Our local library is very quaint. It has a great children and youth section, and large, comfortable facilities. The librarians are nice and helpful, they have story hour for little ones, they host meetings and events for different local entities, and they work nicely with the local schools.
My only complaint lies with their adult reading selection. Or lack thereof. This could, admittedly, be due to the fact that I read almost strictly non-fiction. And, well, unless I want to read the next political manifesto (which I don’t) or find the (newest) secret to financial success, I’m out of luck.
Our library has both a fiction and a non-fiction bookshelf near the front door where they display the newest selections. Seriously, out of maybe 40 non-fiction books, I’d say close to half are about losing weight or healthy cooking. Another large percentage has either a strong religious slant or the typical new-age “Love Thyself, Heal Thyself” theme.
And I can’t decide whether those categories are complimentary or contradictory.
But what really has me confused is why our library, in a small, rural town–a town that is (or at least used to be) agriculturally-based, has so few books about farming or backyard gardening? Why no books like The Rural Rennaissance by John Ivanko and Lisa Kivirist, or something about revitalizing small-town America? Why can’t I find a book like the Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery or anything about the local foods movement?
And why, why-oh-why did nothing (nothing!!) come up when I typed ‘Wendell Berry’ into the computerized card catalog? Wendell Berry, folks. Perhaps the most ardent advocate for family farms and small town America. A man who champions rural culture. A man who has painstakingly documented and vociferously protested the rise of industrial agriculture and the subsequent demise of the small family farm (and their local rural communities). A man whose books should be showcased in our small town library.
I have to admit it. I was a little incredulous that our library didn’t have anything by Wendell Berry. Especially since Berry has written many charming novels about a fictional rural town in Kentucky that lovingly and realistically depict life in small town America, and our library loves fiction.
I thought to myself, “maybe I spelled his name wrong or did something wrong on the computer search page.” So I asked the librarian to help me.
“Do you know if we have any books by Wendell Berry?” I asked nicely.
“Hmmn, Wendell Berry. I’ve never heard of him. Let’s check,” she replied sweetly.
To which my head is screaming, “NEVER HEARD OF HIM????”
“No, Jackie, I don’t see anything. If you have a specific title in mind I could get it for you on the intra-library loan,” she added.
Now this librarian is the nicest, sweetest lady ever. She is exactly the type of small-town person that Wendell Berry exemplifies in his books. The one who knows your name. The one who knows who your family is, where you live, and that your grandfather is sick. The one who marvels at how big your children are and who will thank you profusely for that 25 cent donation you put in the Friends of the Library jar.
Of course not everyone is going to know Wendell Berry.
But in a world that values speed and efficiency over mindfulness and quality…..
in a world that promotes upward mobility and independence over strong communities and neighborly responsibility……
in a world that teaches our own, small-town rural kids that in order to be successful they must abandon their birthplace, their family, their rural heritage and move to the city…..
isn’t it a shame that we’ve never even heard of the one person who advocates for us, who values us, who champions us?
What more evidence do we need that we bought the party line? That we lost ourselves and our community somewhere inbetween financial success, upward mobility and individual achievement and recognition?
We drank the punch, people, and it’s killing us.
Maybe if we stopped reading “Fat-Free Cooking Means a Fat-Free Me” books and instead read The Unsettling of America, Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry, we could do away with the “Love Thyself, Heal Thyself” books altogether.
*Disclaimer: All of the unattributed titles above were made up. But I wouldn’t be surprised if these are real titles to real books. If so, my apologies (and a good finger-wagging) to the authors.