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February 27, 2014
This is Not a Stone
I Burn Books
by Hannah Bird

I burn books. I burn them because I dislike the content. I burn them because they are inane or dull. I burn them because they are filthy. I burn them because they are twee.

I burn them because I disagree with the author. I burn them because in my esteemed judgment they just aren’t very good. I toss them in the fire and watch them catch and crackle. I actually quite enjoy it.

Perhaps while you gather your pitchforks and torches, I should back up.

When I was younger I was not a fan of little dogs — specifically little yippy dogs.  I thought they were ridiculous. I thought their owners equally ridiculous. I could imagine no fate worse than ending up one of those ubiquitous fat middle aged women who dress their yippy lap dogs and treat them like babies.

For heaven’s sake, if you want a dog get a real one. I grew up with real dogs. I imagined I would grow old with a pair of enormous Old English Sheep Dogs asleep under my desk as I wrote the Great American Novel.

It was a good plan. But not a good plan for me. I have a respiratory syndrome that makes sneezing sniffles a danger to my long term earthboundness. And I am allergic to most dogs.  So no picturesque furballs under a non-existent desk for me.

But I also struggle with pain. I am sick frequently. No matter how lovely your family is about that (and I have the best) it is lonely and hard. One day an acquaintance asked me to rehome a puppy for her on an emergency basis. She had bred her dog and sold all the puppies. One had been returned and she was literally moving the next day.

I am deeply cynical and suspicious. Walk up to me in flames and I will likely ask you to prove that you are on fire. But apparently, you can hand me a puppy and I will buy and re-buy the bridge of your choice.

So suddenly, I had a Bichon Frisé puppy. Of course the understanding was that I would find him a good home.  Or that was my understanding. The puppy’s understanding was that he would hide in my hair and my husband would rock him to sleep.

I didn’t sneeze. Not once. He was light. He could snuggle without hurting me. He licked me. He liked me. On bad days when everything hurt he made it hurt a little less. I fully understand that he is yippy and weird. But he is mine.

Then one day I had the poor judgment to point out a maltipoo offered by the local shelter to my husband. I was trying to make the case that my dog was not as grimy and homely as certain people were accusing him of being. I had forgotten that if you x-rayed my husband you would just see marshmallows on marshmallows. He decided we were getting the dog.

Luckily, the dog didn’t make me sneeze either — gag a little, but no sneeze. So now we had a filthy gross new dog that had been seized by law enforcement. He had to be completely shaved to take off all the mats and treat his injuries. It was January. He was afraid of crates and would self-harm frantically if put in one.

So I became a woman carrying a yappy dog dressed in clothes. And I am fat. And middle aged. And it is possible that I have used the word baby…

As I previously mentioned, I burn books. It was an unthinkable idea to me at one point. I knew I never would do such a thing. We all know what kind of horrid people burn books. I love books. They have been a consistent source of help and enjoyment. I revere books and want nothing more than to write one.

I was fortunate to be invited to give reviews of books. When you are sent a book for review, you receive what is called an advanced reader’s copy. They may be poorly bound. They are missing illustrations. It is not meant for sale. In fact, I not permitted to sell, donate or share them.

I read a lot. I can read 15-20 books in an average month. More if I am sick. A lot. I am fortunate to be offered tons of free new release books. But the catch was they were piling up. And piling. And piling. It did not take long before I was swamped in hundreds of books.

So I picked out my very favorites — the quotables, the new classics — and I asked other reviewers what to do with the rest. Most responded that they recycled theirs. But driving my truck to town to recycle is neither convenient nor environmentally great.

So I burn books.  Books that I don’t want to keep forever get pitched into my very efficient wood-burning furnace. It keeps me from ending up on a hoarding reality show and it lets me read more new lovely books.

My little dogs are such a joy. Watching them play makes me happy. Teaching our new dog to trust has helped my own heart.

In this economic climate it would be irresponsible for me to buy 15-20 books a month. I don’t have a library (one of the few downsides to country life).  I would never have expected either of these things to happen. But both are tremendous gifts to me.

It is so important to have standards. There are things I will never do. But sometimes in order for a blessing to come, you have to be a little flexible. It may not fit with what you thought you would do. It may be different than you thought you would like. It may even poke your deeply held preferences. But it can still be exactly what you needed.

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