Joe Campbell

I’ve been reflecting more than usual on writing and books. What got me thinking was a conversation with a fellow author I often meet at the neighbourhood library.

“My book is popular in the British Isles,” he said, excited.

“You mean your self-published novel that didn’t sell?”

“Copies are flying off the shelves.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “You must be pleased that readers have discovered your book’s literary value.”

“They’re not interested in its literary value,” he replied. “They’re interested in its thermal value.” When I failed to respond, he told me that British pensioners buy remaindered books to heat their homes. “Since they’re on fixed incomes,” he explained, “the pensioners seek inexpensive fuels to cope with record winter temperatures and unexpected snow. Discounted books like mine are ideal for British stoves.”

“Did you say ideal?”

“They’re hardcover,” he said. “They last longer than paperbacks and they’re cheaper than coal.”

“It doesn’t bother you that Britons burn copies of your book?”

“I’m not prejudiced,” he replied. “I’d feel the same if Americans did it.”

Like most everyone, I’ve heard about book burning as a violent form of censorship. I never dreamt that it might become a routine means of keeping warm. After learning that it already has, I can’t help seeing well-stocked bookshelves in a new light. Oh, I still see them as beloved repositories of wisdom and wit. But, distressingly, I also see them as insurance against freezing. It’s rather like seeing your French poodle as a beloved companion, but also as insurance against starving.

This led to my wondering whether the thermal properties of books vary with their subject or genre. If they do, Britons should expect more heat from novels set in the tropics than at the north and south poles. The same goes for poetry collections that celebrate spring and summer over fall and winter. As for theological tomes on the wages of sin, they might not just heat British homes, but burn them down.

Then there are books that support the global warming craze. Embarrassed by the failure of their predictions, they might try to make amends through spontaneous combustion. Before this happens, I suspect many Britons will have gleefully incinerated any copies they have. There’s something poetic about affirming domestic warming and denying global warming in a single gesture.

Years ago, climate change doomsters warned Britons about life without snow. Maybe they should have warned them about life without fuel.

Despite recent experience, we can expect the warnings to continue under alliterative headlines like, “Global warming whips winter.” Of course, it’s easy to misconstrue headlines. Without reading further, some might think the story is about a rock band beating a rival to the top of the charts. Others might think it’s about a long shot upsetting the favourite at Epsom Downs. Less imaginative readers would realize that it’s just another failed climate forecast.

We’re used to failed weather forecasts and most of us find them amusing, even when they’re not funny. We’re starting to get used to failed climate forecasts, but many of us still take them seriously, even when they’re hilarious. Because of their failures, weather forecasters leave us skeptical. In spite of their failures, climate forecasters leave us gullible.

Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. Although weather forecasters have difficulty seeing even a few days ahead, climate forecasters think they can see through a hundred years. Never mind. As the failures mount, more of us can see through the climate forecasters.

“Some of us can see beyond them,” said the author whose novel became a hit in Britain. He had broached the subject at another of our library meetings.

“What, pray tell, is beyond them?” I asked warily.

“Global evangelists,” he replied. “They’re going to save the planet from us and us from ourselves.” He added that the first step toward saving the planet from us is to phase out coal, oil and natural gas. “It will be a boon for authors like me,” he said. “We’ll sell more books at better prices.”

“I can’t believe you’ll continue writing books for fuel.”

“Better that than for doorstops.”

“What about for reading?”

“There won’t be that many readers,” he said. “The first step toward saving us from ourselves is to phase out ourselves.”

“What’s the first step toward saving us from global evangelists?”