Read a Studs Terkel book this New Year (or how my book collection shrank)

As I pondered my approach to the last book recommendation of the year, I looked over my bookshelf and through the several boxes of books that sit in my bedroom because I didn’t have a shelf to put them on (our house is small and already fits seven people).  Many of the books there would have worked, but I wasn’t struck by them so much as I was struck by the books that were missing.  Then I remembered when I had gotten rid of them, and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad and a little happy at the same time.

I was thinking of my collection of Studs Terkel books–selections of paperback editions that had been highlighted and underlined here and there, but that for the most part, were surprisingly clean copies for college editions.  It isn’t that I didn’t use these books as much as my other texts, but that I chose to use notecards instead of in-copy marks because I wanted to share the books with friends and family. 

As most activist readers know, Studs Terkel passed away in 2008.  The world won’t be quite the same with this loss, but I have no doubt that his work will live on for many, many years to come.  Terkel had a way of getting to the heart of things as he interviewed average, everyday Americans and transcribed their words into his books. 

In 2006, my family and I made a difficult decision.  After living on less than minimum wage for a year and having to use credit to purchase food and pay our electric bill (which was often as much as our rent in a substandard home), after health problems that unqualified health professionals couldn’t help, after seeing our kids attend schools where the staff was absolutely unequipped to meet their educational needs, we decided to sell pretty much everything and move in search of a better life.  Among the things we sold was my collection of more than 3,000 books–my Studs Terkel collection included.  It was the kind of thing he would have written about, and I believe he would have approved.

So as we face 2009, I recommend heading to the official Studs Terkel web site, looking over his books, and picking one to read.  Hard Times seems particularly appropriate for the current state of America.  Let this be a time for remembering, and through remembering, let this be a time for looking forward.

Happy New Year,

Cross-posted at The Externalist Blog.  A new book recommendation for readers interested in activist literature appears there each week.


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