On Books and Barbarians

Books destroyed in the raid on Zuccotti Park. Photo courtesy of the Occupy Wall Street People’s Library

I was planning to muse about what it feels like to read a book a day but events derailed that idea. It seems that a free public library in a park needs to be dismantled in the dead of night by riot police and carted off by the Sanitation Department. And then, after more books are donated and some few damaged volumes are salvaged, the free library should be trashed again. Very nice. Not exactly my utopian idea about a whole city that becomes a library. Not really defensible unless we are the barbarians after all. Once upon a time I thought that marching and protesting—and even voting–could change the world. These days I read obsessively to change myself.

OWS new mobile People's Library--police won't let the books back into the park so they've taken to the streets with the protestors. Photo Courtesy of Occupy Wall Street.

As I keep on opening books and turning pages, I have discovered that I’m still tempted to abandon a book midway if it isn’t a pure joy to read. By finishing books, I find a few treasures and some memorable ideas or characters or plot twists. I still feel guilty about reading as there is so much work to do and not enough work for pay and I always think I should be marketing more, hunting for jobs to apply for (exercise in futility but guilt assuaging), doing the laundry at the dismal, overcrowded Laundromat. (Glamorous Gotham is full of romantic prewar brownstones with no laundry facilities whatsoever and none allowed in individual apartments.) Everything, it seems, could take precedence over reading a book, which must be an act of pure self-indulgence. How can reading a book be essential?

The OWS People's Library - Mid-October 2011

My answer to myself is that, in a society of barbarians, how could anything be more essential? Books capture the past, the present and the future. Books tell stories. Books create worlds. This one is slightly insupportable at the moment. So I can search for a better world, or ideas about how to make this broken world better, in every book I open. Reading is an exercise in hope. 

Reading a book a day takes time. So does blogging about the book. I spend more time than I mean to writing posts and more time than I want to loading the posts into the blog template and adding all the bits. I like the whole process, though. Immersing myself in a sea of printed words is a good feeling. I pay more attention to book news. I read more tweets from literary types. Occasionally I get the chance to interact with an actual reader about booklolly. No one ever says, How can you possibly do this? They know it’s doable. What they say is, I could never do that. And I silently substitute “would.”

Haul away all the books you like in dumpsters. Scatter the pages of books like leaves in autumn. Convince yourself, as I did, that you don’t have time to read and dash on madly in your busy lives. Or let the laundry pile up now and then, serve cereal for supper, and feed your starving soul with the rich repast of a good book. It will give you something worthwhile to talk about over the cereal. A book might be your best weapon for keeping the barbarians at bay. It might change your life. It might give you hope.

My library--part of the China section

2 responses »

    • It’s very random. There’s no rhyme or reason to it–just reading. No idea where this leads. But I read your post about reading a book from every one of nearly 200 countries, a number of which sound like small islands with one plam tree. That will be a challenge. Just finding the books should keep you busy. You have my sincere respect. I’ll be happy to steal some ideas from you as it takes off.

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