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Over coffee one afternoon in the summer of 2001, András reminded me of another way to burn books, explained to him by a colleague who survived the siege of Sarajevo. In the winter, the scholar and his wife ran out of firewood, and so began to burn their books for heat and cooking. ‘This forces one to think critically,’ András remembered his friend saying. ‘One must prioritize. First you burn the old textbooks, which you haven’t read in thirty years. Then there are the duplicates. But eventually, you’re forced to make altogether tougher choices. Who burns today: Dostoyevsky or Proust?’ I asked András if his friend had any books left when the war was over. ‘Oh yes,’ he replied, his face lit by a flickering smile. ‘He still had many books. Sometimes, he told me, you look at the books, and just choose to go hungry.’

Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History.

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