Freedom to imagine
In the past year I heard Azar Nafisi, author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and "The Republic of Imagination" speak twice, and both were eloquent and passionate speeches about the importance of ideas and imagination to the continued existence of democracy and freedom.
Believe me, nobody can talk about the topic better than this Iranian professor of literature who once had to teach literature clandestinely, in defiance of the possibility of imprisonment or death. Having always felt good about my work as a bookseller and writer, it was truly revelatory to understand that at its most basic, keeping an independent bookstore open and its shelves stocked is one of the most important jobs in the world.
So often those in the humanities fields are forced to justify our existence by pulling up economic development data or demonstrating the importance of the humanities in relation to science and engineering, whose importance is unquestioned. But the humanities are intrinsically valuable.
As Nafisi said in Reading Lolita in Tehran,
“I have a recurring fantasy that one more article has been added to the Bill of Rights: the right to free access to imagination. I have come to believe that genuine democracy cannot exist without the freedom to imagine and the right to use imaginative works without any restrictions. To have a whole life, one must have the possibility of publicly shaping and expressing private worlds, dreams, thoughts and desires, of constantly having access to a dialogue between the public and private worlds. How else do we know that we have existed, felt, desired, hated, feared?”
I'm not going to let this go, now that I've grasped it. I hope everyone will make the connection between freedom and independent bookstores, especially as the 4th of July approaches.