Kindle is great. Libby is a godsend. But nothing can beat the calm, comforting feeling of a book in the hand. The snick of the turning page, the heft of the volume, the yielding crease of the spine as you seek your place feels like home.
Libraries and book stores have been, for me, a source of entertainment, solace, and knowledge over many years. In 1997 (!), one of the three trial articles I sent on speculation to the Troy Daily News’s Joel Walker was about libraries.
Troy’s library is an absolute gem. The people there are unfailingly helpful, kind, and well-informed. Think about a library. You go in. You get a library card (free). That card opens up the vast inviting collection of reading opportunities. If that library happens not to have your book, you can request it from a sister library (free). The system gets the book to your library of choice (free). They will notify you when the book is in (free). They’ll send you a reminder when it’s due (free).
No less a source than John Steinbeck observed, “I guess there are never enough books.” Well, there are never enough good books. My eighth-grade teacher once remarked that it built character to finish every book we started. Finally, at about age 30, I decided (1) I had enough character and (2) life was too short to read boring books. During my bi-monthly treks to the library, I’ve selected some books in which I didn’t get through the first chapter and I’ve selected some absolute treasures. Recently, I hit upon a dandy. I find subtitles to be more interesting than the headlining title and this one hits a home room with both. “Little Pieces of Hope. Happy-Making Things in a Difficult World.” Hope. What a provocative word; incredible to possess, devastating to lose. Although it sometimes borders on Pollyanna-ish, you’d have to be a world-class curmudgeon not to at least take it down from the shelf for a look-see. What I saw is that it should be required reading for all of us.
Author Todd Doughty has filled two hundred forty-two pages with simple positive thoughts that can lighten a load and brighten a day. Variously inserted throughout the book are pages headed “Things to look forward to” and “Things you might consider doing today” and “Mix tapes for every occasion. ” The book reminds us how lucky we are. One can only hope a feeling of luck begets a feeling of gratitude. He (along with about two hundred million other Americans) has noticed that people are getting, shall we say, more grouchy. More short-tempered. Less tolerant. The political arena has become such that calm discourse is nearly unheard of because it’s nearly unobtainable.
But Doughty’s book also gives us a new slant on the grouch. Early on, too. He writes on page fourteen, “There is a certain fascination to be had of a grouch.” Then he goes on to name a famous few: Oscar [the Grouch], Old Man Marley in Home Alone, Al Bundy, April Ludgate, Mr. Darcy, and Sophia Petrillo. He continues, “The attraction isn’t accidental; a grouch gives voice to our grumpiest thoughts, our bad moods, and the sometimes wonderful pleasure of acting out whenever we want.” And now to kiss the owie and make it all better, “Most of these grumps have an underlying, hidden decency that rises to meet the needed occasion.” But here, obviously, Doughty is referring to the benign grouch. The chronic, malignant malcontent is another animal altogether. The inability to even consider an opposing viewpoint, to be self-aware enough to self-examine, to release one’s own bias or simply acknowledge that bias is present is strangling civility.
In one of my few forays into reading psychology, I came upon this quote, “Finding pleasure in simple things is a sign of good mental health.” The late, great Steve Boone used to counter this sentiment by responding, “Does that mean I’m simple?”
Nothing wrong with simple: simple pleasures, simple truth, simple honesty, the sum of which amounts to large pieces of hope.