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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Quiet, Rainy Day Meanderings

Bubbling in the pot

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to make my rhubarb chutney closer to the time of cutting the rhubarb, rather than waiting until fall to dig it out of the freezer, and Tuesday was the day. (I started to type “Saturday was the day.” Why did Tuesday feel like Saturday? I can’t tell you.) First batch now neatly in jars, second batch will follow on another day at home. Because I did stay home on today-Tuesday-that-felt-like-Saturday. Home with rain on the roof, fire in the fireplace, dog stretched out close to the hearth. Being at home has become a habit, and one to which, for now, I cling. 

Daisies that seemed to float in the sea of tall grass are looking bewildered today, not lifting their faces to the sun but gazing confusedly in all directions. The grass is equally confused and discouraged, bending this way, drooping that way. Only the jewelweed maintains its posture, and its leaves hold forth raindrops like offered pearls.

This morning I finished my reading of The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power, by Garry Wills, and the impression I formed halfway through the book was only strengthened by the remaining chapters. Wills shocked me with the realization of how much the Kennedy presidency presaged that of Donald Trump: disdain for experts and professionals; placement of yes-men and toadies in important positions; exaggerations, lies, and coverups; attempts to manipulate the press, whenever possible; impatience with normal channels of procedure; decision by impulse and instinct rather than knowledge and reflection; intolerance of disagreement; and, always, first and foremost, overwhelming concern for personal image. The big difference was that the Kennedy family and in-group were more successful at manipulating and controlling their presidential image than the current president has been.

Democratic Party? Republican Party? Philosophy and ideology ride in the back backseat when demagoguery is at the wheel.

No one goes into the presidency prepared. (In that respect, it is like parenthood.) While wise presidents make it their business to learn on the job, as quickly as they can, one who enters office as if he has, by winning an election, conquered the country and become its reigning prince does not recognize that being chief executive is a job and that the job carries duties and responsibilities. He sees only his privileges and his authority over others. It is a quasi-solipsistic L’état c’est moi state of mind. Has anyone with that perspective ever wakened from his dream of absolute power? Wills aptly notes that such power does more than corrupt: it self-destructs. 


To shift topics rather abruptly and radically, another realization that’s been on my mind in the past few days has to do with the collegiality of bookselling. The very word ‘collegial’ calls up the Ivory Tower, the quadrangular greensward, and men and women in medieval gowns and mortarboards, a world in which I did spend a few years. What I realize now, however, is that not only is bookselling very much a collegial line of work – I believe it to be a more collegial world than that of acadème. 

Because a bookstore is a business venture, one outside the bookselling world might be excused for thinking that bookstore owners would regard each other primarily as competition. In general, I have not found that to be the case. Other than the online behemoth who wants to put all others out of business (all retailers, not just bookstores), we booksellers applaud one another’s successes. We want to see all indie bookstores, not just ours, flourish. We see each other and treat each other not as competitors but as colleagues. 

In the Ivory Tower of the academic world, such collegiality is the ideal, but I saw something very different on the inside. It may have been otherwise fifty years ago, but nowadays, when colleges and universities are being pushed more and more into a “business” model, each department is in competition with all other departments, and each faculty member not yet tenured (tenure much rarer these days than formerly, with adjunct instructor positions replacing tenure track positions, as adjuncts are so much cheaper) in competition with every other faculty member and wannabe-hired, making for a rather cutthroat world. Harsh. Catty. Unkind. Unforgiving. Pretty depressing.

In contrast, we booksellers know from the start that we will never have guaranteed tenure. We will never have a guaranteed salary or benefits. We went into this with our eyes open, we’re on our own, we know it from the get-go – and so we recognize other booksellers as being in the same fragile, easily swamped kind of boat, and when our boats get close enough, we salute each other with encouraging smiles. “Hey! Still sailing? Great!” 

So I have no regrets about the world I have chosen. None of us is seeking world domination. Each her or his own little bit, and we’re happy to share the pie.

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