There aren’t many perks to living in Salt Lake City, but (this goes to show just how big a nerd I am) the City Library is one. The building looks like it comes from the future depicted in the movie Minority Report. It has a comic-book store, a small art gallery, an impressive selection of classical and jazz on CD, and of course four floors filled with books. Every spring they host a massive book sale in the basement with paperbacks going for 25 cents and hardbacks a dollar. It’s not all Danielle Steele and John Grisham either! A couple of years ago I was able to pick up Harry Elmer Barnes’ 3-volume An Intellectual and Cultural History of the Western World.
This year Jane and I hauled out a cart of over 70 books for under forty bucks. She collected Henry James, D.H. Lawrence, Eudora Welty, as well as books on law and politics. Of particular interest to me in the latter category were The 9/11 C omission Report (which topped Ron Paul’s recommended reading list for Rudy Guliani after Guliani boasted about never having heard of the “blowback” theory of terrorism), and Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun (published by the Liberty Fund, who also put out the edition of Mises’ Human Action that I bought for my brother). I got a few political books: two recent books by Gore Vidal on American foreign policy, Dreaming War, and Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (the latter title purloined from the aforementioned Barnes); progressive historian Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (surprisingly, an influence on the conservative anarchist Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State); intellectual historian Carl Becker’s The Declaration of Independence; and English socialist economic historian R.H. Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. But most books came from my prime areas of interest: literary and cultural criticism, and classic literature. In the former category I picked up some Leslie Fiedler, Herbert Read (an anarchist critic!), and Lionel Trilling; Northrup Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism and M.H. Abrams’ The Mirror and the Lamp, two important books on aesthetic theory that have been on my reading list for some time; Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind and Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future, two necon jeremiads; and finally, the big score, Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man, which I began reading last night. I can already see how ahead of his time McLuhan was, how much of his exuberant visionary style was picked up by Camille Paglia, and how much better he is in his meditations on the effects of media upon human consciousness and experience than the dreary Walter Benjamin (who is in turn a cut above his colleague, the demonic Theodor Adorno). In literature I bagged Xenophon’s Anabasis (inspiration for the classic cheesey movie The Warriors!), Gangantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais, Selected Essays by Montaigne, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Mattew Lewis’ The Monk (with an introduction by Stephen King), Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (upon seeing the last, my friend Michael informs me that I am a masochist, which is probably true). Rounding things up are novels by Dreiser, Larry McMurtry, Sherwood Anderson, and paperback sci-fi by Fritz Lieber and Samuel R. Delany.
Of course I’m not ignorant of the fact that the means by which libraries are funded are ones I am against, as are the roads I drive on to get there, and so on. But I am certain that in a real free market, we would probably have even more libraries, of various sizes, selections and policies, just as in the market for music and movies (both offered by the library too, of course, so maybe it isn’t entirely fair to blame the closing of Blockbuster on Netflix or the woes of bookstores on Amazon).