Forbidden book exchange: Polish cities respond to the public burning of books

Polish cities organize forbidden book exchange in response to public book burning
Image: Unsplash

In response to the public burning of books by Catholic priests, Polish cities Gdańsk and Szczecin organize a “forbidden book exchange.” Genres include literature on LGBT topics, fantasy, and science-fiction.

Earlier this week, Polish Catholic fund SMS from Heaven organized a public event of burning supposedly sacrilegious books, with titles including J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

Facebook pictures of the event posted by the fund quickly went viral and received international backlash, forcing the priest behind the event, Rev Rafał Jarosiewicz, to apologize.

In a Facebook post, he states that the situation was taken out of context, claiming that the participants voluntarily brought the objects to the event, and calls the situation unfortunate.”

Polish primate on burning books: it’s not just unfortunate; it’s offensive

The Roman Catholic Church’s highest official in Poland, primate Wojciech Polak, condemned the act in an official statement. He postulates:

The path to spiritual conversion is not burning books, but rather learning how to critically assess what one reads. Books are not supposed to be burned. Books are supposed to be read, and their content to be debated with.

Polish cities, Szczecin and Gdańsk, organize a “forbidden book” exchange

As a response, residents of Gdańsk are organizing the “forbidden book exchange” – an event that will take place this Sunday, in front of the church in which the books were burned.

The organizers are encouraging to bring paperbacks that are looked down upon by “ultra-Catholic radicals” – such as LGBT books, science fiction and fantasy. They want the event to be something of a temporary outdoor library – in which everyone is free to participate and bring a book or take one.

The residents of Szczecin, a northwest city in Poland, decided to follow suit. Łukasz Olejnik, the head of the event, explains the idea behind it:

Why did I decide to organize this book exchange? Because books are a source of knowledge. They are made to be read, not burned.

When asked what objects he will bring, Olejnik replies: “definitely quite a bit of fantasy books.” Also, there will be The Metalhead’s Bible (fetched from the Woodstock festival!) and Andrzej Kaczkowski’s biographical novel on drug abuse.

Olejnik plans on setting up a tent on the Jasne Błonia square, as well as chairs and a table, so that the participants can sit down, relax and debate.

Only 37% Poles read a book last year

The event is not only symbolic in nature – it is also a way of promoting reading.

In fact, only 37% Poles read a book last year, according to National Library of Poland. No more than 9% of the respondents read more than seven books. Interestingly, the group that reads the least are the ones who grew up before the Internet era. Among those above 60 years old, only 33% read a book in 2018, compared to 55% among those between 15 and 24 years old.

In 2017, the list of the most-read book authors in Poland included J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King. The most-read genres were science fiction and fantasy.

• • •

More to read:

The ultimate Christmas 2019 gift guide for book lovers

Is there a book lover in your life whom you would like to give an exceptional gift this Christmas? Explore these gift lists to find the most refreshing ideas!

Best gifts