Literary Ghetto

I had an epiphany yesterday about my books. At the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op there is a special section for “local authors.” The sign over the shelf says, “We love local authors!” Not really. Putting them on a shelf like that isn’t “love.” It’s stigmatization.

Here’s what I mean.

None of the books I took to the Narrow Gauge in October have sold. It occurred to me that the local authors shelf is kind of a ghetto neighborhood. Local authors’ books should be interspersed with the other books in their genres. My books should be shelved with historical fiction. Why would anyone look for historical fiction about Switzerland, Mennonites or the Crusades on a shelf in an Alamosa bookstore tagged “Local Authors?” That does not mean “most desirable.” It sounds like a warning… I’m thinking of liberating them next week some time.

This has also led me to think about how much of life is disappointing. We want things. We hope things. All the time. Most of the time we don’t get whatever it was we hoped for or wanted (or is that just me?). Along the way we get wise advice, such as “Let nature take it’s course,” or “All in the fullness of time.”

When I was in Milan about a million years ago there was a young woman in the neighborhood where my friend’s sister had a store. This young woman was determined and earnest about converting me to Buddhism. I was pretty miserable in Milan a million years ago. I had a broken heart, a fairly flat wallet, few options and a desperate desire to get away, but I couldn’t. I had to deal. That the girl was so adamant, so desirous, of persuading me was, right there, an eloquent synopsis of the whole philosophical/spiritual problem of striving to overcome desire.

It’s incredible how many times that situation happens in life. You’re trapped with your emotions and all you can do is deal. Anyway, I wrote pretty beautifully about it in a book that will never be in the local author’s section or anywhere else. 😉

I wrote about being in Venice alone one afternoon, wandering around and studying the mosaics in the Basilica San Marco. While I was there, I suddenly understood Yeat’s poems, “Byzantium,” and “Sailing to Byzantium” more profoundly, differently, than I had before. They are poems about artifice and desire…

From the book…

To work for ANYTHING without WANTING to? The merely MECHANICAL, for a man to to work without desire. But a machine? No desire, yet,working, furthering the desires of its maker for earthbound immortality? Extending the purpose for which the artist was born? Good God. Yeats’ golden bird chirps into infinity. A soulless, animatronic, singing mechanism, like this Byzantine labyrinthine basilica, a curiosity for which I waited in line 48 years. Yeats himself left only the immortal idea, there is no bird, only songs, “. . . images that yet, fresh images beget” Inspiration; the animating breath. In a corner, in a dark and quiet shelter from the gold, the devout kneel, noiseless, before a painted statue of the Virgin. Her sweet face, compassionate and gentle, the child on one arm but the other open ready to succor another, offer mournful man what he needs more than God’s glory–God’s mercy; she models, inspires, love. 

I look at the ceiling and for the first time notice how living stories suffuse each voluptuous arch. The fish of the sea and the birds of the air struggle to life in a segment between archangels. The sea is crowded with fish; in their midst, a dragon. A golden eagle dives from one corner; a goose, a swan, a gull, a heron, an egret, a duck and a raven fill the rest of this compressed and golden sky. “All mere complexities of mire and blood.” Nearby, Noah releases a dove. St. Mark crosses the Mediterranean and is hauled up the Adriatic. His corpse sits on the boat like a living entity; the sea is rough; three men struggle to bring in the sail while a fourth, the animate soul of St. Mark, holds the rudder steady.

I study this “monument to its own magnificence” (Basilica San Marco in Venice) as well as I can–though to do a decent job would take me YEARS; I am that ignorant. I buy postcards, step outside and wait for my eyes to adjust to the light of the pigeon tormented piazza. In Yeats I had found not just “a” key but the key. 

Some of the people I met and talked with in Milan were Buddhists, Italian Buddhists. From these Italian Buddhists, I heard the argument that mastering desire is enlightenment. One handed me hand-rolled sticks of incense from Tibet as I stood in the doorway of the shop in the Naviglia. “If you do not WANT anything you are free.” This, I guess, is peace? The thin young woman who pressed the sandalwood sticks on me had an earnest not beautiful face; passionately and with consummate desire, she tried to get me to change my mind without knowing my mind. For me, God is inexpressible, unutterable. Awe. God is the force that pushes me beyond myself. I am his “golden handiwork;” his “golden bird upon a golden bough”–this earth. I WANT that song with all the burning ferocity of lust. 

The tranquil slow evening, the leisurely shutting down of businesses along the street, a new bottle of Italian spring water, I stood holding my incense; that was my first night in Milan. Tomorrow will be my last. I see all of it already in my mind as a form distilled and perfected through time, emerging. I loved that fervent girl standing there, color for my yet unpainted picture. I smiled and told her that yes indeed I do know the terrible pitfalls of desire (who would know better?) that I even saw the Dahlai Lama, and when? you were six or seven I tell her. It isn’t that I did not believe that what she told me is true. That desire makes us miserable is ONLY logical, but logic isn’t sufficient. “Hey, you guys overcome desire, you can reach Nirvana; you can become divine.”

18 thoughts on “Literary Ghetto

  1. We often feel small insignificant in the face of something grander than ourselves. Something that has stood the test of time and lasted. We are but grains of sand on a seashore. I admire you and all you have done witnessed gone through. Totally awesome and amazing. What’s more, you survived! and are here to share the telling, the story, the truth of it all.

  2. Your story IS beautiful. The wanting and the desire…isn’t that just part of being human and, by definition, flawed? And if so, so what? All the well meaning advice in the world isn’t going to make that go away.
    And, yes, I agree they shouldn’t segregate the bookstore like that. Maybe your books just need to be shelved properly and you’re just the person to do it 🙂

  3. I was trying to imagine, as a huge reader, and owner of a plethora of books. Would I peruse a book shelf in a book shop with just the title Local Authors?

    The answer after contemplation with a cup of tea is an emphatic NO! I am browse books generally with something in mind. The genre, an author an interest. I would find it annoying to have to pick up each book to see if it had what I was looking for.

    That is purchasing a book which now on my very low income is not with in my budget. The next part is generally not going to make a writer of books happy
    the books I tend read because I have come across them through a recommendation or on a bloggers post, I will search to see if my local library has it.

    The other books that I have or read that I don’t obtain through buying or borrowing are from tip shops, garage sales community book fairs to raise money people donate books. Or from book swap community locations where there is a community free library accessible 24/7 take a book leave a book.

    • Thank you for weighing in on this. As for libraries, I don’t know about Down Under but here it’s very rare that a public library stocks books by “local authors” though the library in the nearby city of Alamosa has a local author’s section. What makes me happiest is someone reading my book and loving it, getting something from it. I don’t really care how they get it. 🙂

      • where I live we actually have quite a lot of writers and some of their books are on the shelves as mainstream I guess you would call it. we have a bookshop in the small town nearest me and they have oh gee my mind has gone blank, but when an author has a book coming out and its a …for people to come and meet the author, have an opportunity to buy the book and others this author has written. 🙃 They stock local authors books. I forgot all about this shop as it is not just a bookshop, their main work is Homeopathic pharmacy mainly internet but they do sell and wil makethings for you.

  4. I like the shelf of local authors. It gives a sense of closeness, and it feels cool that an accomplished person is in the neighborhood.

  5. Hmm. You have given me something to think about. Sparky works at the library and they have a similar section. I’ll have to discuss it with him. I’ll let you know if he has a take on it different from yours.

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