The owner of the renowned Square Books in Oxford, Miss., offers a timely reading list
Featured bookstore: Square Books
Location: 160 Courthouse Square, Oxford, Miss. 38655
American Spring Book List:
“Resistance, Rebellion, and Death,” by Albert Camus (Vintage, $15), the leading 20th century philosopher and moralist whose primary concerns were for “those silent men who, throughout the world, endure the life that has been made for them.”
“All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw,” by Theodore Rosengarten (University of Chicago Press, $21). Shaw’s Homeric autobiography demonstrates both how it is possible to be born into severe economic and racial oppression and how, under such circumstances, one might manage a life of hope, courage, dignity and human triumph.
“Nickel and Dimed,” by Barbara Ehrenreich (Holt, $15), a firsthand account of life in low-wage present-day America.
“The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy,” by Howard Zinn (Seven Stories Press, $21.95). A broad selection of the radical historian’s best writing.
“Down and Out in Paris and London,” by George Orwell (Harcourt, $14). First published in 1933, this personal and unsentimental investigation of poverty remains relevant.
“What Are People For?” and “What Matters?” by Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, $15.95 and $14.95, respectively). Two books by Wendell Berry that advocate an economy and society that benefits rather than vicitimizes its citizens.
“Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics,” by Nicholas Wapshott (Norton, $28.95), examines the two principal economic theories of our time.
“Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries,” by Naomi Wolf (Harper, $13.95). The book that was made for American Spring was published three years ago by this prescient and brilliant author. A discussion of the problems of modern American democracy and the spirit and purpose of revolution, the book also serves as a practical primer for citizen activists.
“Liar’s Poker,” by Michael Lewis (Norton, $15.95), the low-down on Wall Street.
“Anti-Monopoly,” a board game. Among our non-book items we inventory this game that pits monopolists vs. free-marketers. But, like Monopoly, it’s really just another game about accumulating assets. We don’t sell it very well, and wish that someone would create a board game that would sell — call it “Occu-opoly.” This game, like an idea once expressed in fiction by Philip K. Dick, would feature the giving away of wealth and property to others. Boardwalk and Park Place would be Zuccotti Park and Sproul Plaza …
About Square Books
When we opened our store, in 1979, our community was only 16 years removed from a racial desegregation crisis that stigmatized us to the outside world as a place, and people, of bigotry and hatred. Many of us knew we were not as bad as we were thought to be, but we also knew we had to work hard to overcome failure. As a result, the community often sought progressive activity and development and coalesced where we found it. This is a large part of why our bookstore has succeeded and continues to succeed: people here know that a vibrant bookstore is a sign of cultural and economic health, which are things we value greatly.
As we witness the middle-class migrating to the so-called 99 percent, many other norms — or what we used to consider norms — are taking or already have taken a parallel path. We all know what they are: the outsourcing of jobs, the loss of the small farm economy, the corruption of banking, the corporate and special-interest ownership of Congress, and so on. Most painful to watch has been the decline of American communities. As the agricultural economy and locally owned businesses decline, so goes the tax base; then the schools, fire and police protection, public parks, and healthcare – those institutions that are critical to every community’s success — follow. As people abandon these communities they often relocate to places that are not what we typically think of as communities.
We are fortunate to live in a state where people are generous (Mississippi leads the nation in per-capita charitable giving as a ratio of income) and in a community that continues to uphold its public institutions as well as many private local businesses. Mississippi has also produced an uncanny number of great writers, another important reason for our success.
Publishers, our collegial partners, are in turmoil, but we continue to see a remarkable output of superlative, diverse literature in an exceedingly well-designed and produced form: the book — which, as I have often said, is, along with the bicycle and the sailboat, one of man’s few perfect inventions.
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