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On margin hearts

This morning, I finished William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite. I daresay I drew more hearts in the margins of its final chapters than in total throughout all the other books I’ve read this last year.

Most of what I read doesn’t really warrant being smattered with ♥♥♥. It’s mostly grim, and blunt, and important for me to keep reading no matter how much it hurts my figurative heart when I do.

Some of what I’ve read goes beyond describing what’s wrong and into envisioning what “right” might look like. It’s those visions of something better for all that inspire me to draw hearts in the margin of my non-fiction reads. My highlighter hearts are the opposite of all my furious, borderline hopeless margin notes, which speak to the hard work I’m doing with my head. Margin hearts, on the other hand, reflect the hard work that I’m doing with my heart: finding the chutes of green among the rubble of American inequity and militarism, searching for and attuning myself to voices of hope with dust still heavy in the air.

sample shelf.png

Books are oriented three different ways on my in-progress shelf. The leftmost books, with words falling down like rain, are books I’ve already finished reading. Books with words climbing upward are ones I’ve begun, but have set aside for the moment. The remainder, I’ve yet to start reading.

I just began The Divide yesterday. I set it aside this morning because I felt myself sinking into the pit of despair–akin, perhaps, to The Neverending Story’s Swamp of Sadness, into which one of the story’s heroes loses his trusty equine companion–that we Americans could possibly have enough time to remedy decades of interconnected wrongs. We’re not on a level, stable playing field upon which we can slowly pluck our way toward justice; we’re on crumbling ground, speeding our planet toward incompatibility with the life as (the more affluent) we know it.

I’d recommend Chalmers Johnson to anyone and everyone. He wrote important, lucid explanations of both the actions and consequences of decades of American empire. It’s said that “the devil is in the details.” Johnson lays bare the details that leave me gasping for breath, no longer able to think vaguely of “bad things somewhere else,” instead horrified by recognition how much devastation the American empire has wrought worldwide … but glad, all the same, to finally understand how many more pieces of this global political puzzle fit together. Thanks to Johnson, I see more clearly what is and why it absolutely must be changed.

I can’t sit around reading Johnson, though. I’m reading so that, understanding better, I can go out and take wise-leaning action in my local community. The more I know, the better my chances; the likelier I’ll be able to talk with someone saying, “I’ve been seeing this one thing I don’t understand” and be able to reply, “It might have something to do with [this or that] that I’ve been reading about. What do you think? What do we do about it?”

When I read more than 10-15 pages of Johnson at a time, I find myself sinking. The further I sink, the less I see any actions even possibly being successful. The less I see any point in acting.

That defeats the point. I read to do better, not read better.

The bookshelf picture above makes me smile. Excellent Sheep is sandwiched between two powerful, powerfully depressing reads. This is accidental, but exactly as it should be.

The world today is full of horrible wrongs. Tomorrow might not be much better, but the seeds of better–for next month? next year? next decade?–are being planted all around, right now. Lost in the rubble, it can be hard to remember to search them out, so that seeing this one book reminds me.

It’s not just a book on my shelf anymore, after all. It’s a world of hope whose seeds have now been planted in my heart, for carriage with me no matter how far away from my bookshelf I roam.


This 4/14/17 post transferred from L2SP 7/4/17

  1. July 5, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    I’ve never seen a bookshelf organized such as yours. I rather like it and will have to consider giving it a try myself.

  2. July 5, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    I like your bookshelf system. I’ve also been feeling the need to read more non-fiction lately. Just joined a non-fiction bookclub, so we’ll see how that goes. I’ll have to look up Excellent Sheep – thank you for sharing that paragraph.

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