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"The Babaw Club" from Atlantic Monthly

by Ellis Parker Butler
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  • Atlantic Monthly (July, 1931)   "The Babaw Club"   Humor. The author suggests a "Burn a Book a Week" Club. Later printed in Hunting the Wow. p 120-121.  [HARPER]

from Atlantic Monthly
The Babaw Club
by Ellis Parker Butler

In the propaganda material I am putting out as secretary of the Burn-a-Book-a-Week Club -- I call it the Babaw Club for short -- reference is made to the Great Glacial Epoch, when ice pushed down and covered most of the world thousands of feet deep, ending all life and making everything awfully stupid. On page 2 there is an excellent picture showing the glaciers making things uncomfortable for even such tough old creatures as the mammoth and the saber-tooth tiger. The picture shows these animals and some people that look like Adam and his family fleeing before the onrushing glacier. One of the family is falling down and you feel very sorry for him. You think the glacier will get him.

On pages 4 and 5 of the pamphlet is a chart or graph more or less resembling a side hill leading up to the top of Fujiyama or Pike's Peak. This represents the increasing output of printed books in the United States from 1776 to 1930 inclusive, with a dotted line showing the estimated further increase from 1931 to 1999. With this, on page 3, are statistics compiled by the Obliging Statistics Corporation, proving that if the present rate of increase in book production continues until 1999 the entire surface of the United States will be covered 10,000 feet deep with books, only the tops of the highest mountains not being covered. This is called the Great Book Glaciation Period, and on page 7 is a picture of what looks like William Lyon Phelps and a women's club fleeing before the onrushing book flood. One of the ladies is falling down. The thought of her fate gives one quite a pang.

On page 16 (the last page) is a blank with a dotted line on which you can indicate your desire to join the Burn-a-Book-a-Week Club by sending five dollars. This pays the secretary's salary.

Of course, no one in the office of the Burn-a-Book-a-Week Club believes in the book glacier. That is merely propaganda and has been made strong for an evident purpose, but in organizing the Burn-a-Book-a-Week Club I have been motivated by the best of emotions. I asked myself, "Why am I buying an automobile and no books? Why am I buying radio sets, fresh roasted peanuts, socks, oysters in season, and coal, but no books?" The answer was that my shelves were full of books, my tables were piled with books, and books were stacked on the floor and peeked out from under the sofa. I could buy no more books because I had no more room.

"Fellow," I said to myself seriously, "this is bad. If this state of things continues, you will soon be out of the current of culture and become illiterate and dumb, and that will be a nice state of things, won't it?" I took time to consider what answer to make, and then I said, "Yes."

The briefest further thought showed me that with all the bookshelves in the United States jammed to capacity with books no one would be buying books. The whole course of culture would be dammed, advance would be dammed, progress of thought would be dammed, the world's thinkers would be dammed, you would be dammed, and I should be dammed. It was a serious outlook.

The remedy, I saw immediately, was to burn books.

On the shelves of every man's library are books he does not care a cent for and does not want, but he leaves them there because he lacks the courage to get rid of them. It was here, I saw, that the mob spirit must be invoked. The solution of the problem was to organize a Burn-a-Book Club, every member pledged to burn a book at a certain specified time. In union there would be courage.

My first thought was to organize a Burn-a-Book-a-Day Club, but I saw that this might repel many who had but 364 books who would otherwise sign up for a year. They would say, "How can I promise to burn 365 books (366 in leap year) when I have only 364 books?" -- forgetting that they would probably buy a book or two as their shelves were relieved, and almost certainly be given a book at Christmas. On the other hand, if I made it a Burn-a-Book-a-Month Club, the vacant shelf places would no more than take care of the sendings of a Book-a-Month Club. Other books would be, as we psychologists say, sunk.

Burning a book a week seemed to me the best possible periodicity to adopt and I adopted it, setting Sunday night as the time for burning. On Sunday night the whole family should be gathered around the fireplace and, having spent the day with the Sunday newspaper, would be glad to burn any sort of reading matter. Having decided this, I made out and signed a membership card in the Burn-a-Book-a-Week Club and set about choosing the first offering to the flames.

Immediately there was not a book in my house that I was willing to burn.

"I don't know what to burn," I said to my wife, and she drew my head down and whispered in my ear. The book she mentioned was one I had hidden behind the bookshelves lest our children find and read it.

"Burn that one," she said. "It ought to be burned."

"No," I said firmly, "I am going to keep that book. Some day it will bring us a lot of money from some collector of erotica. Already it is worth five times what I paid for it."

"Very well, then," said my wife, "do your own choosing."

The children, quite naturally, refused to allow the burning of any of their books, whether Little Black Sambo, The Boobly Twins at School, or Ethel at Overmore, although now they are reading Anatole France and Ernest Hemingway. My wife refused to let me burn Birds of New England or How to Know the Mushrooms. I could not part with any of my collection of Americana or my several hundred autographed and association books. Whenever I picked up a novel someone said, "No, Father, I may want to read that again."

Finally I burned a copy of Quo Vadis that I had borrowed from George Barclay. It was one of a half-morocco set, but the morocco had become brittle and in my hands the back had come off the book, so I had never returned it. My advice to our club members is to burn first all the books they have borrowed. This gives no pang and gradually accustoms one to burning books.

I have now burned all my borrowed books, and this morning I have begun on an admirable source of supply that will keep the book fires burning in our home for many a week. This morning the flames licked up Heath's Primary Arithmetic and next Sunday they will curl around An Introductory Latin Book Intended as an Elementary Drill-Book on the Inflections and Principles of the Language and as an Introduction to the Author's Grammar, Reader and Latin Composition, by Albert Harkness, New York, 1889.

To the flames anything is a book.



Saturday, October 07 at 1:12:14am USA Central
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