The most rococo act of book abuse is something I have performed only once — and it is a great deal more difficult than countless movies would have one believe. To excavate a hiding place for valuables within the pages of a thick book takes a sharp scalpel, a strong arm and a surprising amount of patience. I had hoped to cut a hole with the exact outline of the object to be hidden — not, sadly, a revolver, but something equally asymmetrical. However, slicing page after page with uniform precision proved beyond me, and all I could manage to gouge was a rather forlorn rectangle. (There are some who would tempt fate by stashing their baubles within “Great Expectations” or “Treasure Island.” I played safe with “Pride and Prejudice,” since I had never gotten much further than its eminently quotable first line.)Ben Schott in his essay, Confessions of a Book Abuser, argues that he finds it difficult to respect books as objects, and sees no harm whatsoever in abusing them. It is not the books but the ideas expressed in them that need to be protected.
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I am not unaware that the abuse of books has a dark and dishonorable past. Books have been banned and burned and writers tortured and imprisoned since the earliest days of publishing. While one thinks of such historical nadirs as Savonarola’s “bonfire of the vanities” and the Nazi pyres of “un-German” and “degenerate” books, the American Library Association warns that we still live in an era of book burning. Perhaps inevitably, J. K. Rowling’s boy wizard is the target of much modern immolation. One group in Lewiston, Me., when denied permission for a pyre by the local fire department, held a “book cutting” of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” instead.
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