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What Thieves Are Not Interested In
Your Right to Read.
Hello Family and welcome new subscribers!
How are you? I hope you are doing as well as can be.
Do you know what today is? (Not our anniversary; shout out to Tony! Toni! Toné!, though.) Today is the first day of National Library Week.
“The Monday of National Library Week—April 24, 2023—will mark one year since the launch of the Unite Against Book Bans campaign. To honor the occasion, we're calling on readers, advocates, and library lovers to fight back against censorship in a national day of action to defend, protect, and celebrate your right to read freely. We're calling it Right to Read Day.”
To join the Unite Against Book Bans campaign, visit the website: HERE.
Happy Right to Read Day!
Speaking of reading…
An interesting thing happened to me on April 11 (which was my sister’s birthday; Happy Birthday, Crystal!)
I was expecting two packages to be delivered to our home. I was nervous about that because I was scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. ET lunch date with my editor Sally Kim. If the packages arrived while I was at lunch, and the delivery person didn’t leave them in a secure location, they were guaranteed to be stolen.
Brooklyn—and, apparently, the rest of the country—has seen a drastic increase in mail theft. This doesn’t surprise me. Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the nation’s horrific response to it, my city has felt unmoored. There’s corruption in city leadership. Food prices are ridiculous. Public services are on the chopping block. Tensions (and housing prices) are high. Some people are doing whatever they have to do to scrape by; some are doing whatever they can get away with. If that means rolling through the neighborhood peeping chances to swipe folks’ deliveries, well…
As luck wouldn’t have it, my packages arrived at 12:35 p.m. ET, while I was at lunch with Sally. The delivery person texted me to let me know that the packages would be hidden behind the potted plants. I thought that was acceptable.
By the time I got home, around 2:30 p.m. ET, the packages were gone.
I wasn’t going to do anything more at first; I was just going to charge it to the game. But we have security cameras around our home and we also have Ring. Thirty minutes later, I decided to review the footage. Here’s what I saw:
At about 1:16 p.m. ET, a man on a bike cruises past our house. A few seconds later, he’s back. He spotted the pretty decently hidden packages. He got off his bike and climbed our front steps. Noticing the cameras, he pulled down his baseball cap and pulled his hood over his head. After a few moments, he descended the steps, packages in hand, and rode off.
(I was going to post the footage here, but decided that I don’t want to do that. It’s not the compassionate thing to do and it would bring me no pleasure to publicly embarrass someone near or at their lowest as eternal fodder for judgment and entertainment, adding to the generalizing, pathologizing, and stereotyping that’s already rampant in these un-rigorous virtual streets.)
I was upset, you know, that homie would just take my shit. How you just gonna rob your own people like that, Fam? But I realized that I was probably taking it too personally (he doesn’t know me). And I also knew that I could replace the items at no cost. Plus, no one got hurt so, you know: blessings and what not.
About three hours later, the doorbell rang. My husband answered it. It was one of my neighbors from across the street. He was holding two packages.
“Hey, man,” he said. “Somebody left these on my doorstep, but I see they belong to you. I didn’t open them. They were open like this when I found them.”
All of the contents were inside the boxes. Untouched.
What were the contents?
Apparently, thieves are not interested in books. Not in reading them nor in hocking them. I admit that as an author, I feel some type of way about that. I mean, does he not know or see the value of books? Does he know that books are among the most precious things we create? If they weren’t, would Greg Abattoir, Ron DeSatan, and them be trying so hard to get rid of them?
Hold up. Given the actions of Abattoir, DeSatan, and a host of people who navel-gaze but never self-reflect: maybe thieves actually are interested in books: interested in destroying them. What they are not interested in is your right to read.
And maybe, then, by that definition, the man who took my books and returned them isn’t a thief after all: because he preserved my books and, by extension, my right to read them.
You know what I wish?
I wish that the man had taken those books home with him. I wish he had read them. I wish that, after he was done with them, he returned them to me with a note inside breaking down how the stories made him feel, how they made him think, what they did to his heart; how upon completing them, he had to give them back because he couldn’t live with denying another human being that kind of awe.
I wish he would have recounted to me how he remembered and honored the fact that he is the descendant of enslaved people who also stole books in order to teach themselves to read and write, and he was simply continuing in that revolutionary tradition; he, too, was trying to free himself, not trying to do harm.
And then maybe, after that, I would have left a note on my stoop for the next time he came back. Because he would definitely come back, right? I would ask him: Have you read Baldwin and Morrison? And I would leave my favorite work by each of them along with the note. We would do this, back and forth, like one’s own private library. And we could also become an unusual set of pen pals—leaving letters for each other every time. (Remember pen pals? Do people still do that? I miss writing letters to people and waiting anxiously for weeks to get their responses. There’s something so romantic about that.)
And once the shame/animosity/scarcity of how we became acquainted fades—if it fades—maybe we could meet up for food at a local spot or chill on a bench at a nearby park arguing loudly about who Ellison’s Invisible Man was invisible to and what might he have to say to Wright’s Bigger Thomas. By nightfall, we’d tire and discover the inquiry to be too large for just the two us to dissect. We make a pact: we will start a book club.
There will be 13 of us initially, but the number will grow. We go round robin, leaving books and notes on each other’s doorsteps; eventually teaching our children to do the same, for generations. Even when books become illegal (and they are becoming illegal even now) and the greater populace decides that reading requires too much thinking, we will keep the underground library going, wrapping books in plastic and burying them in front-yard gardens or behind trash cans; by sewer grates or beneath park benches; beside flowering bushes or near tombstones, no matter how blasphemous; or tucked in the crooks of trees.
We’ll develop a secret code for arguing about what happens to Milkman and Guitar at the end of Song of Solomon, which will involve blinking eyes, knowing smiles, and a special choreography of The Pound. We will be sad that Octavia Butler was correct, since most of us pretended that fiction couldn’t also be truthful—and now look!
As the world slides further and further into profound ignorance, a small cadre of unlikely homies from Brooklyn will continue to know—risking everything for the word.
Reading is fundamental. Do you agree? If so:
Anyway: Are you wondering what books were returned to me?
Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong
Greenland by David Santos Donaldson
Especially banned books.
May the Ancestors love and keep you.
Blessings upon blessings,