This Is Why Books Are Dangerous

I recently finished reading The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History, edited by Alice Crawford (Princeton University Press, 2015). Several passages from the concluding essay, “The Modern Library and Global Democracy” by James H. Billington, stood out:

Books are our guardians of memory, tutors in language, pathways to reason, and our golden gate to the royal road of imagination. Books take us to new places where boundaries are not set by someone else … . Books help us to pose the unimagined question and to accept the unwelcome answer. Books convince rather than coerce. They are oases of coherence where things are put together rather than just taken apart. Good books take us away from the bumper cars of emotion and polemics in the media into trains of thought that can lead us into place we might not otherwise ever discover. (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of books. This is why some people see certain books as a threat. Books are transformative, books empower—books encourage independence of thought. This is why some people seek to control them.

Libraries are antidotes to fanaticism. They are temples of pluralism, where books that contradict one another sit peacefully side by side on the shelves just as intellectual antagonists work peacefully next to each other … . (p. 263)

This is why some people are afraid of libraries. This is why some people see libraries as a threat. This is why some people seek to control them. Pluralism is anathema to control and dominance.

My favorite quote, though, and the best conclusion we can come to, is this:

Reading can balance our noisy, hurry-up, present-minded world with what Keats called “silence and slow time.” Whatever else you do in life, do not fail to experience the simple pleasure of being alone with a good book on a rainy day. (p. 265)

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