History · Mythology · Philosophy · Poetry · Politics · Religion

The Trashing of the Vanities

Five hundred and eighteen years ago, on February 7, 1497, a Dominican priest named Savonarola, conducted the “Bonfire of the Vanities” in Florence, Italy to destroy what he called the excesses of humanity – in other words, objects such as books, art and the like that did not meet with the lifestyle of poverty and righteousness of the Christian lifestyle as he saw it. Ironically, around this time, the civilization of in the West – as in Europe – was rediscovering ancient philosophy, mythology and culture from Greece, Egypt and beyond, which had been destroyed by the barbarians which had taken control of Europe close to a thousand years before. For Savonarola, it seems, he preferred the Dark Ages, where man was easily controlled and manipulated, as opposed the Renaissance, where man became enlightened. Today, we are blessed to beyond beyond such trivial matters in regards to having books and art, or so it seems.

I do not have all the facts, nor do I have some inside source of information – I am no journalist, yet I have word of mouth, and in this case my wife and friends for fountains of information. In Providence, RI, and now it appears beyond in other Rhode Island towns, we have a case where literature is literally going to be thrown away because it has become irrelevant. The other night my wife came home, from our local neighborhood library, which is part of the greater Providence Community Library system, which in turn, part of the Ocean State Library system, saying they are getting ready to throw away books. I looked at her in mild shock, and she said, “Yeah, everybook that has not been check out in three years, they are going to throw away.” Again, I was shocked. I assume they will put some of these books on the “free table,” where interested people can take these books home, but I know, at least in my own neighborhood library, they will not all fit. And throw away! Not try to give them all away, or announce it, or even try to sell them for much needed money (I assume they need money, they advertise how to support your library), but throw them away.

I realize this is not as grand as Florence or barbarians invading, but to throw away books, any books, when the whole purpose of libraries is to be a haven for books and a resource for the public, to me, is an outage. Also, we are not just talking “irrelevant” books, but books from authors such as Anne Rice – an author still publishing award winning best sellers today – and Tolkien, which gave us classics like “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy. Even so, if these authors were not on there, if it was just books on certain American cultures, or a cookbook, it is still throwing literature away, throwing away a resource that for many may never be available again. These are not just books, but they are historical pieces of art that are worth more then throwing in the dumpster.

Maybe it is not a big deal, maybe I am over reaching in saying it is disgraceful, however, I was taught a reverence for the written word that will not allow me to remain silent and just shocked within. What happens when a young man or woman, needing to reference Tolkien, can now only find his popular books at the library, instead of being able to dig deeper. What happens when someone has read all of Anne Rice’s novels, except that elusive one no longer sold on Amazon.com, but is stuck, because the local library threw it away. Well, that someone want find it in a library in Providence, and apparently now in the library in Newport, RI. I do not presume that these libraries are being overtly selective, and I am sure they have their own “very good” reasons for this purge of literature, I cannot find any value in any excuse.

As a former (and still lover) of history and culture, the irrelevant status given to books that simply have not been checked out over a three year time period is disgusting to me, it infuriates me that an institution can simply mark something as worthless because it has passed too much time sitting in one spot. Popularity, should not be the judge of literature, if it is, we stand to lose all but what is truly vain.

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