Food for Thought

Living in a bookstore is cozy and fun, but also challenging. At night, trolling for a good read, my fingers ripple across the shelves, seeking back cover blurbs that make sense, authors’ names I trust.

Because I know what I like. I know what I want to hear–and what I don’t, going off in my head, voices planted by print that will chase me down hallways, seek me out in quiet moments, and start in: “Yes, but” or even the dreaded “What if?”

These voices ask us to re-examine not so much what we believe as why we believe it, a far more intense scrutiny. What did we inherit, and what did we swallow without question, and what have we observed that supports or belies these things?

A wonderful book called Women’s Ways of Knowing says the continuum of human wisdom runs from a person who “stands in her shoes and looks out” to synthesizing pieces of knowledge to create new knowledge.

Do we only read the books that agree with us? No, probably not; most bibliophiles don’t. But do we only want from books we disagree with a sense of why their argument is wrong, invalid? Or do we listen to viewpoints we would never seek out in the greater world? Is that what bookstores are for, to let us experience–at somewhat lower risk than attending a rally or visiting a friend’s church–ideas that don’t rock our world, but could sink it?

I read certain books in certain moods. Some days I want challenge; bring on Simon Schama and Jonathan Safran Foer; yes, I will try the sushi today, thanks. Other days I want comfort; yesterday, seeking familiarity, I reread Clyde Edgerton’s Walking Across Egypt. It’s as comforting as veggie lasagna, with an equal amount of thoughtful chewing.

Books make us think, and a healthy diet includes the ones that ask us to consider another’s viewpoint. I used to teach my students, back when I was teaching, that the job of the anthropologist was to help society live with ambiguity, to put two people who believe oppositional things into a room and help them shake hands and agree not to order their subjects to kill each other. Live and let live is the motto of the ethnographer.

And the bookshop owner.

4 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. Wendy, Your essay sums up my pages at Ellie is a friend who’s told me of you, your book, and store. I’ve read the latest or two, but just established the blog last month and joined Facebook etc. I taught at ETSU (English) from ’72-86,, when I tired of students unprepared to discuss the assigned readingl, i retired for good, having failed the first attempt from the USMC. We are two of the diminishing number who read books; let me recommend The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, by George Gissing, an English Fleet Street slave whose aunt left him enough to retire to a country cottage.

  2. As a child growing up in the rural Appalachia mountains our school did not have a library and the first time I visited one was 7th grade. To say the least I was lost in a sea of books and did not understand the Dewey decimal system. It took years before I had the real desire to read a book. But now I cannot put one down long enough to cook dinner. I recently purchased my first 1st edition book called The Little Union Soldier author John ……. he wrote children poetry books. Anyway, I have found a mere world in books …..what have I been missing out on. Anthropology, study of socio-cultural ambiguity of the Appalachian area is so interesting, I wrote my exit paper on obesity in traditional eating habits of women in their middle life who lived within the Appalachian area. Bragging rights set apart I received a A plus published in the university’s newsletter. For the record I am an non-traditional student and the first woman in my family to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in sociology and ethnography. Just wanted to share.

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