I suspect with a traveling bookstore, things seem to go faster than if my business was in one place, situated in a brick-and-mortar bookstore securely settled at one address. At least that is how it felt recently. Within the last week, there was a fantastic article about the bookstore by Brittany Shoot in Atlas Obscura. There was a day spent canvassing for the upcoming November election that brought forth stronger opinions then I typically hear when the bookstore is set up. There was setting up at a harvest festival yesterday in a Montana town and meeting all sorts of people: an individual from a Methodist church who offered books left over from their annual book sale, a high school student who immediately fell in love with the traveling bookstore concept and is going to save to start her own, an author who writes about what racism feels like in small Western rural communities, a teen mom excited to find a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson because she read it as a child and wants to share it with her new family, and a lively conversation about growing old in reference to Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare. Also over the past week there has been harsh discussion on local social media about a political poster at the county fair. There are times when I am tempted to ignore things, but I can’t
Friends point out it might be better for my business to stay apolitical. But I know after umpteen years that it isn’t possible. Thinking about this today while reflecting on everything that came my way this week, I remembered the Greek word πόλις (polis) and how that evolved to become the English word politics.
Decades ago when first starting to support myself, I decided it was good to do work that wasn’t involved with politics. I ended up cooking at the Salvation Army. Within a fairly short time though, I realized cooking for people who came through the dinner line brought up questions about who needed food, where that food came from, and what determined who has access to what kinds of food. Even as a cook, I was involved in a political situation. Some years later I found myself teaching basic skills to adults: reading, writing and mathematics to people who for numerous reasons hadn’t picked up these skills earlier in life. Before too much time went by, I realized what brought those students into the classroom was very much a product of political decisions. Which schools had enough funding? What quality of teachers were available? What did a school board support?
I eventually realized it is impossible to find a place in civic life that isn’t political one way or another. Thus with a traveling bookstore – what books are on the shelves, which towns do I go to, which neighborhoods? And each of these decisions from books to where the traveling bookstore sets up says something about my politics. I can’t be apolitical. None of us can.