It’s all I can do to resist spending hours searching for and buying books. I want to know more about everything. I want to understand how I and others tick, where we come from, what we can do with our lives. Sometimes, the book collecting becomes another form of hoarding, a form of searching for something outside, rather than living from the inside. And, when will I actually finish all these books? But, I’m not going to pursue that line of questioning – the quantity line, what I consider a fixed mindset (if I can borrow from Carol Dweck).
I wonder if physical books and where they live are maybe as important as the ideas themselves? I go to the big book shops sometimes, but I feel a bit sorry for the books there, shoved together with so many other marketed, rated, evaluated publishings. Like a school system, taking the role of harshly reviewing, judging and expecting performance.
What I want is the old Mistral in Paris, Shakespeare and Company. A place for artists, where the owner from about the 50s, George Whitman, lived in the shop, made soup for visitors and housed writers overnight. The books are stacked and wedged into handmade shelves in cavelike nooks and crannies. The whole place whispers “create with your own two hands. Do it now. Noone can exclude you. Your expression matters.”
What I want is the Zwart op Wit (Black on White) in Amsterdam, a place where books are a community in themselves – loved, carefully chosen to fill the small, simple shop. They leave wrapped in paper and sent with a wish for something to occur.
I want the library, my mom’s library, up in the Appalachian mountains. A library filled with photographs and textile art from her time in South America. I want that library, sans censorship. It was a high school library, part of a religious school. The flow of books had to be carefully strained through a colander, as if that could prevent a tsunami. I want that library back, and the hours spent there searching for histories and possibilities, however distant. If I could, I would sneak in a few banned books, hoping something would reach deep down inside and rearrange the furniture. All in good time, it happened anyway.
So, returning to my present life, I sit in the Concerto, an Amsterdam institution for artists and musicians. A place where you can believe that art matters. Where I’m finally open to the furniture being rearranged.
The music shop has grown down the street, like a quiet, steady vine, acquiring storefronts, contradicting the fact that the world has gone completely digital. Each carefully curated shop window asks me to look back, to look around, to imagine, to believe in an invisible community which seems to have disappeared and left us alone. Inside, rows and rows of vinyl records, a cafe, books sprinkled around a cosy stage.
I drink my latte with oatmilk and dive into these worlds:
A truck driver stops for a bathroom break in the forest. He gets lost and is distracted by the mysteries he finds there. He follows the mysteries and becomes a wild animal, rolling down hills and exploring the unknown beauties of the forest.
A little boy makes art with what he has – chalks and a sidewalk. An older artist befriends him. They create together. The older artist invites the boy into his atelier, where the boy sees a new world of possibilities. The older man needs to return to his island, where his family originated. The boy is left alone and returns to his chalks on the sidewalk. However, the new owners of the older man’s home invite the boy in. A surprise awaits him. Read to find out what it is!
The big stores want to sell all the stuff. Curation and some form of censorship takes place everywhere, I guess. But, what will I learn by noticing each venue and what it has to offer? What values are expressed there? What are the implications for me and how I live? I’m looking for real, organic and handmade lives that make sense across time and within an international community (which, to me, means diverse and inclusive, full stop). I’m interested in a path I didn’t see before. Not towards a sterile uniformity which is controlled by a few arbitrary gatekeepers, but through an unknown forest, scary sometimes, but open to all.