Of mice, men and libraries

The end is near "¦ relatively speaking.

Scientists (yup, them again) determined last week that barring some cataclysmic event (such as nuclear war, asteroids, divine intervention, the Kardashian News Network), it looks as though ye olde planet Earth has as few as 1.75 billion years remaining before becoming uninhabitable.

Think Detroit, only on a global scale.

A couple of thoughts immediately come to mind.

First, the Lombardi Trophy is going to become several times wider by that year to accommodate the Roman numeral needed denoting the the Super Bowl.

(An exhaustive five minutes of research on the interwebs leads to some hazy explanation that Roman numerals tend to exhaust themselves after the M, after which you have to put lines either above or to the side of the symbol. Suffice to say, the Romans never considered who would perform at halftime when the Christians faced the Lions.)

More importantly, however, is that 1.75 billion years seems far too short a time frame in which to get to all the books we have yet to read.

Henry Bemis would understand. Left to his own devices after a nuclear war in the classic episode "Time Enough To Last" of "The Twilight Zone," our poor, put-upon, bespectacled Henry (portrayed by Burgess Meredith, whose literary film roles ranged from George in "Of Mice and Men" to the Penguin in "Batman") makes his way through the rubble to the library "¦ where all around him lie piles and piles of books.

Speaking of libraries in shambles, Jackson County is once again faced with the possibility that its library system will be without enough funding to operate. Books only come before bullets in a dictionary; so while uproars exist on the local and national scales when someone "threatens" to stop our unalienable right to shoot each other (or ourselves), those who would like a place to access literature have to find creative ways to ask for money.

Libraries, of course, share something in common with a couple of other beleaguered institutions — schools and newspapers. Each of them has the indignity to force you into actually acquiring information that — in the days of yore — was considered imperative to becoming a productive member of society.

But that meant work, you know. And someone had to pay for librarian carts and chalkboard erasers "¦ and newspapers carried stories about issues that you would have to research in the library if you hadn't learned about them in school.

Life is a lot simpler now.

We can press the right series of buttons on our Skinner tablets and be fed all the information we need. Communication has been reduced to a string of shorthand letters and symbols that dispense without all that silly historical context.

We'll be taught what we need to know to pass that standardized test, by gum, and if something happens beyond the inner circle of purgatory inhabited by our invisible Internet friends, then the news content providers will distill it into handy sound bites and catch-phrases so we can learn what they want us to think.

What we have here, beyond a failure to communicate, is the natural outgrowth of "the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions."

That's Aldous Huxley, of course, in "Brave New World Revisited," his 1958 reconsideration of his 1932 classic that often finds itself among the honored novels that adorn the Banned Books List.

We just ended Banned Books Week, which was highlighted this year by the reaction to the vote in Randolph County, N.C., to take Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" out of the public school system's libraries.

School board member Gary Mason defended this attempted censorship by saying that he "didn't find any literary value" in a book often considered one of the 20 greatest American novels of all-time.

The board rescinded its decision this past week (with only Mason objecting) when it turned out that the good Invisible Citizenry of Randolph County could be pried away from their tablets, texters and televisions long enough to see the greater picture.

Libraries and politics always have had an odd relationship. Presidents, of course, tend to have libraries built after their service in order to store everything of theirs from jellybeans to spines to pictures of killer rabbits.

It wasn't always the case. In fact, George Washington finally has a library to call his own at Mount Vernon "¦ even if it has been named The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. (Fred W. Smith being, of course "¦ um ... a Washington enthusiast and chairman of a Las Vegas-based media company that operated — tada! — newspapers!)

That's a tale twisted enough for Dr. Seuss "¦

... Pause ...

"¦ When Texas Sen. Ted Cruz read "Green Eggs and Ham" during his 21-hour filibuster this past week, it was the most attention given to literary breakfast food since the Rev. Jesse Jackson read the same Seussian story on "Saturday Night Live" on the weekend following Theodore Geisel's death.

In modern times, our attention spans being what they are, our sights have been set somewhat lower. As of Saturday, this seven-second video — www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDj72zqZakE — had been viewed approximately 1.4 million times.

In politics, as in real life, there's plenty of time — I.LXXV billion years, at least — for waffling. But the need for libraries isn't a football or a hot potato(e), it's a statement that we haven't so totally given into our infinite appetite for distractions that we've lost sight of our capacity, our need, for independent thought.

In "Time Enough To Last," when Henry Bemis bends down to pick up a book, his glasses fall off and crack on the rubble of civilization's self-destruction.

"Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape," Rod Serling's narrator intones, "just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself."

Tell us again about the libraries, Henry. We want to hear about the libraries.

Mail Tribune news editor Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@mailtribune.com

Share This Story