Welcome to the Impossible World
Books matter. Stories matter. People die of pernicious stories, are reinvented by new stories, and make stories to shelter themselves. Though we learned from postmodernism that a story is only a construct, so is a house, and a story can be more important as shelter: the story that you have certain inalienable rights and immeasurable value, the story that there is an alternative to violence and competition, the story that women are human beings. Sometimes people find the stories that save their lives in books.
The stories we live by are themselves like characters in books: Some we will outlive us; some will betray us; some will bring us joy; some will lead us to places we could never have imagined. George Orwell’s 1984 wasn’t a story to shelter in, but a story meant to throw open the door and thrust us into the strong winds of history; it was a warning in the form of a story. Edward Abbey’s The Monkeywrench Gang was an invitation in the form of a story, but even its author didn’t imagine how we might take up that invitation or that Glen Canyon Dam might have taken on a doomed look by 2006. “The universe,” said the radical American poet Muriel Rukeyser, “is made of stories, not atoms.” I believe that being able to recognize stories, to read them, and to tell them is what it takes to have a life, rather than just make a living. This is the equipment you should have received.