Root and Press Newsletter Worcester's Independent Blog, Cafe and Bookstore

Within hours of our last newsletter distribution on Tuesday January 5th, the attack on the Capitol building rendered most of its contents, well, not so important. It has been hard to write another one. It seems the more one attempts to regain any sense of normalcy, whether pertaining to the pandemic or democratic norms, the more violent the successive shocks are to our country. As insurrectionists sat in Nancy Pelosi and Mike Pence's chairs, thousands of sick lay in hospital beds and frankly, it is hard to say which story matters more. We are inundated daily with an unprecedented volume of challenges that require our utmost attention - whether it is the handling of the pandemic, the perseverance of the guardrails of democracy, or the backlash of an abused environment. How is it possible to effectively wage the battle of protecting our personal health, ensuring the resilience of our national democratic traditions, promoting equality and preserving the well-being of our planet?

A lot of the reason I wanted to open a bookstore was to present books that attempt to tackle the questions of our times. The only way to confront these issues is with transparency and truth from elected leaders and a well-read, independent citizenry that can hold them accountable. When leaders fail to uphold the most basic standards of the consensus of a people (established through courts, elections, laws, institutions, etc.) they must be exiled (and men or women who fail to adhere to these basic premises should never again be considered for public office.) 

On an individual level, however, we must understand that our own perspectives, as true as they may seem, are just that - perspectives. I am not an expert in philosophy but I know the idea of an established "fact" can vary from person to person, even those, for instance, who witness the same event unfold. (We have utilized many instruments in an attempt to reach consensus on issues, such as the Scientific Method, math, etc.) Therefore, we must remain open to challenges to our perspectives and, upon examination, either renew our commitment to our previously held beliefs or a alter our beliefs based on new learning. This give-and-take runs in stark juxtaposition to the rigid echo chambers, social media feeds, and political think-tanks that mass produce thought on every issue in American life.

While a history student a few years back, I read an article by Peter Novick titled "Nailing Jelly to the Wall." The underlying premise was that historical objectivity was impossible (the nail of jelly to a wall!) because we are all a product of our times, experiences, and relationships, all of which are unique individual to individual. Therefore, although we all aim to remain "neutral" in our initial investigation of an issue, we are already pre-inclined to move one way or another. Social psychologists largely agree that it is our gut instincts that guide or so-called "rationality" rather than the other way around. These ideas are great frames of reference when considering our own biases, which many of us overlook not because of malicious negligence but because of ignorance.

Books are important, namely because the best among them present ideas that are thought out, cognizant, and researched. We have a non-fiction book club here at Root and Press and the guiding quote of the group I selected as “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” (George Martin!) We will be much better citizens and produce much better leaders if we recommit ourselves to valuing the opinion of others (hate groups and anarchists excluded) not for the acceptance their views, necessarily, but in many cases for buttressing our own thoughts and arguments. As we enter a new era in political discourse, hopefully our national tone in disagreements can be dialed down and more productive governance can result. Keep reading, keep arguing, and keep up the good fights.

New Books!

Craft: An American History by Glenn Adamson

At the center of the United States' economic and social development, according to conventional wisdom, are industry and technology-while craftspeople and handmade objects are relegated to a bygone past. Renowned historian Glenn Adamson turns that narrative on its head in this innovative account, revealing makers' central role in shaping America's identity. Examine any phase of the nation's struggle to define itself, and artisans are there-from the silversmith Paul Revere and the revolutionary carpenters and blacksmiths who hurled tea into Boston Harbor, to today's "maker movement." From Mother Jones to Rosie the Riveter. From Betsy Ross to Rosa Parks. From suffrage banners to the AIDS Quilt.

Adamson shows that craft has long been implicated in debates around equality, education, and class. Artisanship has often been a site of resistance for oppressed people, such as enslaved African-Americans whose skilled labor might confer hard-won agency under bondage, or the Native American makers who adapted traditional arts into statements of modernity. Theirs are among the array of memorable portraits of Americans both celebrated and unfamiliar in this richly peopled book. As Adamson argues, these artisans' stories speak to our collective striving toward a more perfect union. From the beginning, America had to be-and still remains to be-crafted.

