I don’t pretend to have any brilliant insights to offer in our “situation,” except to say that we are all frightened, we are all angry, we all feel isolated.
I would hope not only for faith and hope, but that we are all able to acknowledge our gratitude for the big things—shelter, food, family, and yes, all those electronic devices we’ve been bitching about for ages. How ironic that the phones, laptops, and tablets that have separated us from each other, even from our family members, are now the only way to stay connected with each other.
Yet so often comfort and emotional sustenance hide in the barely discernible little things that ordinarily wouldn’t mean much. When you think about it, that’s probably how most of us are staying afloat.
Reading is one of the greatest pleasures in my life (and probably also some what of a compulsion), but I’ve been struggling to read throughout these last two weeks. I get through a page or two only to find that I’ve missed a beat or three, or ten, and have to go back and re-read the last four paragraphs. I’ve been able to focus enough to cook or bake or clean, but not to read.
About a month ago, just before the sky began to fall, I started a fascinating piece of nonfiction, Firebrand, The Life of Horace Liveright, by Tom Dardis. subtitled “The Man Who Changed American Publishing.” Never heard of him, right? The monolithic publishing houses that evolved in the last century amassed make-or-break power over writers, and for decades have decided which books sit on the shelves of our libraries, our bookstores, our classrooms, our nightstands. Liveright’s tiny publishing house bucked all the publishing giants of his time, and he was never afraid of veering off the socially acceptable course. He had a hand in the career of just about every single American literary giant of the first half of the 20th Century, as well as some from across the pond. He stood up against censorship. He succeeded as a Jew when nearly everyone around him, including many famous writers, was brazenly anti-Semitic. I love this book, but I’ve only been able to manage a few pages a day, given my current all-over-the-place distraction. Two months ago, I would have finished Firebrand in a week at most.
Last night, craving something to read that would hold my fragile attention, I raided my bookshelves. The strangest thing happened. Poking around, I discovered a book behind a book… one I’d totally forgotten was there, and the only Anne Tyler I’d never read, Noah’s Compass. To my even greater surprise, it was an autographed copy that I must have picked up at a long ago book sale. From a past post, “Thank you, Anne Tyler,” you’ll recall how much I love this writer and the quirky, poignantly human world into which each of her books draws us.
I’ve had Anne Tyler’s latest, Redhead by the Side of the Road, on pre-order for weeks, but who knows how long that might take? In the meantime, I have Noah’s Compass. I’m back in that quirky, poignantly human world, insulated from the steady stream of bad news, attention span problem solved. Such a little thing, and yet…not so little at all..
That, my friends, is why the world needs writers.
Thank you again, Anne Tyler.