766. Thinking in Private

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In the current issue of Comment magazine (Summer 2019), Hannah LaGrand, in her piece “Tiny Mind,” writes about the role of thought in a world where we put so much of ourselves online for others to see. How much of one’s thought life should remain private?

Lots.

Drawing on the writing of Hannah Arendt, LaGrand writes: “The public world of appearances must be rooted in something that does not appear.”

LaGrand goes on to make a critical point, that it’s not only how much of ourselves we put out there, but how much of what everyone else put’s out there do we take in? How much opportunity do we give ourselves to think our own thoughts? How much time do we leave “to spaces of unproductivity and wasted time and quiet. It is these dark and dingy spaces in which might find depth.” Her thinking goes along with my thoughts about leisure in Finding Livelihood.

I hope you’ll read the full piece, also online at the Comment website.

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[Photo: taken on Lake Sagatagan at St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN]

765. Susan Orlean, The Library Book

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I just finished reading Susan Orlean's The Library Book (Simon & Schuster, 2018), which follows the story of the 1986 fire at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles, the largest library fire ever in the United States. Was it arson or not? More than one million books were damaged or lost. Interestingly, not many people heard about this fire as it was happening or afterward because the fire started on the same day as the news broke about the Chernobyl  nuclear disaster. The book is about more than the story of that fire, however. The book expands to include the story of libraries. Libraries! What they mean, or have meant to us, personally. What they mean to society.

Orlean wrote of often going as a young girl with her mother to the library in her Cleveland suburb and the deep childhood memories those visits instilled in her. Her memories reminded me of all the times in grade school when I rode my bike along with my best friend who lived next door to our neighborhood library and then returned with bike baskets full of books, which we'd read on the grass under shade trees. Orlean wrote next of a long span as an adult during which she never went to libraries, forgetting the joy and magic they held, until her young son wanted to interview a librarian for a school project. When she entered the LA Central Library with her son, all her childhood library memories came back and the library "spell" was again cast on her. I remember spending years as a young mother going only to the library's children's room with my sons and coming home with stacks of their books. Then one day I let myself walk out of the children's room and pick a book of my choosing. Like Orlean, I was again hooked. There's probably not been a time since then when I haven't had at least one library book checked out.

What was most fascinating to me in Orlean's book is finding out the nearly unbelievable scope of action librarians practice. They do more than order and keep track of books. They do more than books. Librarians are our historians, our social workers, our pubic health spokespeople, our childhood educators, our teen counselors, our _________ —fill in the blank and librarians are probably busy doing it. The role of the library has increasingly expanded to take a frontline position to care for people in its community.

In the book's conclusion, Orlean underscores that libraries—through the work of librarians and all those who help fund and source the libraries—hold our stories. Think of that "our" in the biggest possible way. All of our stories. Orlean writes:

"The library is a whispering post. You don't need to take a book off a shelf to know there is a voice inside that is waiting to speak to you, and behind that was someone who truly believed that if he or she spoke, someone would listen. It was that affirmation that always amazed me. Even the oddest, most particular book was written with that kind of crazy courage—the writer's belief that someone would find his or her book important to read. I was struck by how precious and foolish and brave that belief is, and how necessary, and how full of hope it is to collect these books and manuscripts and preserve them. It declares that all these stories matter, and so does every effort to create something that connects us to one another, and to our past and to what is still to come."

~~~

[Photo: taken in the Cadillac Center Station of the Detroit People Mover]

764. Hope on The Pages of Children's Books

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A recent article in The Guardian suggested five children’s books every adult should read. Katherine Rundell, author of the article, the newly released Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise (Bloomsbury), as well as numerous children’s fiction books, says that she writes for two audiences—herself now and herself at age 12 years—putting into a limited number of words what she most wants “children to know and adults to remember.” Rundell suggests adults should read children’s books from time to time for intrusions of “sustaining truths,” which often can only come to us through imagination.

One of the sustaining truths that adults need to remember, according to Rundell, is hope.

“Children’s books say: the worlds is huge. They say: hope counts for something, bravery will matter, wit, empathy, love will matter.”

Rundell writes that to see hope as well as other truths on the page, we need imagination:

“When you read a children’s book, you are given the space to read again as a child: to find your way back, back to the time when new discoveries came daily and when the world was colossal, before your imagination was trimmed and neatened, as if it were an optional extra. But imagination is not and never has been optional: it’s at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspective of others, the condition precedent of love itself. For that we need books that are specifically written to give the heart and mind a galvanic kick—children’s books. Children’s fiction necessitates distillation; at its best, it renders in their purest, most archetypal forms hope, hunger, joy, fear.”

The five children’s books identified by Rundell in the article, which she recommends that adults read, are The Paddington books by Michael Bond, His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson, and Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie.

We still have many of the children’s books from when our sons were young, a handful of which have been brought up from the basement bookshelves so as to be handy to read them to our new grandson. Here now in front of me is Harriet and the Garden, written by Nancy Carlson. I’m flipping through the pages and indeed hope is there: Harriet has run into Mrs. Hoozit’s garden, trampling her lilies, rose bushes, and prize dahlia, while trying to catch a fly ball in a neighborhood ball game. She feels so badly, so guilty, that she runs home and tries to pretend it didn’t happen or that it didn’t matter even though she can’t eat, can’t enjoy her favorite television show, can’t sleep without having bad dreams. The next day she goes to Mrs. Hoozit and tells her what she did. Mrs. Hoozit brings her out to the garden, and they work together to fix what is broken. A picture* shows them side by side, mending plants. Indeed this is a book filled with hope: that what is broken will be restored. People and relationships as well as plants.

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As I read books to my grandson, not yet a year old, I’m going to keep my eyes open for infusions of hope from the pages.

What children’s books have spoken to you of hope?

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[Photo at top: taken of daisies.]

[*Photo from Harriet book: Carlson, Nancy. Harriet and the Garden. Minneapolis, MN; Carolrhoda Books, Inc.: 1982.]