Here is the introduction from this year's catalogue:
“How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
--Little Edie Beale
It is fitting that Little Edie opens this year’s catalogue. She was the first reality superstar and its cultural apogee. How extraordinary that one of her successors in the medium has been elected to the presidency of the United States, the most powerful job on earth. From Grey Gardens to the White House Orangerie: reality programming—you have come a long way baby.
It is an astonishing shuffle of the cards that has left some questioning whether the electorate was playing with a full deck. It is also an event so significant to cultural history—a primary focus of Nick Harvill Libraries—that not to mention it would be ignoring the elephant (or donkey) in the room.
As we contemplate the implications of the election, we seek answers via social media and the Internet. That is akin to instructing a murderer to investigate his own crime. Technology has given us so much, but its dark side is that it has also flattened us out, trapping us in an echo chamber that obliterates the past and disparages opposing points of view.
Like Homer Simpson said of alcohol, the Internet is both the cause and solution to all of our problems. There is a reason it is called the World Wide Web and not the World Deep one. In places, it is baby-pool shallow. Worthwhile books and fascinating people have faded into oblivion, barely covered online. For the Nick Harvill Libraries blog that is an opportunity. I write and post articles that rank high in search results because they are the most in-depth treatment of a particular subject matter online.
Books are not perfect, but in their sum-total, they come close. They are pieces of an infinite and ever-changing puzzle. We must constantly resist the all-too human temptation to arrogantly decide where a puzzle piece ought to go and proceed to hammer it into place. Just as tempting, particularly for nonreaders, is to see the puzzle as complete with only a few inadequate pieces. [Cable news + religious dogma = not much of anything.]
That does not mean we all have to be of the intelligentsia. Diana Vreeland declared, “If we have an intellectual working for Vogue, he’s running the elevator!” I get the sentiment. Pure academic theorizing, untethered to how we actually live, comes with its own set of worries. Correlating literature with our own experiences, however, is one of life’s great pleasures—it connects us to both the present and the past and softens the loneliness intrinsic to the human condition.
Books enable us to see the temporal world in its proper perspective. It is a lesson so easy to forget that it must be constantly relearned. Everything is transitory. Ying becomes yang. Chanel liberates woman from her corset only for Dior ensnare her in it once again. Yippies become yuppies and join the Reagan Revolution. A president of exquisite gentility is replaced by his opposite.
Time despises entropy, and it is inevitable that good will revert to bad. It is only in the long arc of history that we see progress. Do not despair. Take comfort in the words of that unwittingly wise woman, Little Edie Beale. “How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”