Like so many of us, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “alternative facts.” It’s hard to avoid the issue these days when the president of the country can breathe life into any patent falsehood by tweeting it out thus giving it media life for days and weeks–even if that attention is in service of refuting it.
Later this year Harper will publishing a book called Strange Contagion about the science behind “social viruses” a phenomenon that has been ramped into overdrive by social media and given daily given more fuel by an administration that thrives on suspicion and fear, often untethered to facts.
How to cope? One way is to ground your reality in actual facts and analysis–in the frustrating nuance, contradiction and complexity of them. This week Michael Gustafson, co-owner of Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, wrote a great piece about bookstores and the role they can play in grounding our lives. I repeat it below in its entirety and invite you to to sign up for the store’s newsletter. Mike’s column “Letters from Literati” is one of my faithful reading pleasures.
Letters from Literati: Ideas are contagious…
“Ideas are contagious; emotion is contagious; hope is contagious; courage is contagious.” These were Rebecca Solnit’s words as she spoke to Rackham Auditorium last month. Solnit, a staff favorite here at Literati, left many in the audience feeling hopeful and courageous.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about Solnit’s words:
Ideas are contagious.
If that’s true, what kind of ideas are spreading right now? These spreading, contagious ideas — are they making people feel like they are important, valued, and good?
Books are ideas, too. Every book, from board books to history books, contain ideas. Being independent, we’re free to feature any book we want. In other words: You know where you’re getting your ideas from. When you read through our shelf talkers and see a book review signed by “Jeanne,” you know this review is coming from someone who has lived in Ann Arbor and who has nearly 30 years of bookselling experience, someone who worked for the original State Street Borders.
This is a far different experience than shopping online for books. Often, when I shop online, I feel like there are a multitude of websites tracking my shopping behavior. An algorithm takes me to a product I’d never want. It’s virtually impossible to find something new or to surprise myself or to expand my horizons. And when I shop online, I never know where, exactly, that money is disappearing to.
It’s important, these days, to know where ideas are coming from (and where money is going). Because there are many kinds of contagious ideas: Bad ideas can spread as quickly as good ones. Ideas of fear can spread as quickly as ideas of hope. Ideas of isolation can spread as quickly as ideas of inclusion.
Maybe more than ever before, I ask myself: Where are my ideas coming from? Did I see that on a news program? Who owns that network? Who is selling me this idea? What is in it for them?
I’m biased, of course, but I believe one of the best shelves in our bookstore to get ideas from is our staff picks wall. We never tell any staff member what to feature, or what book to review. They can review whatever book they want.
Because of this, we always feature a broad array of ideas: Fiction, nonfiction, memoir, cookbooks, essays, picture books, poetry. They are ideas I’d never find on my own, from a broad range of booksellers. They are books from a full spectrum of writers with vastly different backgrounds, both mainstream and independent, both celebrated and new.
Ideas are contagious.
So, what ideas are spreading now?
Where are you getting your ideas from?