"The victory cry of a bookworm may seem a petty thing.The poet Shelley’s famous declaration that poets are the "unacknowledged legislators of the world" is not really very famous, for understandable reasons. When the enemy of literacy is imagined to be television or comic books, one can rightfully feel impatient with the kind of pro-book aphorism found on a tasseled bookmark. But what if the enemy is fire, or incendiary shells, or Nazism?
"In "Library: An Unquiet History," Matthew Battles shows that the history of libraries is the history of the destruction of books. Mr. Battles interviews a colleague about a couple who survived the siege of Sarajevo in the early 1990s. They ran out of firewood and had to make choices about which books to burn in order to cook and stay warm. Mr. Battles’s interlocutor explains how this forced the couple to think critically: "One must prioritize. First, you burn old college textbooks, which you haven’t read in thirty years. Then there are the duplicates. But eventually, you’re forced to make tougher choices. Who burns today: Dostoevsky or Proust?"
"Did the couples have any books left after the war? Here is the victory cry: "‘Oh yes,’ he replied, his face lit by a flickering smile. ‘He still had many books. Sometimes, he told me, you look at the books and just choose to go hungry.’" (from The New York Sun via Bookslut)