My old Boy Scout tribe was always in desperate need of money. Car washes and coffee mornings dominated the calendar. But the real cash cow, the one that could be relied upon to eke out the grannies faster than any simple cake-and-convo event was that quintessential fundraiser that any self-respecting village start-up worshipped: the secondhand book sale. It was the musty syringe forever poised over our community, ready to suck out our 5ps scavenged from down the back of the sofa at any time, out of guilt and pity for this dying scout group.
Preparation was important. Posters went up. Important people were notified. Books were raked in by the bucketful from every village outlet and stacked as high as they would go in old fruit boxes stored in the scout hut, waiting to be sold.
When the day came we scouts were set to work behind the counter or preparing light snacks for aforementioned grannies. Books were sold. Cake was eaten. Modest but nevertheless handy amounts of money were made, and relative fun was had by all ages.
The problem was, there was always a monumental surfeit of books left over after these gatherings. These were dutifully saved for the next sale. But some wouldn’t sell at the second sale either. Or the third. It got to a stage where there was just no point in trying to sell them anymore, and we were left with an absolute heap of clearly unwanted books. The sheer number was staggering; a guess impossible. A library, discarded.
So, what to do with them all? I'll cut to the chase: we burnt them. That’s what the leaders of our humble little Scout pack decided was the best thing to do. Box after box of books, they all went on the fire. I didn’t agree with this at all. Literature… books… the wealth of knowledge wasted… Predictably, though, I felt I had to keep my opinions to myself out of respect for the primitive male instinct that insists: burning things is cool. And I have to admit, it is.
But still, books? I remember it vividly, holding a fruit box of books in one hand, the other dipping in and hurling on books, the other kids around me doing likewise, gleefully. The face of a forgotten author, crumpling in the flame…
"Hey!" someone shouts, "I’ve found a bible!"
They scramble round in awe, gawking at it for a few seconds, before throwing it on with the rest, cackling all the while. I was never a Christian, far from it, but I realised that some sort of line was being crossed here. And it got me thinking. Thinking about some of the people who would go to the next book sale, who said they would never buy a Mercedes because of what the Nazis did in World War II. They persecuted the Jews, and sick people, and homosexuals. They massacred millions and committed terrible war crimes to numbers unimaginable.
And they burnt books.