"A writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity." -Toni Morrison
I was especially interested in this book due to its topic - censorship of literature. Writers everywhere are suffering due to their desire to write. To tell a story. Whether it's banning, imprisonment or death, many dedicated writers are paying for their talent. (The most notable here in the States would be the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, where a fatwa was issued, telling all Muslims to murder Rushdie for his written blasphemy against their religion). On May 12th, HarperStudio, in conjunction with PEN American Center, the major voice for literature and free expression, is releasing Burn This Book (as well as a nationwide petition) as a way to bring awareness to how much these writers endure.
Burn This Book features 11 essays written by incredibly prominent writers from all over the world. It starts with the speech Morrison gave at the PEN International Festival dinner, entitled "Peril." She sets the mood of the book, voicing her opinion that writers should never be silenced, instead they should be listened to, for they bring art and awareness to the world. As the book unfolds, essay after essay dictates the same idea, only in many different ways.
Both John Updike and Nadine Gordimer have strong, verbose essays ("Why Write" and "Witness: The Inward Testimony" respectively) that bookend the anthology. Showing how authors can have a political awareness and voice in the world, the authors successfully dictate the importance of literature. These are the essays that literature students will study in college and dissect carefully, thoughtfully. Although those two are arguably the the most notorious writers in the collection, their essays were far from my favorites. I really enjoyed Pico Iyer's "The Man, The Men at the Station," the story of his stay in Mandalay when he met a trishaw driver by the name of Maung-Maung who wrote a book, but could never publish it because it was frowned upon to be thought smart there. "Freedom to Write" by Orhan Pamuk was an incredibly interesting look at Pamuk's meeting with Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter, two renowned authors, in the 80's. As the latter two fought for the rights of writers in Turkey, Pamuk discovered the political persona in himself, one that he always kept out of his books, perhaps in fear of being imprisoned like the others. I especially loved "The Sudden Sharp Memory" by Ed Park which was written just like the famously banned novel "I Am The Cheese" by Robert Cormier. The essay, written like an interview, discusses why Cormier's book was banned and how it changed him, as an author and a person. I loved how he put himself into the story and wrote it similarly to the book it's praising.
Rushdie himself had an essay in there entitled "Notes on Writing and the Nation," which addresses just what it states. Using a poem by R.S. Thomas as the backbone, he discusses the practicality of writing. Although his essay was incredibly interested, part of me hoped he would have approaches his very real previous situation. Paul Auster's "Talking to Strangers" is an essay every writer should read. It addresses the question "why write?" and beautifully answers it by bluntly stating "it's the only job I ever wanted."
All in all, Morrison created an excellent collection that showed how writing is more than just words on a page. That it could make a difference. That it could speak to people, reveal answers to a country. A writer's words should never be silenced - they should be the soundtrack to our time.
Burn This Book should be given to any professional writer. As a former teacher, I feel very strongly against book banning and this book let me see that it's more than just that. It opened my eyes to the struggles we face. It made me realize that there has to be an end to it. But, most of all, it made me want to write.