Land: How the Hunger For Land Ownership Changed the World by Simon Winchester

 Land--whether meadow or mountainside, desert or peat bog, parkland or pasture, suburb or city--is central to our existence. It quite literally underlies and underpins everything. Employing the keen intellect, insatiable curiosity, and narrative verve that are the foundations of his previous bestselling works, Simon Winchester examines what we human beings are doing--and have done--with the billions of acres that together make up the solid surface of our planet.

Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World examines in depth how we acquire land, how we steward it, how and why we fight over it, and finally, how we can, and on occasion do, come to share it. Ultimately, Winchester confronts the essential question: who actually owns the world's land--and why does it matter?

Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots by James Suzman

 Work defines who we are. It determines our status, and dictates how, where, and with whom we spend most of our time. It mediates our self-worth and molds our values. But are we hard-wired to work as hard as we do? Did our Stone Age ancestors also live to work and work to live? And what might a world where work plays a far less important role look like?

To answer these questions, James Suzman charts a grand history of work from the origins of life on Earth to our ever more automated present, challenging some of our deepest assumptions about who we are. Drawing insights from anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, zoology, physics, and economics, he shows that while we have evolved to find joy meaning and purpose in work, for most of human history our ancestors worked far less and thought very differently about work than we do now. He demonstrates how our contemporary culture of work has its roots in the agricultural revolution ten thousand years ago. Our sense of what it is to be human was transformed by the transition from foraging to food production, and, later, our migration to cities. Since then, our relationships with one another and with our environments, and even our sense of the passage of time, have not been the same.

Arguing that we are in the midst of a similarly transformative point in history, Suzman shows how automation might revolutionize our relationship with work and in doing so usher in a more sustainable and equitable future for our world and ourselves.

Being Ram Dass by Ram Dass

 Perhaps no other teacher has sparked the fires of as many spiritual seekers in the West as Ram Dass. If you've ever embraced the phrase be here now, practiced meditation or yoga, tried psychedelics, or supported anyone in a hospice, prison, or homeless center--then the story of Ram Dass is also part of your story.

From his birth in 1931 to his luminous later years, Ram Dass saw his life as just one incarnation of many. This memoir puts us in the passenger seat with the one time Harvard psychologist and lifelong risk-taker Richard Alpert, who loved to take friends on wild rides on his Harley and test nearly every boundary--inner or outer--that came his way.

Here, Ram Dass shares his life's odyssey in intimate detail: how he struggled with issues of self-identity and sexuality in his youth, pioneered psychedelic research, and opened the doorways to Eastern spiritual practices. In 1967 he trekked to India and met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba. He returned as a yogi and psychologist whose perspective changed millions.

Populated by a cast of luminaries ranging from Timothy Leary to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Allen Ginsberg to Sharon Salzberg, Aldous Huxley to Alan Watts--this intimate memoir chronicles Ram Dass's experience of the cultural and spiritual transformations that resonate with us to this day, a journey from the mind to the heart, from the ego to the soul.

Before, after, and along these waypoints, readers will encounter many other adventures and revelations--each ringing with the potential to awaken the universal, loving divine that links this beloved teacher to all of us.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

 International phenomenon Angie Thomas revisits Garden Heights seventeen years before the events of The Hate U Give in this searing and poignant exploration of Black boyhood and manhood. If there's one thing seventeen-year-old Maverick Carter knows, it's that a real man takes care of his family. As the son of a former gang legend, Mav does that the only way he knows how: dealing for the King Lords. With this money he can help his mom, who works two jobs while his dad's in prison. Life's not perfect, but with a fly girlfriend and a cousin who always has his back, Mav's got everything under control. Until, that is, Maverick finds out he's a father.

Suddenly he has a baby, Seven, who depends on him for everything. But it's not so easy to sling dope, finish school, and raise a child. So when he's offered the chance to go straight, he takes it. In a world where he's expected to amount to nothing, maybe Mav can prove he's different. When King Lord blood runs through your veins, though, you can't just walk away. Loyalty, revenge, and responsibility threaten to tear Mav apart, especially after the brutal murder of a loved one. He'll have to figure out for himself what it really means to be a man.

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