Posted by: Gregg | May 28, 2007

Tom Wayne from Prospero’s Books is an idiot.

I have nothing against Prospero’s Books. It’s an independent bookstore along the hip 39th Street corridor in Kansas City, Missouri. They go out of their way to support local authors and poets and help the community. A good friend of mine worked there part-time for a year or so. I’ve even bought books from them. I like them and what they do. Except when I read this article in this Monday’s Kansas City Star.

The owner of Prospero’s, Tom Wayne, apparently has a warehouse full of used books that, according to him, will not sell. So he’s doing what any reasonable person who loves books would do: he’s burning them. In a feeble, misguided attempt to raise awareness of the decline of the printed word – apparently the kids are more apt to get their information from that pesky internet – Wayne started burning his backlog in an oversized Weber grill in front of his store the other day until the city shut him down for not having a permit for it.

I understand perfectly what he’s trying to do: burning some of the books in a high profile  manner – I’m sure he called the Star and there was a reporter and a photographer on site before he lit his first match – will raise the ire of booklovers around the area, and offers to buy his backlog will flood in, and Wayne will make his money. But burning books, the tool of censors and nutjobs like Fred Phelps, is cheap and manipulative and dumb.

Hey, Wayne, how about donating those books to a local school or a homeless shelter or a nursing home or an ESL program? Oh yeah, you wouldn’t get your name in the paper. I’m taking my indie bookstore money elsewhere, and I hope others do the same.

(Hat tip to the mighty TKC, who said what I said better, more snarkily, and in far fewer words.)



  1. Hello!

    I stumbled across your site and “The Goblin in the Library”‘s site via Steven M. Cohen’s “Library Stuff” link, and, being from the Lawrence/KC area:

    1) I’m really sad to hear that the owner of Prospero’s is resorting to a cheap publicity stunt in the name of “protest.” I love(d) browsing there, and this makes my wandering in there in the near future a lot less likely.

    2) After reading your “About,” I have to ask, are you the male version of me? I’m a recent (this May 2007) Emporia State library school grad, an expat swing dancer, and a pop culture fiend.

    If you ever have any questions about professors to seek out and which ones to avoid, just give me a shout, I will be more than happy to diplomatically dish.

    3) I just applied for a reference position at a certain Johnson County library….veeery interesting. 🙂

    It’s a small community, if I am (fingers crossed) employed in the area, I’m sure we’ll run into each other one place or another. Great post!

  2. Terrible publicity stunt. However, what would be worse, him burning the books, or nobody caring if he did?

  3. You know, the crafter in me can think of SO many things you could do with books that wouldn’t sell.

    What about pulling them apart and making literacy posters? Heck, he could probably then SELL them as ‘artwork’ as well as raising awareness! You could paper mache bookmarks, bookends, book boxes, you name it (again, to sell, and have a literacy theme)! You could even shred them and sell ‘literacy confetti’.

    To top is all off, burning anything creates icky smoke and isn’t good for the environment. If you have to ditch them, at least recycle, dude.

  4. Just to let you know, Sean Lindsay at 101 Reasons To Stop Writing took a bit deeper look at the situation, and it’s even uglier. The books aren’t being sold before burning because the store’s in financial difficulty: they’re being sold to finance the adjoining vanity press poetry operation being run by Prospero’s owners.

  5. Oooo, good catch!

  6. Publicity stunt? Yes. More importantly, opening a dialogue. Tom Wayne has tried to give away these books for years. No one wants them. The dirty little secret in the used book biz is the quantity of books quietly dumped into landfills because they don’t sell/can’t be given away. If libraries, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, jails, prisons, Indian reservations, thrift stores and more won’t take them, what does one do? The editor of the New York Times Book Review flew into town yesterday to interview Tom. Obviously this stunt has started something larger than even Tom imagined.

  7. will you please go check out my most recent blog post – you have some misinformation contained here…

  8. Anyone who thinks Tom Wayne is an idiot is, well … an idiot! I’m not saying this because he’s a friend; I don’t know him and have never met him. But anyone who suspects that the owner of any used book store is a person motivated by money above all is simply not using their noggin. Come on, this guy started this particular small business because he loves books, because he believes in the importance and the power of the printed word (on paper). There’s just no other reason to open a used book store! Books ARE very slowly dying, and most of us are contributing to that trend in some way or another. Look at me … and you … and all the rest of us commenting here. Chances are, most of us read books, too, but we all know that Mr. Wayne’s concern is valid and important. I don’t know if he was really aiming for a broad-scale media explosion, but if we was, he could hardly have planned a more powerful, eloquent and symbolic act by which to prick the world’s conscience.

