Comstocks Try for a Comeback on Long Island
people don’t like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don’t
feel good about Uncle
Tom’s Cabin. Burn it…Burn all, burn everything. Fire is
light and fire is clean." (Captain Beatty in the Ray Bradbury
Irish people don’t like Frank McCourt’s Angela’s
Ashes. Well then, let’s burn it.
that is what is planned by some groups of "proud Irishmen and
Limerick men," who are scheduled to burn 700 copies of Angela’s
Ashes at Lily Flanagan’s Bar in Rockville Centre, in Long Island,
New York, on March 11.
perennial best seller since its publication in 1996, the book details
McCourt’s impoverished childhood in Limerick in the Irish Republic.
Angela’s Ashes is a bittersweet memoir. It recounts the story
of a boy growing up with a drunken father, who insisted that the
boys pledge themselves to "die for Ireland," and of an
Irish Catholic Church that McCourt believes was uninterested in
his family’s trials. The author seems to delight in ending the book
by telling of his affair with an American woman, much to a chagrin
of a Catholic priest. McCourt has mixed feeling about his mother.
He is obviously a man who has never forgotten the bitter experiences
of his childhood.
whose work was recently made into a movie, also wrote harsh words
about his mother and depicts Limerick in the 1930s as a dreadful
place. He questions his father’s decision to take his family from
an America in the midst of the Great Depression, back to an Ireland
that was also suffering economic hard times. His mother’s later
remarriage also troubled McCourt, who later immigrated to the United
States and became an English teacher in the New York City public
book has become an incredible success, making millions of dollars.
After staying on the New York Times hardcover bestseller
list for a few years, it is now at the top of the paperback bestseller
list. But David Crowe, the owner of the bar and the organizer of
the book burning, says McCourt’s book "absolutely desecrated
his mother (in the book and the movie).…That was absolutely despicable.
This is the strongest way I could think of to make a statement,"
he told the Irish Voice newspaper.
Crowe, if he is telling the truth, may not realize that he is on
a holy mission a mission to prove H.L. Mencken right. The
sage of Baltimore said America was the land of the boob and that
"no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of
the American people."
confirms Mencken’s judgment when he reports that he has contacts
with people around the country about his event and the response
has been "99% positive." He says he has lined up hundreds
of people who will join in the book burning party. He conceded that
book burning was wrong, "but this is how I felt would be the
strongest way to get people’s attention."
easy, Henry Mencken. However, Mencken also wrote about the enlightened
minority, that small group of people who he said would be the ones
who didn’t fit in, those few who revolted against the political
correctness of all ages.
brother, Malachy McCourt, also an author and a former bar owner,
says, "They were burning books in Hitler’s Germany around the
time period that the book was written. To think that mentality is
still around today is pretty scary."
Irish Freedom Committee agrees. It is planning to give away copies
of Angela’s Ashes. (There he goes again. Between the burnings
and the giveaways, Frank McCourt probably just went into another
income tax bracket).
committee wants to "highlight the disdain most Irish-Americans
feel for the book burning." This book burning, which will likely
be covered by most of the idiot box clowns of the New York City
media, is yet another illustration of the law of unintended consequences.
A sets out to accomplish X. But his plan is ill conceived and counterproductive.
He ends up accomplishing Y, which is the opposite of X. (In this
case, he encourages more, not fewer, people to read the book in
question. The Comstocks ultimately made Theodore Dreiser’s Sister
Carrie into a best seller with their objection to the book’s
supposed obscenity. In the 1920s, irate clergymen burned Sinclair
Gantry, later made into a successful movie with Burt Lancaster.
The book became a bestseller and 75 years later is still a part
of our language and culture. But who, today, remembers the hyenas
who burned the book?).
illustration of above principle is a comment by a playwright friend
of mine. She generally has little interest in Ireland, its culture
or history. She traveled there a few years ago and had a thoroughly
unpleasant trip. When I told her about Angela’s Ashes a few
years ago she told me she had no intention of reading it. What did
she say when I informed her of this Angela’s Ashes cause
wow. I’m going to have to read it now," she said. Crowe and
his friends just put a little more money in McCourt’s deep and still
deeper pockets. (Hey, maybe he can go out there to the Long Island
pub and buy the gang a round!)
only are the book burners blundering clowns of the first order,
but they are feeding an environment of intolerance that, in effect,
promotes the crushing of ideas, instead of meeting them in the marketplace
of ideas with better ones. They are in their small and I
hope insignificant way attempting to weaken a tradition of
tolerance that at times has been represented by Erasmus,
Spinoza, John Stuart Mill and John Milton, among others. But as
Erasmus stated in his wonderful little book, The
Praise of Folly, "the number of fools is infinite."
Book burning is as American as war, lawless government and political
we burn the books (and then maybe some bothersome people?) we find
unpleasant, discomforting or even annoying, before we try to stamp
out those experiences and ideas that don’t jive with our ethnic,
religious or family experiences, before we follow in the footsteps
of our yahoo forefathers who tried to prohibit the teaching of Goethe
or the playing of Beethoven during World War I, before we send John
Rocker to the gas chamber, we should pause for a moment and remember
this: Those who play with fire should think about the warnings of
the great German poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856). More than a century
before Hitler came to power and burned books, he warned that, "Where
they would burn books, they would burn people."
Bresiger, a business writer and editor in Kew Gardens, New York,
has written for The
Free Market and The
Journal of Libertarian Studies. He is at work on a series
on Social Security for Lew