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Are You Afraid of Books?

I recently read an article that began with “A library implies an act of faith.” I had never thought of libraries in that way, but it resonated. The quote is from A Qui La Faute?, a Victor Hugo poem written in 1872.  It suggests that by collecting books people are investing in the future—having faith that future generations will find inspiration and continue to grow intellectually, that they will learn from history and the experience of others.

But there are those who see a darker side. These people see danger lurking in the stacks. They think that by restricting access they can protect themselves and their children from dangerous and upsetting history and ideas. This is at the root of the great books debate. In 1497 Savonarola, the Italian friar, led a movement that destroyed art and burned books in the name of Christian renewal. In 1922, James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, was banned in the United States and Great Britain and a serialized version was burned in the streets of Ireland, England and Canada. read more

Safe and Secure in Idaho…

You might recognize her as a type: a neatly dressed, polite, older woman but tentative and out of place in her role as a restaurant server. It may not be fair, but I often slot these women–mostly widows and/or single women–into a category that supplements its limited Social Security by working entry level service jobs. Last night, one served us at the restaurant next door to our Best Western hotel in rural Idaho.

Bonnie, not her real name, might fit this description generally, but our encounter revealed a more disturbing story. This awkward but friendly woman in white jeans and starched pinstripe shirt with glasses hanging from a lanyard started the conversation while busing our outside table overlooking the Snake River. With only a few post-Labor Day stragglers in the restaurant she felt comfortable pausing to talk. read more

Not Far From the Tree…

Remember Bozo the inflatable punching bag clown? Pop him on the nose, watch him flop and then bounce right back up? Trump is Bozo. Knock him down and he pops back up. The crowd loves it. The crowd cheers.

It would be funny if it didn’t have such dire consequences for America. 

The search and seizure of presidential records at Mar-a-Lago is the latest and one of the most egregious examples of Trump as Bozo. Twelve boxes of classified documents were seized, including several marked Top Secret/SCIF, meaning they could only be read in a Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility. “Eyes Only” stuff. Criminal charges could include obstruction of justice, unauthorized possession of national defense information (a violation of the Espionage Act), and concealing or destroying official U.S. documents– punishable by up to three to 20 years respectively. read more

The End of Days…

America is getting downright crispy. There was a time when “forest fires” savaged large tracts of BLM and Forest Service wilderness and we learned about it in the morning paper or on the nightly news. Back then, when a fire topped the ridges north of Los Angeles, homes in Malibu and Topanga Canyon were on high alert and volunteer fire departments were mobilized to hose down rooftops to keep the embers from torching the neighborhood. But in 2018, the Camp Fire, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, destroyed 19,000 homes and killed 85 people. Since then, out of control fires are a regular occurrence, and residential communities across the country are threatened by fire as never before. read more

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

I’ve forgotten what M was reading, but years ago, when we were newly together, I asked her whether she preferred fiction or non-fiction. The answer came quickly, “No question,” she said, “I don’t have time for fiction.” Just the facts, Jack. Since then our tastes and preferences have evolved, but at the time it signaled a startling difference between us.

We were both early readers, but I didn’t hit my stride until I encountered John Steinbeck in high school. M, on the other hand, was a voracious young reader. So were her parents, and they encouraged her. Anything with pages was OK. Kids books, Book of the Month Club selections, historical novels…especially those with a little romance. She was a late bloomer and hid in books. When she did bloom, she used them to hide from me and all the other bloom-snatching high school predators. read more