  9. I used to work at a retail bookstore, and we would routinely strip the covers off paperbacks and throw the remainder away to be recycled. I understand that this happens every day. It’s not the destruction of the books I’m concerned about here. It’s his method. Again: why use the method of repressors, censors, fundamentalists, and anti-intellectuals the world over? Is burning books really the best way he could make his point?

    If Wayne can’t hack it as a seller of used books without resorting to shameful publicity-grabs like this one, perhaps he needs to be more innovative and be a better businessman. Just because his business is the sacred one of books – just like mine is – does not mean the world owes him a living.

    Wayne throwing a hissy because people are not buying his copies of “The Hunt for Red October” does not mean the world hates books. Maybe it’s because his customers don’t want to read Tom Clancy. Maybe they want something else. Wayne needs to give his customers what they want, just like any other business.

    And by the way: I’m not buying a bit of this “death of the printed word” shtick. Information-gathering is not a zero-sum game. Just because we are more likely to get our information off the internet doesn’t mean that there’s one less book read in the world. Book sales are up. We’re surrounded by big-box stores like Borders and BNN while they were fairly rare – around KC, anyway – just fifteen years ago. People who get their info off the net have to know how to read and do it efficiently. I would argue that the new generation of readers who are growing up with the internet are going to be far, far better at it than my generation is.

  10. Unbelieveably, there is a thrift store one block away from my house who would have LOVED to take those books off Tom’s hands. This “statement” is a sham, folks, and nothing more than a lame publicity stunt. Kudos to you Prospero’s, your stunt worked! Now everyone reads books, and they’re all buying them from Prospero’s!

  11. Just because people aren’t buying books from Prospero’s doesn’t mean that all of America is in an intellectual state of emergency. Literacy, up until very recently, was something only prescribed FOR the scribes. I would submit there is more intellectual thought NOW in the world than there has ever been before. As the population increases, more and more are bound to be sucked in to “mindless” entertainment. Does that mean that NOBODY in America uses reason and deliberation in their daily lives? I know that it seems like the actual number of intelligent people is decreasing, but lets face it: that number has ALWAYS been few and far between. The great masses of the people are a mindless herd. There has ALWAYS been a large class of the thoughtless and mindless. This raises no concerns from me. There are still a proportionate number of Renaissance men and women to the number of idiot men and women. Just not all of the Renaissance men and women buy from Prospero’s Books.

  12. Well said, David.

  13. I’ve written about the Prospero’s stunt on my blog, but I think that people should keep supporting Prospero’s despite their lapse in judgment. I can understand the frustration of having lots of books on hand that nobody will buy or take for free, but burning them sends a bad message about indie booksellers and about Kansas City.

    I want to invite KC area booklovers to check out the Crossroads Infoshop & Radical Bookstore at 3019 Troost in KCMO. We are small, but we are growing and adding more hours. Our website is

  14. To Rob, who thinks that anyone who thinks Tom Wayne is an idiot…. is an idiot….
    I say, anyone who thinks Tom Wayne isn’t an idiot is an idiot.

    You’re right on one account. Tom Wayne’s motivation for opening a used book store probably wasn’t for the money. Tom Wayne comes from a wealthy family and probably doesn’t need the money. So why then? Think about it. It’s just so damned hard to be taken seriously as a bohemian/modern day beatnik/police hating/hooligan/rebel/poet when your mission hills family represent the proverbial “man”.

    So what can one particularly jewish looking, scrawny, whiny slip of a girly-man do to stand apart from the rest of the shawnee mission casanovas to hook up with the underage ladies? Work in a college bar? Been there. Offer them drugs? Done that…

    I know!!!!

    Open a used bookstore and invite college girls to do spoken word accoustic sets and sit around and complain about the government’s hand in anti-intellect, and the time his brother had a beer with William Burroughs, while innocently slipping his iconoclastic hands in their courderoys, of course. That’s it! So the grand scheme keeps him kneedeep in KU trim for a good 10 years, until one day, the little girls stop coming in…. I mean, book sales are slowing down….

    Okay, so what does said Tom Wayne do when midlife crisis sets in, and maybe he feels that his mojo is waning? He throws a big anti-establishment spectacle in the name of the dying literary community. Meanwhile, hoards of horny, hairy college girls flock to the bookstore, clamoring for bits and pieces of his “funeral pyre for thought in America today”.

    Tom Wayne breathes a sigh of relief His mojo is intact for now, and his local celebrity is restored. You see, this isn’t about literacy, or money, or publicity…. It’s about Tom Wayne’s wiener.

    I guarantee the bonfires will cease once Tom Wayne gets laid.

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