelters. So I decided to stop short of jail, since protecting corporate
profits wasn't what the book burning was about. I'd been involved in enough
issues in the 60's and 70's that had been co-opted by the profit

It did make the papers and call attention to the issue, but the Thor
decision still rules. 

More recently I made a Book Burning Kit, titled "Reliquary for the Ashes of
Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses." It's made of binder's board covered in
Islamic-style patterns in gold and white gold leaf, with crystals and
stones, and contains the first American edition of the book, matches and
incense. It's subtitled "The United States Constitution Series: The First
Amendment." There are photos of it at


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