This Saturday is the Friends of the Library Book Fair, a big fundraiser for the Oak Park Public Library and a great boon for readers. First, it gives us an excuse to clear some shelf space by donating old books. Then it enables us to fill up that space with promising new reads.
I’m an avid reader, but not a rapid reader. My book count for the year wouldn’t impress you, but the number of tomes tallied isn’t the point. There’s never enough time to read all the books you want. The important thing is to enjoy and digest the ones you do read.
My scope tends to be scattered and often reflects what’s on my mind. Wondering where we might be heading as a civilization, I’ve lately been traipsing through futuristic fiction. At last year’s Book Fair, I picked up a well worn edition of Carl Sagan’s Contact and finally got around to reading it this spring – an admirable and surprisingly successful attempt to bridge the longstanding divide between science and religion. Sagan was a remarkable person. It’s a shame we lost him so young. But he gave us something to think about: Science, not religion, may someday reveal the signature of the author of the universe.
One book I’m glad I didn’t donate was one that fell into hibernation for the better part of a year before somehow finding its way back to my nightstand. Blessed Unrest, by an eloquent environmentalist named Paul Hawken, explores (as the subtitle puts it), “How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw it Coming.”
The title derives from modern dance pioneer Martha Graham who wrote:
There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. … You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …[There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the other.
Do you belong to “the movement”? Hawken says it is composed of myriad non-profits – over a million organizations worldwide that have sprung up like antibodies in response to the diseases that threaten our planetary “organism”: social injustice, environmental degradation and oppression of indigenous populations. The movement is decentralized, which is its greatest strength. It cannot be undermined, decapitated or suppressed by the powers that be because it’s too widespread. It represents change from the bottom up. Hawken acknowledges the movement’s shortcomings (decentralization is also its greatest weakness) but has a lot of faith in it.
“I believe this movement will prevail,” he writes. “I don’t mean it will defeat, conquer, or create harm to someone else. Quite the opposite. … I mean the thinking that informs the movement’s goals will reign. It will soon suffuse most institutions, but before then, it will change a sufficient number of people so as to begin the reversal of centuries of frenzied, self-destructive behavior. Some say it is too late, but people never change when they are comfortable. Helen Keller threw aside the gnawing fears of chronic bad news when she declared, ‘I rejoice to live in such a splendidly disturbing time!’ In such a time, history is suspended and thus unfinished. It will be the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives.”
Many belong to this movement and don’t even realize it. I’m sure you can think of plenty of Oak Parkers and River Foresters who qualify. This is a book well worth reading – at the very least, read the intro (The Beginning), the first chapter (Blessed Unrest) and the final chapter (Restoration). I found it realistic yet hopeful, a rare combination.
It made me think of that eloquent Illinois conservative Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen, who once said (channeling Victor Hugo), “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.”
Perhaps the pen is mightier than the sword after all.
Join “the movement” and maybe we’ll all find out.
See you at the Book Fair.