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Time Will Tell

  • Posted on: 9 February 2013
  • By: readersbooks

In Barbara Tuchman's seminal work on daily life in medieval times, A Distant Mirror, and also in William Manchester's wonderfully similar book, A World Lit Only by Fire, they point out that common folks back then had an extremely narrow prism by which they viewed events. They were illiterate, poorly fed, prone to disease, and what opinions they did express often emanated from the local clergy, who were only slightly better off. Life was nasty, brutish, and short, and real information could often not be gleaned from the rash of rumors that surrounded it.

We like to think that we are more sophisticated than those poor
ancestors of ours, but a quick glance at the internet and whoosh of
white noise it contains should give us pause. Yesterday I read a piece
that purported to be an interview with Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann,
who wanted to ban falafel in public school lunches. Why? Falafel, she
said, is a gateway food. Pretty soon they'll be wanted to eat shawarma
and then who knows, maybe they'll start asking, what other good things
are there in Arabia? This is how suicide bombers get started.

I was going to use this space to respond, but halfway through
the article my critical thinking skills kicked and I realized that while
Michelle Bachmann has been known for some idiotic and wacky ideas, this
one was just beyond the pale. Sure enough, it was a spoof. A spoof
that was now all over the internet.

In an age where examination and research are in short supply,
and where the bonds that connect us frequently come out of a hair-thin
wire from thousands of miles away, who can say how far we've come from
our brothers in the 13th century?


Why Mysteries Matter

  • Posted on: 28 January 2013
  • By: readersbooks

Each month a woman of a certain age comes into our store with a paper bag full of mysteries she has read and wishes to trade in. She always leaves with that same bag refilled with more mysteries, a never ending cycle as it were. As I watched her go out with her new treasures it got me to thinking about the nature of mysteries. Why do so many people love them? It's not about the violence, I've decided; there are plenty of straight-ahead fiction books filled with far worse violence. Nor is it the tragedy of someone killed in some gruesome manner and the effect of this on his or her loved ones, though that can certainly be a part of a mystery. No, what makes mysteries so appealing is that they are, in the end, morality plays wrapped in labyrinths. Someone is killed, and in order to recreate justice and balance in the world, someone else needs to determine what happened. Once that is done, the world is a better place, or at any rate, a safer place for the time being. Occasionally, the seeker is a relative or a by-stander, the school librarian or the small town doctor. Then there are the professional seekers, the Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade detectives we've come to know over the years, burnt out cases who can somehow use their compass to point faithfully towards the truth, even when pickled in alcohol. When we read a mystery then, we (the armchair detective) get to feel good about our rational skills and about a world where fairness and clarity are abide. That's a good thing. Everyone, I think, should experience that kind of happiness.