Saturday, October 23, 2010

No Longer Among the Missing

Okay, so I haven't written here for a while. It was getting to the point where I thought, eh -- this thing will wind up floating around in dead cyberspace like so many others.

But then I read by chance in an old Dickens journal that he, like the rest of us, had trouble managing even a diary. Dickens! The guy who could come up with novels and articles and Christmas specials and correspondence and just about anything else at the drop of a hat, and at length -- Dickens had trouble keeping up a simple diary.

So I refuse to feel ashamed or embarrassed. I shall persevere.

The problem with some of us who write these things, I think, is that we believe we have to come up with deathless prose and profound insights every day of the week. That, of course, is impossible. Even Tolstoy must have had his silly days.

All I really need to do is write what's important to me on any given day. It might turn out to be important to someone else, too. Whether it's a book or a song or a feeling or an experience.

A lot has happened in the past several months, both in the nation and in my own little bookseller's life. Take a look at my Facebook postings and you'll see what I mean.

But this isn't Facebook. This is something else -- my own little nook where you're invited to come in and visit any time.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yes, It Can Happen Here

It's easy to write off Sinclair Lewis these days as outdated and irrelevant. His novels are clogged with antiquainted, cringe-worthy slang. His premises seem quaint. Why, in 2010, would we be interested in reading about that blustery failure Babbitt? Or the alienated souls of Main Street? Or Elmer Gantry and his unholy rise and fall? These are characters so squarely set in their times that they can no longer hold any interest for us.

But of course I lie. Despite his awkward, somewhat embarrassing dependence on slang, Lewis's characters have as much life today as they ever did. Much of what Lewis wrote was satiric, but it was a rather tender satire that understands the underlying humanity of its subjects. Their situations are human situations, which recur again and again, achingly recognizable. Babbitt is attending a Tea Party this weekend, shouting slogans he doesn't quite understand, while Carol Kennicott wistfully searches for soul-mates on the internet and Elmer Gantry rants from his weekly show on the Inspiration Network. When we read Lewis, we not only recognize the characters, we empathize with them. We sometimes pity them. And we realize we don't live in such different worlds after all.

Which brings me to the book I'm recommending today, Lewis's It Can't Happen Here. One of his lesser-known, lesser-read works, it was published in 1935 in the middle of the economic crisis we remember as the Great Depression. Lewis depicts a populace largely uninformed but angry, its rage confused and looking for focus. In steps a folksy populist by the name of Berzelius ''Buzz'' Windrip, who is elected President of the U.S. by promising to bring back American Values and who, with the help of Big Business, promptly begins to dismantle the government and its bill of rights, saving the goodies of power for himself and his corporate friends. This is, in fact, a depiction of fascism taking over the U.S. from within its own borders and with the apparent approval of much of its people. Lewis depicts its inexorable advance with a precision that is utterly believable. There's a war declared on Mexico in order to distract the citizenry with patriotism. Dissidents flee, eventually, to Canada. That's not the end, of course, I won't reveal the end except to say the book is not entirely hopeless.

Neither is this country. Not in 1935, not now. What we need is more people to read books like this, to recognize the symptoms of the power-hungry and manipulative, the fake populists who would try to turn a people's hurt and confusion into a war on democracy itself.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Back to the Source

That Glenn Beck has attempted to hijack Tom Paine's legacy for his own purposes in the book Glenn Beck's Common Sense -- a collection of right-wing platitudes supposedly "inspired by Thomas Paine" -- is appalling. What an arrogant son-of-a-gun.

But perhaps the publication of this absurd little book is not an entirely bad thing, after all. Glenn Beck may be cunning in his scheme to co-opt the legacy of America's most radical Founding Father, but is he smart? 

A renewed curiosity about Tom Paine, even if brought about by Glenn Beck, may have an effect that Mr. Beck did not anticipate. People just might take Tom off that dusty shelf and read his own words. Or venture into Meetinghouse Books and ask if we have any secondhand copies on hand of the original Common Sense.

This could happen. I'll bet it does. Or am I just being a cock-eyed optimist?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Valentine for My Sweetheart

My sweetheart Ken is the most unpretentious of men, and he would blush to read this -- but I want to tell you all how lucky I am to have him by my side. He's a good man, a kind man, a very smart man, my pal & my love & my jolly comrade through the years. And no matter what dire straits we happen to be in, we can always somehow make each other laugh.

We'd known of each other through mutual friends, but had our first real meeting all those years ago as we both were leaving the Boston Public Library, books clutched in our hands. That was the first good sign -- Ken and I both love books. That day I also discovered just how curious he was (still is) about the world. I could never understand people who have an interest in Just One Thing, or who have decided their heads are full enough and no more ideas need enter. But Ken is curious about everything, and wonders about everything, and challenges conventional wisdom when conventional wisdom needs to be challenged. Not only do we make each other laugh, we also make each other think. And for that I'm also grateful.

I'm a lucky girl, together with my sweetie. The two of us don't have to travel far to know that life is an adventure.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Reasons to Be Cheerful

We've just gone through Hell Week what with the Massachusetts election, the Supreme Court decision, and the final farewell to Air America. I was so depressed I crawled into bed and watched movies all weekend. Old movies, with Aline Macmahon and Guy Kibbee and Barbara Stanwyck. This cheered me up somewhat.

Still, I needed a reason to crawl out of bed again. I cast about for hopeful signs. I looked out the window and all I could see was sheets of rain. My cats were spooked and my husband was out doing the laundry. Then I looked at the stack of books by my bed and noticed something. A number of these books are recently published titles intended for what is called the "young adult" market: Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock, Jo Walton's Farthing, M.T. Anderson's Feed and the first Octavian Nothing.

The next time you go to a bookstore, check out the YA section. There are so many interesting books out there today available to young people: challenging works, novels of ideas. They're good reads, too. What makes me most cheerful is that young people are choosing to read these thought-provoking works. It also makes me very hopeful for the future.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Enter, Stage Left

ENTER, New-Year's-Gift, in a blue coat, serving-man like, with an orange, and a sprig of rosemary gilt on his head, his hat full of brooches, with a collar of ginger-bread, his torch-bearer carrying a march-pane with a bottle of wine on either arm.
-- Ben Jonson, 1616 Christmas Masque

No doubt it's a bad idea to begin a blog on New Year's Day. How many are begun, how many ended in a week? We'll see what becomes of this one. A smallish enterprise it will be: the thoughts of an obscure bookseller in Western Massachusetts who loves books and music and making things.

So, ENTER: Hey-Jude-the-Obscure, dressed in old jeans, willing to serve, with a myrtle leaf wrapped 'round it for love, a baseball cap on its head full of pins and baubles, arms full of books new and old, and some ginger beer for spice. For consultation, it has a Chambers's Book of Days, a set of Oblique Strategies, a jolly comrade and two wise cats. For inspiration it has a decades-long list of people and places, mistakes and small triumphs, passions and passing fancies.