Sunday, November 01, 2009


Burn This Book, Toni Morrison (Editor), Harperstudio, 2009, 113 pp

I like to read essays about writing by writers. This collection, edited by Toni Morrison, who also wrote a powerful introduction, and published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, is especially meaningful. It deals with censorship, the role of literature in keeping us self-aware, and the importance of keeping writers out of jail.

The ten writers sampled here of course include Salman Rushdie but I was most moved by Pico Iyer's story of his encounter in Burma (now Myanmar) with a trishaw driver. This desperately poor man teaching himself English and hoping to become a teacher of mathematics in a land of zero opportunity, now a land of less than zero opportunity, wrote regular letters to Iyer until he disappeared into the oppression.

Russell Banks' sentences on the role of the novelist also struck deeply. "No other species needs to be constantly reminded and taught what it is to be itself. And it is our storytellers, our poets, our novelists and dramatists, who have always performed this task. And surely, in this moment in the history of our species, when there is such a danger of forgetting and so much inducement to forget, we must not waste our limited time here doing anything else."

The next time someone tries to make me guilty for reading so much, Burn This Book can remind me why I do. I've also just about decided to take some of the hard earned cash of a bookseller and join PEN.

(Burn This Book is available in hardcover by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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