Monthly Archives: September 2015

What’s a Book Worth?

First Edition Cover
“We all have books that grabbed our hearts and minds, books that changed our lives, books that live with us forever.
But how good are we at remembering that – at communicating the immeasurable value of books?
After all, you can buy a book that might change your life for about the same as two cups of coffee.
But that’s just a book’s monetary value. What’s its real value to you?
How would you describe that?”

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

As a child, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. The library played a central role in my upbringing. My mother was an avid library-supporter and we would go every three weeks so she could get her supply. If she had something she thought I would like, she’d pass it on. Is it possible amid all those read books to name and discuss one that changed my life?

Two years ago, I was talking to a friend about one of those books, one that I had read as a teenager. I could only remember a few passages from this particular novel so I ordered a paperback copy for 7.99€. When I read the first chapter I was astonished at how this book had shaped my way of thinking, my beliefs and yes, in a dramatic tone, my life.

Slaughterhouse-Five, the story of American prisoners of war held in Dresden, Germany during the fire bombings towards the end of WWII, cemented a pacifistic and anti-war philosophy in me that was just waiting for proper affirmation. Growing up in America during the Vietnam ‘Police-Action,’ as they liked to call it, those of my generation were spoon-fed front line images on the evening news. For dessert we had anti-war demonstrations. Somewhere in there I developed a fascination and a revulsion of war.

Over the years those few passages I remembered and have lived by:

     I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
     I have also told them not to work for companies which make massacre machinery, and to express contempt for people who think we need machinery like that.

I was in Dresden about five years back for a music instrument trade fair. I went along with my colleague who was going to drive alone to deliver and unload the company’s truck full of guitars for the fair. I’d never been to Dresden and it didn’t register where we were when we drove into the Schlachthof. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized where we had been. 

Schlachthof 5, Dresden

    And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. 
     So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes. 
     People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore.
     I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, since it was written by a pillar of salt.

I’m still working on my war book. The more I study the mechanisms of war, the more I realize that they are all fundamentally the same.

     “I say, ‘Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?'”
     What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.

What’s a Book Worth–a social media campaign: