Sunday, August 14, 2011

Great Books Find You

I can't remember exactly how I stumbled upon Madonna Kolbenschlag's Lost in the Land of Oz: Befriending Your Inner Orphan and Heading for Home, but I'm glad I did. The book was probably referenced in some other title I was working on. Having been trained as a journalist and, more importantly, having worked on hundreds of books, maybe I've learned when to pursue a lead.

I mention this book now because the economy has a lot of people concerned about their futures and maybe our collective future too. Here's one quote from the book that struck me:

Our own anonymity and vulnerability make us as fearful of the economy as of random violence.... The web of life that connects us is drawing us closer together, even as we feel more and more alone.... Our proximity to so much and so many increases our sense of estrangement, and at the same time, our longing for kinship and familiar connections.... Perhaps a sense of shared fate will free us from our fetish for individualism.

As far as I know, Kolbenschlag (1935-2000), an American, was not a Marxist. She did have a doctorate in clinical psychology, though.

Her words remind me of a reality-TV show that helped me learn a lot about myself. The Colony places a group of people (all volunteers) in a place that has been devastated by environmental disaster (think post-Katrina Louisiana). The people come from all walks of life--a model, a mechanic, an inventor, a businessman, for instance--and all they have collectively is some canned food and whatever items are leftover from the disaster, such as a tractor with flat tires.

In truly dire circumstances, all our financial trappings disappear and what really matters is our common sense, our ability to reason, and our ability to work with others. Human relationships--that's what saves us when there is nothing else. Native Americans (and other "primitive" societies) knew this well, because their survival depended upon it, but in modern America, this concept is lost on many of us, myself included.

I'll end with one more quote from Lost in the Land of Oz, which was written in the 1980s, that I find powerful:

Perhaps you have lived a good portion of your life as a scavenger, collecting scraps of power, roles, possessions, affection, self-worth, celebrity wherever you could and pasting them on yourself like fig leaves to hide your fear of meaninglessness, abandonment, your sense of being lost. Now you are ready to enter a process of stripping and are ready for real adventure.

The moral here is: great books find us, whether we want them to or not. So keep reading.

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