The Fifth Shelf

Last night, I finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. This completed my fifth shelf of “politics-plus” reading since middle of last August. Back then, I’d picked up Glenn Greenwald’s With Liberty and Justice for Some in hopes it’d answer some new-to-me questions about the troubling state of so-called U.S. democracy.

In my hometown for the fiftieth anniversary of some of my adopted parents, I’d get my kids in their hotel beds nightly. Then I’d pace the length of our hotel room, back and forth, back and forth, unable to read such horrifying things sitting in place.

I really thought one book would do it for me, but … you can see how that turned out.

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As I discovered after finishing my first Greenwald book, even an excellent book can only answer so many questions, doing so while opening many more:

  • What led us to this place where horror-as-reality seems natural?
  • Why don’t more people notice how great the gap between what we believe of our country and what now exists? For that point, how did I not notice? How did I experience the traumas I did–including moving within the injustice system–growing up and … forget them, instead of exploring how the U.S. came to be a nation where the suffering of children is acceptable–indeed, just taken by those with resources as just, well, given?
  • What historical precedents layered one on top of the other led us here, to what seems inevitable but wasn’t?
  • What could the world look like, if we made different choices? What would those different choices look like?
  • How does one find people who are willing to discuss these details? Who understand there are details? Who are okay with disagreement, seeing it as an inevitable part of growth rather than world-ending?
  • Etc., etc., etc.

So, here I am. Eleven months and five shelves along this journey of political, historical, and social exploration through books.

The New Human Rights Movement addressed many such questions, as well as introducing me to the idea of ACEs–adverse childhood experiences–as factors that shape the course of children’s lives before they’re even born. Its author linked poverty to ACEs, drawing on vast bodies of research and literature to show that how poverty was created … and how much it destroys. I wrote about one particularly illuminating passage here.

I’ve learned so much from the other books, too. I’ve written about lessons from these:

  • The Age of Consent (with The New Human Rights Movement), which opened my eyes to worlds of possibilities for a more just world
  • Late Victorian Holocausts, which was gruesome, but finally quenched my burning need to keep reading to dampen the anxiety of not understanding; more than any other book, it showed me how yesterday shaped today, and how today’s wealth resulted from fatal, intentionally cultivated inequality. Though the content was grim, I breathed easier to finally grok (versus vaguely comprehending) this
  • Our Kids, which, blessedly, gave me two words to explain something that otherwise took me hundreds of words to express only poorly: “perception gap”
  • No Is Not Enough, which I picked up the same evening I saw its author live in L.A. ♥
  • Founding Myths, which helped me better understand the origins of American’s bizarre propensity to see individuals and individual successes without seeing the other people and contexts that were essential to success
  • Austerity, which made crystal clear how the crushing debt of most governments isn’t because of excess welfare spending, but because of bank bailouts
  • Planet of Slums, which revealed more aspects of how inequality is crafted, and how many people suffer–and die–needlessly to keep a handful in palaces and mansions
  • Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens, which explained economic principles from one socialist perspective in plain English, and confirmed–with excellent illustrations–so many things I’d previously only suspected

I’d like to write about Beautiful Souls and will absolutely be writing about The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. For this morning, though, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on everything I’ve learned (lots!) and everything I’d still like to learn (multitudes more lots).

With each book I read, I understand a little more about the world. It might not seem fun to some folks around me, but it’s that, and something even better, too: rewarding, personally, and as a parent.

That my children will inherit a habitable planet is not given. But the more I read, the more I see what work’s already underway to improve the chances. The more I know what needs to be done, and portions of what I can do to help.

That’s so much better than fun. It’s hope.


Author: Deborah the Closet Monster

Grew up dirt poor, found myself a comfy bubble, and forgot poverty. Now trying to forget bubbles and end poverty.

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