Saturday, August 24, 2013

Libraries, Books, and Writing

I can't possibly accurately determine how my life has spent so much time with books. I wasn't a terribly active young reader, save perhaps every possible baseball biography, Chip Hilton and Hardy Boys. But later to work in bookstores, for publishers, and then 30 + years of library work. As occasional readers of this blog, and before it the Mindfulness and Tlinkster pieces can attest, reading far and wide as been some uncontrollable syndrome I have suffered from for years.

This week I finished Mary Pipher's The Green Boat,Hunger Pains

  and am sailing through Rebecca Solnit's the The Faraway Nearby, with occasional visits to Julian Agyeman's Introducing Just Sustainabilities,


and the final bits of Alice Walker's The Cushion in the Road.

It's Solnit's work I want to share here. Ranking writers is probably both a fruitless and foolish task, but let me say that there isn't a better writer, living today that I have read. I love the work of Wendell Berry, Terry Tempest Williams, David James Duncan, Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver to name a few. But Solnit never disappoints in her ability to carve with words indelible thoughts worthy of reflection. 

In this latest work, a memoir of sorts, she probes deeply into her own search for meaning. An exploration that is still evolving. In it I found reflections and assertions that resonated deeply. I'm only halfway through but a few excerpts may hint as the power of her writing. Enjoy...

 The Faraway Nearby

     Libraries are sanctuaries from the world and command centers onto it: here in quiet rooms are the lives of Crazy Horse and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Hundred Years’ War and the Opium Wars and the Dirty War, the ideas of Simone Weil and Lao-tzu, information on building your sailboat or dissolving your marriage, fictional worlds and books to equip the reader to reenter the real world. They are, ideally, places where nothing happens and where everything that has happened is stored up to be remembered and relived, the place where the world is folded up into boxes of paper. Every book is a door that opens onto another world, which might be the magic that all those children’s books were alluding to, and a library is a Milky Way of worlds…

…The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or a seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.
     The child I once was read constantly and hardly spoke, because she was ambivalent about the merits of communication, about the risks of being mocked or punished or exposed. The idea of being understood and encouraged, of recognizing herself in another, of affirmation, had hardly occurred to her and neither had the idea that she had something to give to others. So she read, taking in words in huge quantities, a children’s and then an adult novel a day for many years, seven days a week or so, gorging on books, fasting on speech, carrying piles of books home from the library.

     Writing is saying to no one and to everyone the things it is not possible to say to someone. Or rather writing is saying to the no one who may eventually be the reader those things one has no someone to whom to say them. Matters that are so subtle, so personal, so obscure, that I ordinarily can’t imagine saying them to the people to whom I’m closest. Even once in a while I try to say them aloud and find that what turns out to be mush in my mouth or falls short of their ears can be written down for total strangers. Said to total strangers in the silence of writing that is recuperated and heard in the solitude of reading. Is it the shared solitude of writing, is it that separately we all reside in a place deeper than society, even the society of two? Is it that the tongue fails where the fingers succeed, in telling truths so lengthy and nuanced that they are almost impossible aloud?