Saul Bellow a couple of years ago in the New York Times (as part of the "Writers on Writing" series) told of people in small towns who nonetheless have a vibrant intellectual life. I'm not lit'ry --- for one thing I've never read any of Bellow's fiction --- but his first two paragraphs caught me:

When I was a boy "discovering literature," I used to think how wonderful it would be if every other person on the street were familiar with Proust and Joyce or T. E. Lawrence or Pasternak and Kafka. Later I learned how refractory to high culture the democratic masses were. Lincoln as a young frontiersman read Plutarch, Shakespeare and the Bible. But then he was Lincoln.

Later when I was traveling in the Midwest by car, bus and train, I regularly visited small-town libraries and found that readers in Keokuk, Iowa, or Benton Harbor, Mich., were checking out Proust and Joyce and even Svevo and Andrei Biely. D. H. Lawrence was also a favorite. And sometimes I remembered that God was willing to spare Sodom for the sake of 10 of the righteous. Not that Keokuk was anything like wicked Sodom, or that Proust's Charlus would have been tempted to settle in Benton Harbor, Mich. I seem to have had a persistent democratic desire to find evidence of high culture in the most unlikely places.

There are a (at least!) two bits of subtle wisdom to note here:

And this doesn't just apply to towns --- it's true for any organization, big or small, serious or social, charitable or corporate.

TopicLiterature - TopicLibraries - TopicSociety - 2001-11-24

(correlates: OneDeep, BookHouses, MortalityFunctions, ...)