OPINION: Read a book, write a letter



I have a mind that wanders. I’ve had it for a long time, so you don’t have to feel sorry for me — I’m used to it.

For most of my grown-up life, in fact, I’ve considered it an asset. A wandering mind is a tool for a writer; it helps make the connections. But there were times when it didn’t serve me so well, as in when I was in school or other scenarios where the conformity-minded of the world want you to pay attention.

It can be hard to keep track of a wandering mind. I’ve been writing an opinion column for a while now, way long enough to not remember everything I’ve written, but I’m happy to report that most of the time when I think I’ve written about something it turns out that — voila! — I have.

In order to check on that kind of thing you have to search for yourself, and I don’t mean that in an existential sense. I literally type in “Kurz” and whatever it is I think I’ve written about and wait to see what happens; what the algorithm, or whatever it is, lurking within our archives gurgles up.

I will offer an example. Just now, or moments ago, I wondered what I had written about Banned Books Week, an annual observation which is this week, or thereabouts — I figured I must have written something about it — and what I discovered was actually kind of surprising.

I wrote about Banned Books Week four years ago, but it made an appearance in only the last two sentences of my column. It appears I was on my way to writing about Banned Books Week but got sidetracked, or you could say I wandered, into something else. Guess what? I’m about to do it again!

Instead of recommending whether you read a banned book or not, I observed that the opinion pages were getting crowded. This was municipal election time, and we were inviting candidates, those running for mayor or city or town council, to write opinion pieces basically explaining themselves: why are you running, why should people vote for you? That kind of thing.

One reason to do that is it’s interesting to read about why people think they can make a difference. It’s already encouraging that they believe they can, and while I can be as cynical about politics as the next grump, I find it inherently uplifting to hear from people who express a desire to make things better.

The other thing I wrote about instead of writing about banned books is letters to the editor. Typically from Labor Day, or thereabouts, to some time before Election Day, a distinction is made for letters to the editor that deal with the upcoming election, and that distinction involves putting a 100-word limit on those type of letters. Letters about other topics still operate in the 300-word limit range.

Some people do find that limiting, so I haul out the observation attributed to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Other writers have offered the same point, which is that you can say a lot in a few, well-selected words. So, you can do great things with 100 words, maybe. Anyway, brevity remains in style, no?

Plus, they add up. You’re going to see a lot of 100-word letters over the next few weeks. You can take it as a sign of health, as in healthy community, healthy democratic way.

Back to Banned Books Week. Should you read a banned book? Yes, yes. Absolutely.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.

 



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