Why Stop Asking?

Walden Two is a novel about an intentional society, or what we’d call a commune, based on scientific principles.

Its writer, B.F. Skinner, supposed that people could thrive while living communally. He wrote this book in an attempt to rewrite all our current social rules about work, love, and play.

I was at the dinner table last night discussing it with my folks and my fiancee. It was a good discussion.

What surprised me was that my folks knew about Walden Two. Though the book was written in the fifties, it really found its footing in the late sixties and early seventies, when they were growing up. There was a lot of talk about experimental ways of living during that time. People knew there was something wrong with society and sought new ways of living. They experimented. They asked the question “How is it that we should live?”

Something stuck in my craw during that conversation.

Continue reading

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The Story of Our Stories: Part III

Continued from Part II

Meta-narrative and the Individual

“You are the Hero of your own story.”

– Joseph Campbell

Thinking of ourselves as heroes is an intoxicating idea. What better way to imagine the arc of our lives than slaying dragons and the rescuing princesses? We imagine that we are lionized the way we lionize politicians, business leaders, artists. We value people that make their lives their own, that carve out their own destinies.

This is the idea that a person can, and should, be an individual, that they should forge their own path through the darkness of existence. The rights of the individual, and the liberty of the individual, should come before the needs of the state. It is the story of human dignity, in whatever form that might take.

We believe that a person should be able to chose the path for themselves. That we should be free to work, free to build lives, free to speak, and free to worship as we please. It is the cornerstone of our civic religion. It is a good and noble thing.

But there are problems with the way we venerate the individual. Continue reading

Abby Library

Come in

The door has no lock
It is warm to the touch
Warm and kempt and polished with hand-oil

The books sip dusklight
And drink heavy from the lamps
They are ready for a banquet
That makes tables groan in protest

There are breaths
As loud as engines
Bells, as loud as shot
Furious, a ticking clock

Is small and slow here
Its arms heavy with perfume
The smoke of old dreams
Turning into something else

A shop-worn place
Of well-used lives
Weeded of vanity

By a librarian that knows his work.

Comic Assumptions

Librarians are over thinkers.

That is, after all, how we make our living. We are also not known for confidence, or the ability to keep things in perspective.

As a librarian, I’ve done a few articles interviewing people about their work. It’s always fascinating. Everybody’s got a story. If you can’t see that, if you can’t connect, that’s your problem.

Comedians get paid to do that, when you think about it. They get paid to connect with people. Laughter, in and of itself, is a connection with the people in the crowd. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of standup and interviews with comedians. They’re interesting people. They love to talk. Interviewing one should be really easy. Continue reading

The Blood Runs Cold (Contains Spoilers)

It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that a man should be killed for so little…

– Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

In Cold Blood is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I got the audio book from my library yesterday. I am just beginning, but I am already hooked. It’s one of those books you can’t put down.

The story, as you might already know, is about a murder. Specifically, the murder of four people, the four brutal members of the Clutter family in unassuming Holcomb, Kansas.

That is not a spoiler. They tell you right on the cover.

Nobody would ever think of In Cold Blood as a mystery, but that’s really what Capote has crafted here. In a traditional mystery, a reader doesn’t really know if the mystery will be solved, who is going to die, that sort of thing. But In Cold Blood is not that, and never claimed to be that. Instead, Capote is relying on something else.

The suspense that the book created in a single word: why? Continue reading

Reading as Skill

On the shelves of any library, if it’s big enough, you’ll find things called jeremiads.

This term comes from the biblical Book of Jeremiah. In it, the titular prophet lamented the state of Israelite society, and warned of its imminent downfall.

Today, a jeremiad is a prolonged lamentation, or complaint about society, the literary version of an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Such writings rarely have anything useful to say. They can say the same thing, over and over, and people will read them because they confirm their biases. Rarely are they clever, teach anything, or make you reflect.

One style of jeremiad that all librarians seem to ascribe is the profound observation that ‘people don’t read anymore.’ It’s not just the librarians that say this either. Social commentators of all stripes seem to think that Americans are becoming stupider simply because of the fact that people are too dumb, lazy, or screen obsessed to actually read something. Continue reading

Brick by Brick

Manhattan is a great place to be in the springtime.

Walk out of the subway on to 42nd. It’s only a block to you destination, of course; you couldn’t come to New York and not see the library. You can see the lions from down the street.

Past the arches you walk, and the place opens up. It’s beautiful. The walls are painted with murals, the ceilings painted with clouds. There’s marble everywhere. Woodwork is everywhere. In the reading rooms, up the stairs worn smooth by centuries, they’ve got pieces like Toledo enamel suspended so high above you it might as well be in the sky.

The true heart of the collection is beneath your feet. It’s dug in many stories beneath the surface. That’s where the beating heart of the collection is housed. 15 million items.

It’s as fine a temple as ever has been built, and it’s built to awe.

How does somebody build something so incredible? It’s hard to even wrap your head around that question. Where does one even begin?

Now, with that in mind, I want you to look a little more closely at something.

Look at the wall. Really look at it. What do you see? Continue reading

Taste

Underwood

Boom.

Raymond Chandler was not the most prolific of writers. He only started publishing in his forties, after losing a job in the oil industry thanks to the perils of being an artist, which are eerily similar to being a drunk.

He remains, however, one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th Century. The iconic private detective Phillip Marlowe was his creation; anytime you see a private detective in a trench coat, talking about ‘dames,’ and drinking, you’re looking at the cultural contribution of Mr. Chandler.

His taste in food, much like his writing, were simple and direct. ‘Cooked well and fast’ were his prerogatives. Every scrap of his writing reads that way, spiced with the acerbic wit that made Marlowe famous. Continue reading