I haven’t been reading much lately — and shame on me. I could name a number of excuses, but none of them hold real water. I remember what I used to be like — I’d carve time for a book even if it meant chiseling stone with my teeth.
Fortunately, I get to keep my teeth. I’ve got a stack of books in front of me — romances, thrillers, YA, non-fiction — and I’m settling in for a long book retreat to put the taste of words back inside me.
Here’s a great two part interview with Junot Diaz, called The Search for Decolonial Love:
Or said differently: how indissolubly our identities are bound to the regimes that imprison us. These sisters not only describe the grim labyrinth of power that we are in as neocolonial subjects, but they also point out that we play both Theseus and the Minotaur in this nightmare drama. Most importantly these sisters offered strategies of hope, spinning the threads that will make escape from this labyrinth possible. It wasn’t an easy thread to seize—this movement towards liberation required the kind of internal bearing witness of our own role in the social hell of our world that most people would rather not engage in. It was a tough praxis, but a potentially earthshaking one too. Because rather than strike at this issue or that issue, this internal bearing of witness raised the possibility of denying our oppressive regimes the true source of their powers—which is, of course, our consent, our participation. This kind of praxis doesn’t attack the head of the beast, which will only grow back; it strikes directly at the beast’s heart, which we nurture and keep safe in our own.
An essay from the late Nora Ephron on her love of reading, and how books make a difference, which I think most of us will understand perfectly:
I’ve just surfaced from spending several days in a state of rapture: I was reading a book. I loved this book. I loved every second of it. I was transported into its world. I was reminded of all sorts of things in my own life. I was in anguish over the fate of its characters. I felt alive and engaged and positively brilliant, bursting with ideas, brimming with memories of other books I’ve loved. I composed a dozen imaginary letters to the author, letters I’ll never write, much less send—letters of praise, letters of entirely inappropriate personal information about my own experiences with the author’s subject matter, even a letter of recrimination when one of the characters died and I was grief-stricken. But mostly I composed imaginary letters of gratitude: The state of rapture that occurs when I read a wonderful book is one of the main reasons I read, but it doesn’t happen every time, or even every other time, and when it does, I’m truly beside myself with joy.
All libraries have a different character and setting. Some are primarily for children or primarily for students, or the general public, primarily full of books or microfilms or digitized material or with a café in the basement or a market out front. Libraries are not failing “because they are libraries.” Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them. Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.
In the modern state there are very few sites where this is possible. The only others that come readily to my mind require belief in an omnipotent creator as a condition for membership. It would seem the most obvious thing in the world to say that the reason why the market is not an efficient solution to libraries is because the market has no use for a library. But it seems we need, right now, to keep re-stating the obvious. There aren’t many institutions left that fit so precisely Keynes’s definition of things that no one else but the state is willing to take on. Nor can the experience of library life be recreated online. It’s not just a matter of free books. A library is a different kind of social reality (of the three dimensional kind), which by its very existence teaches a system of values beyond the fiscal.