Written by Georgia Hilton-Buckley
On Friday June 4th, Jeanette Winterson tweeted a photo of burning books, made significantly more interesting because they were her own books. Winterson, famed author of Oranges are not the only fruit and Sexing the Cherry, burned the republished editions of several of her previous works because she detested the ‘cosy’ blurb which sectioned her into ‘wimmin’s fiction’. I have read a few of Winterson’s novels and greatly admired them, but the prospect of burning books greatly upset me.
The history of book burning
Burning books has always been a symbol of censorship under both the reign of Nazi Germany, the destruction of the Library of Baghdad and the Burning of Jaffna public library. Under ISIS, burning forbidden texts are common acts of taunting Western media and is probably the most recent act of cultural genocide. Although Winterson is burning her own books, it still sends a strong message that literature can be erased. When the author who shall not be named (Creator of Harry Potter) posted a transphobic essay, many people took to burning their books in protest of her attitude. This does nothing to change the profits and power gained by the author, but rather removes literature from public ownership and adds to global warming. Instead people were encouraged to donate to charity shops, local libraries, women’s shelters and schools to allow those who are underprivileged have access to the world of literature. Winterson instead created a self-indulgent public protest of a blurb she would have been consulted on during production. She could have simply tweeted that she disliked the dustcovers and removed them from the books. We all love a beautiful book cover, but it is not essential to the enjoyment of the book, the words still retain their value.
Women and Wimmin
Aside from the uncomfortable sight of burning books one thing that struck me regarding the tweet was the use of the word ‘wimmin’. As an active feminist, I have come across this term many times before in my reading, it was adopted by radical feminists of the previous century to avoid the word men in their identification. It was frequently used to include trans women and women of colour in the feminist movement. Despite this, the term has been criticised by trans activists and assigning them to another category of gender rather than the collective group of women. For Winterson to use this term seemed particularly interesting for me as it created a feminist statement. This categorises Winterson as a very specific genre of feminist; it strikes me as an interesting phrase during the run up to the winner of the Women’s Prize in Fiction. It is possible that Winterson is providing a protest to the sub-categorisation of female authors and is rejecting the label of feminist author rather than simply author.
My final conclusion regarding this bizarre tweet: please don’t burn books. Donate or recycle them rather than destroy, words have a value that cannot be replaced and if as a society we become too comfortable with the destruction of literature, we risk falling into a spiral of lost culture.
Georgia is a Third-year Politics student at the University of Leicester with an infatuation for books, particularly the classics. She is interested in feminism, philosophy, and music.