Then came the customers. The store needed a second phone line so Wayne and Leathem could field questions from angry radio talk-show hosts and still run the credit card machine. While Wayne shouted at a seemingly incompetent representative from the phone company, employee Jason Ryberg took over the cash register, checking out a steady flow of people with armloads of books that they'd rescued from boxes laid out on the sidewalk.
Customers and callers were full of suggestions for what Wayne and Leathem should do with the books rather than burn them. Give them to prisons, people suggested, or donate them to Goodwill.
Wayne tried to donate the books to state prisons. "But they won't accept them because they say they might have contraband in them, and they don't want to check each one," Leathem explained. "We've tried giving them away to Goodwill, and they asked us to please stop. We get hundreds in boxes every week, and God bless people for sharing, but we leave 'em outside on tables overnight for five years, and they're still here."
More than 3,000 e-mails poured into Prospero's Web site after the event. Even anarchists were pissed. "I guess, in the old days, a couple years ago, it would have been more logical to smash TVs if you were going to protest people not reading books," says Chuck Munson, a volunteer at the Crossroads Infoshop and Radical Bookstore at 3109 Troost, who criticized the stunt on his blog.
"It's not a publicity stunt," Ryberg says. "Everyone in town already knows who we are. And we don't do business online, so we don't need the national attention. Half the books we burned were water-damaged, moldy and rotten anyway."
Wayne took a break from his argument with the phone company long enough to explain that this book burning was only the beginning. He has a 60-foot-deep warehouse filled with 30,000 books. He's willing to torch all of them.
"The dirty little secret is that behind every library is a dumpster full of books," Leathem says.
Talk about incendiary.