Mapping the Terrain of Used and Rare Books
What does politics have to do with books? Everything.
Since before the printing press, paper has carried the ideologies and Utopian dreams of radicals and reactionaries alike. From monastic treatises on realizing heaven on earth in an illuminated manuscript, to the inkjet zines of Occupy Wall Street, the written word has been inseparable from human political development.
As a rather political person myself, I have sought out and collected political, ideological and philosophical texts. While this has evolved into something of a consumer collection, it originated in necessity.
Growing up in Western Pennsylvania afforded me small access to progressive texts. Book stores carried whole walls of leather bible covers and chauvinistic western novels. The philosophy shelf consisted of some Kant, Kierkegaard, and “The Secret.” Politics/Current Affairs sections were headlined by the abominable visages of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Ann Coulter. If you were lucky, you might notice an Adbusters from six months ago languishing between Handguns Magazine and National Review.
As my political ideals shifted and diverged from the dominant narrative, I was forced to seek out the accompanying texts where ever I could find them. Since traditional book shops offered little, I turned to scouring friends parents basements, church book sales, thrift shops and flea markets. Occasionally I would stumble upon something in a dirty cardboard box under a folding table outside a Russian Orthodox church, like a copy of Howard Zinn’s The Politics of History.
Published in 1970 The Politics of History puts forth what was to me a life-changing thesis: the writing and telling of history is inherently political and serves political and ideological ends. Given this, we have a moral obligation to use our history-making as a tool for “good,” i.e. actively combating lies, oppression, inequality, poverty and violence.
Upon reading The Politics of History, I was hungry for more; more history that worked to change the world, rather than justify its current configuration. More philosophy that would break open common assumptions about life and self. And more people with which to exchange ideas and hopes about the way our world could be.
Over the years I would amass a collection of texts that could never be found in a small town book store, and most of them came from thrift shops and tag sales. I would thrill that my fragmented path had joined me with Foucault’s The Birth of the Prison, or that my cursory glance through a loosely arranged Politics pile resulted in a first edition Noam Chomsky. Wherever I went, I searched for signs of weirdness and progressive politics in the church basements and yard sales of the conservative countryside.
Now, years later and in a place near some of the largest progressive publishers and thinkers (Boston, MA), I have a library of progressive and thought-provoking texts to share with my friends and family. And I continue to amass these books with a purpose. Not only do I wish to read and share them but hope to present this intentional collection as a library of sorts, and dream of opening a brick-and-mortar book store aimed at building community and feeding the curious and unconventional. And the journey has led me to always wonder how I can put my idiosyncratic collectors drive to use for The Greater Good, whatever that is.
Make sure to comment! We would love to hear the story of your book-life or how a particular volume or author has inspired you or changed the way you think.