Joe Queenan wrote many so-so books and one great one, a memoir called Closing Time. What he had to say about reading books is vital for many people to hear right this minute: “[B]ooks are without question the wealth of the poor’s children. Books are a guiding light out of the underworld, a secret passageway, an escape hatch. To the affluent, books are ornaments. To the poor, books are siege weapons.”
In normal circumstances, those with means (from the upper middle class to the truly wealthy) can trade money for pretty much whatever they want. They can live in an environment that is tailored to their whims. They can shop, eat, drink, and be merry at local establishments. They can travel great distances and have adventures. The poor cannot do these things because they cannot afford these things.
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Books are important to the children of the poor, such as Queenan, because they help to remove, mentally, the material barriers that hold them back. Books offer them an escape from their resource trap, and not just a temporary one. Words allow them to go places that they’d never dreamed of before. That dreaming allows them to see possibilities beyond their privation and eventually to find a way out of it.
These are not normal circumstances. We are all poor now, even the rich. Markets have tanked, but that’s almost beside the point. Our money doesn’t easily translate into what it used to. We are isolated, trapped, alone, and we don’t know when or how things will get better. Many people turn to news and social media to track the latest troubles. Knowledge is important, yet that’s not what’s behind this endless scrolling for many people.
A dear friend of mine wrote on social media, “I’m in limbo and don’t know what to do with myself. I’m just waiting for news, any kind of news of what comes next. This is all so strange.” And I replied, “Escape: read (fiction), write, dream.”
I’m convinced escapism is more important now than ever before. Many of us desperately need to get our minds out of our current circumstances and onto just about anything else.
That’s why I was overjoyed when The American Spectator’s Gal Thursday Hannah Rowan contacted me. She said that the editors wanted to do something a bit different on the blog at this time. The idea is to focus on the means of escape that contributors are finding in these confining times. Let’s open that escape hatch together.
Editor’s Note: The coronavirus pandemic has many of us shut up in our homes for now. That can be isolating and frustrating. But it can also be a chance to catch up on things we let fall away during busier times. So we’re asking our writers and readers: How are you spending your time amid the shutdown? We’re open to anything that will make us laugh or think and help us share what will be a difficult time for many. Please send contributions of 250–400 words to email@example.com.