Shakespeare & Company

Browsing a great bookshop or record store is one of the great benefits of living in an urban area or college town, or traveling — especially in Europe where, despite the concessions the entire globe is making to digitized culture, a bookish norm still prevails (thank God).

It feels like a throwback to a bygone era, walking into a wall-to-wall labyrinth like Powell’s in Portland…

I live in an area where the only places to buy CDs now are Best Buy and Walmart. Independent record shops still spring up from time to time, but the cost margins in the industry are just too cutthroat for them to survive very long. With digital downloading and amazon a mouse-click away, even the giant retailers find it nearly impossible to compete.

I adore amazon and look forword to owning a Kindle soon, but I hope we find a way to preserve the tactile experience of reading a book. Online deals cannot replace the joy of entering a sphere where we have no idea what we’re looking for — counting on the color or texture of a cover to catch our eye or feel good in our hands; that we’ll fall madly in love with a premise on a dust jacket and take home a stranger tonight, just because we started reading while sitting on the floor and couldn’t stop.

Corporate bookstores do their best to stock local titles and preserve a literate atmosphere in a retail dog-eat-dog economy, but I find it sad that even during the Christmas season, the emphasis remains on pure consumption.

The days are dwindlinig before the Shakeapeare reading officially begins — and this site has a more sharply defined focus. I’m exploiting that gap now to vent my sadness about the darkness in human behavior (see below) and my own melancholy at the commercialization of the holidays.

I feel like Charlie Brown. I confess this sadly, having grown up loving Christmas as my second most favorite time of the year. (I won’t tell you what wins first place till we get there together in 2010.) Luckily, it doesn’t fall during a shopping season and still maintains its innocence and wonder.

I’m not naive. I realize that the Wonder Years expire and that we all must find ways of moving on and adapting as adults to nuanced and compromised worldviews. It can be tricky, but we find our own identities as the months pass by, trading bits of idealism for Machiavellian acceptance of how things truly are and probably have always been.

But Christmas for me is a season of wishing, of cherishing the best and brightest of who we are and hope to be. I don’t find a lot of that left in our culture these days. We don’t do much carolling in Southern California. (It doesn’t snow here for one thing.) Yet there’s a lot of shopping going on, even in a wrecked economy. It makes the idea of holiness outside church seem just a gloss.

Meanwhile, I find myself slipping into a deeper and deeper internal meditativeness. I just don’t care that much anymore about the formality of the whole setup. In the midst of my gloom, it’s volunteer work with the homeless that saves my sanity.

More and more, I’m realizing that this sacred sense “out there” must be created together, communally, if it is to exist within our homes, our families, our communities and our society.

Echanging gifts is a token remnant of a deeper meaning that has now been largely lost. I’m sure I can’t be alone in feeling much happier receiving a CD that someone has burned for me out of love than a regifted widget that has no relevance besides filial obligation. When what it actually says is, “I have no idea who you really are.”

We all have to do our part to keep up a certain facade, that’s understood. The sadness for me comes from that loss of a potential for spiritual renewal that we can experience from authentic reminders of how much we matter to one another — from hugs, from bellylaughs, from whispers, from kisses that smoulder down to our wool stockings.

That these are not bought items is a truism and a cliche. Maybe though our new goal during the holidays is to find a way to smash through the crassness by performing random acts of kindness for a stranger or a child. For the silent suffering in your neighborhood, across the nation or a continent away.

Fa la la la la and all that. I hope the Holy Spirit is alive and well wherever you happen to be tonight…

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2 Responses to “Shakespeare & Company”

  1. This is a really great blog, I’m enjoying the run up to Christmas with a bit more time on my hands to browse the net and your site is one I intend to visit again soon. In the olden days we would chill out with a read of the daily paper, now I really think people should take an hour out of their day to read some random blog posts and expand their knowledge on new and fascinating subjects. Keep up your writing.

    • Wow — thank you. I’m sincerely flattered. It’s hard to gauge what the interest will be when you’re doing something like this… and comments like this mean a heckuva lot.

      The project will evolve once January 1st arrives and the reading begins in earnest. If you have any ideas about how things are going… please feel free to voice your opinion.

      You just made my day!

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