If anything saved my life when I was young, it was books. Library books, to be exact. These days, about to turn 78, I walk past one of my bookshelves, notice the several volumes of history I've collected on the Ottoman Empire " I was always curious about it! " and think sadly, I'm never going to get to you, am I? But when I was young, there was only one issue: making it out of the children's section and into the adult part of my local library. And a wonderful librarian trusted me to do it. If only I could thank her in person today! I checked out every book I could carry, often not even faintly knowing what they were. An only child with working parents, I took them home and spent a remarkable amount of time reading about the world I would one day join (or so I was told, anyway).
I read Bruce Catton on the Civil War and William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I read H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and other sci-fi authors, memoirs, and fiction, too, including De'sire'e, that novel about Napoleon's first love and mistress. In today's mad terms, I guess you could say that I was "grooming" myself for a world beyond imagining.
Now, I know one thing: that memorable librarian of mine would be deeply embattled. She might have to face off against the Proud Boys. Her name might be made all-too-public by a Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates or she might be fired for defending books from being banned or simply retire in despair. She would face the increasingly morbid Trumpist urge to censor everything that the former president and his crew don't like. Hey, only months ago, a Tennessee school board banned a book I published, Art Spiegelman's bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus about his parents' experience in the Holocaust. Part of their explanation for doing so: that it contained naked cartoon mice. (In the process, of course, they sent it soaring back into bestseller heaven.)
It pains me to see this madness in our all-too-disturbed land and so it warmed my heart to read TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan's thoughts on what, including libraries (and their embattled librarians), she still loves about our disturbed country. It's time for all of us to take a deep breath and think about what we still truly care for and would defend about this land of ours, no matter what. Tom
This Is My Song
What I Can Still Love about My Embattled Country (and World)
It's hot and hazy as July rolls around. Growing up in the Baltimore swamplands, we used to say, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." Meaning that the humidity was harder to deal with than the feverish temperatures. At some point in my family, the phrase morphed into: "It's not the heat, it's the stupidity." At the time, we meant the antics of people when it gets hot, including public drunkenness, mishaps with fireworks, and fights over slights. (These days, sadly enough, you'd have to add to that list slaughtering people at a July 4th celebration with an AR-15-style rifle.)
Worse yet, in 2022, it's emblematic of a far larger picture of life on earth: the stupidity of trying to stay cool while burning carbon; the stupidity of the Supreme Court tying the collective hands of the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to regulating the emissions of coal-fired power plants; the stupidity of blaming mental illness rather than assault rifles for massacres; the stupidity of a pro-life movement that seems to care about nothing but fetuses. And, of course, the list only goes on and on" and on.
"There are days when I can't live in this country. Not the whole thing at once, including the hateful parts, the misogyny, the brutal disregard of the powerful for the powerless. Sometimes I can only be a citizen of these trees, this rainy day, the family I can hold safe, the garden I can grow. A fire that refuses to go out."
So, in these hazy, humid days laced with commercial patriotism and an upbeat jingoism shaken loose from the daily struggles of most people, I'm trying to take her words to heart. I am a citizen of the trees, particularly the two plum trees I planted this spring. I am a citizen of the rainy day. (May it come soon!) I am a citizen of my family of five, of eight, of 16, of 150 (the number of people anthropologist Robin Dunbar says we can meaningfully connect with). Yes, it really does seem like that's what it takes to go on these days " committing yourself to what matters, to what you still do love in this ever more disturbed America of ours.
Above all, I am a citizen of what I love! I resolve to be a citizen of goodness and generosity, competence and kindness. I pledge allegiance, above all, to libraries, used bookstores, community gardens, and the mutual-aid network of my local "Buy Nothing" group. This, sadly enough, is as much of my country, America, that I seem capable of loving in the age of Donald Trump and an all-too-extreme Supreme Court.
Used Books Stores
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).