by Rachelle D. Lawrence
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
PZ 4.B726 was missing. Rob Stanton looked at the books on each side of the empty space. The Dewey Decimal System jumped from PZ 4.B724 to novel-sized-empty space to PZ 4.B727. He looked behind the shelf and under the bookcase. No fallen books, no broken spines, no vandalism. Nothing.
Rob went to the library computer.
Sorry, could not find anything matching Fahrenheit 451.
Stepping back, Rob looked at the shelves upon shelves that made up the fiction section, and squinted. And, now that he was looking for it, he saw the holes, the various book sizes of emptiness where books should be but weren’t.
There were already two people waiting in the Customer Service line, so Rob pulled out his phone and read some short stories. The last decade had seen a resurgence of short fiction—flash fiction, poetry, essay, articles, short story, memoir shorts, and confessionals. Bite sized reads for the busy consumer.
Rob had finished one story about an alien abduction, and was halfway into another where a woman had found a parallel universe in the bottom of her tea cup, when the librarian called out,
The slightest pressure of Rob’s thumb on the screen and the stories went dark.
“Would you like to close your account?” The librarian was a young woman, early twenties, and tired. There was a thin scar under one mascaraed eye.
“What? No. I’m looking for a book.”
“Oh?” She smiled, and picked up a #2 pencil, licked the graphite tip. “Wonderful. What’re you looking for?”
“Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.”
“Oh.” She set the pencil down, avoiding his eyes. “Yeah, that’s one of our defunded books. Sorry.”
“I don’t understand. Are they all checked out?”
“No, it means that the library doesn’t carry that book anymore.”
“How could you not stock Fahrenheit 451? Don’t they read it in schools every year.”
“Oh no, not anymore. They replaced it with 1984. Do you know how many students and their parents buy dictionary apps after reading it? Profits have gone up 76 percent in the last twelve months.”
“So, you don’t carry Fahrenheit 451 because it doesn’t sell dictionaries?”
“Sir, that book was defunded because of its negative impact upon the economy. People were losing their jobs.”
“Disney and Comcast and other large media corporations made a strong case to the ALA and federal government about books that negatively impact employment and the economy. A big theme in Fahrenheit 451 is television, sir, with all those aunts and uncles and cousins, and seashell earbuds that he links to suicide. Very bad for sells, sir. This is the super age of technology.”
“So, you banned a book about banning books?”
“We don’t ban books, that’s against the first amendment. No, the books are defunded, we no longer have the money to maintain them. This is a public institution you know.”
An older woman was calling to the young librarian from her office door.
“When you’re done with him, we have another defunded I need you to take care of.”
“Okay.” She looked at Rob. “Anything else I can help you with?”
“No, I guess that’s it.”
“Thank you for your patronage, come again soon.”
Before he could turn away, Rob watched as she pulled on a pair of thick leather gloves that covered her forearms up to the elbows.
“What are those?”
She came around the desk. “Oh, it’s the darndest thing, but every person who tries and take the defunded books off the shelves comes away with a mass of paper cuts. So I got these falcon gloves and it hasn’t been too bad since.”
As Rob walked out of the library, he pocketed his phone and watched the other patrons. A man was asleep in a corner of the history section, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire volumes IV, V, and VI his pillow. A teenage girl was devouring a fantasy novel. The corner of page 241 was stuck between her front teeth. And as the automatic doors slide closed behind him, Rob heard Cathy the librarian give a small yelp, another paper cut.