Writers Who Brought Me to the Edge of Hope
BY JOHN FREEMAN
In the past couple years, I’ve reread most of Barry Lopez, Rebecca Solnit, James Baldwin and Annie Dillard, and now I feel I need to do it again, because in the middle of one of the worst climates of American life, these writers brought me to the edge of hope without tricking me into believing this was easy or necessary or even part of their purpose.
Instead, each one of their books made me feel less alone for worrying over the rising tyrannies we see unleashed everywhere now and the destructive forces let loose on the environment. All of these writers also made me feel that ethics has a place within our literary culture — something I am often surprised needs asserting. As if words have no vectors of intent.
But is it possible to get from books what you seek to find there? I wonder, and worry, about this. Is it fair to ask that of them? Or have these books enacted themselves fully upon me because now I get a similar sense of enlargement from the growth of organic protests on the back of the Women’s March? Perhaps there are other writers I need to do this kind of deep dive with.
I have been wondering about these things because I think it’s easy in this time to want to use culture as a weapon. To curate it like a collection of knives.
Instead, why not create a culture that rejects the whole question of using ideas as weapons? This is not being a wet liberal, it feels just. The only way to be an opposition, it seems to me — culturally, communally — is to reject the assumptions those whom you oppose are making. And to believe that if you live out that opposition honestly, then you will create the community necessary to enact those values into policies and forms of resistance.
I say all this to say, if you haven’t had a chance to read these writers — Rebecca Solnit, Barry Lopez, Annie Dillard, James Baldwin — please do. And I’d also love to hear who I should be reading now.
John Freeman was the editor of Granta until 2013. His books include How to Read a Novelist and Tales of Two Cities: The Best of Times and Worst of Times in Today’s New York. Freeman won the 2007 James Patterson Pageturner Award for his work as the president of the National Book Critics Circle. He is an executive editor at Literary Hub and teaches at The New School. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, and the Paris Review. He is also founder of the literary biannual FREEMAN’S. And you can find him on twitter here: @freemanreads.
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