Books Can Still Change the World
by Michael Larsen
(excerpted from the San Francisco Examiner, 9/29/77)
The right book will change the world. A book that changes the United States will change the world. Such a book is more likely to originate in the San Francisco Bay Area than anywhere else.
The natural beauty of the Bay Area, however parched; the wealth and diversity of its people, places, processes, and institutions; and its openness to new ideas and peoples, make it a magnet for creative souls.
More than one hundred and fifty years ago, the intrepid poured through the Golden Gate searching for gold. Today they come to mine the vein of their own potential, seeking a creative, compassionate way of life in harmony with themselves and the world around them.
Many here originally found the tools for this quest in the Whole Earth Catalog. First written and published in the Bay Area, it was a visionary manifesto based on the awareness of nature’s limitations – and ours. The catalog called upon the traditional virtues which had made American great: spirit, strength, self-reliance, sacrifice, compassion, energy, ingenuity, pragmatism, and courage.
However, the philosophical underpinning for the exercise of these virtues is Eastern. It is the unifying belief that we are one with the universe.
Life should be the celebration of a vision. The ‘beats,’ the hippies, and the sixties counterculture were harbingers of a new vision. And the vision of the Whole Earth Catalog was do-it-yourself reliance, small-scale living, the unity of nature, and our responsibility for Spaceship Earth. This lifestyle replaces:
* the artificial with the natural
* consumption with simplicity
* possessions with experience
* economic growth with personal growth
* the desire for more with the need for enough
The Catalog and the Bay Area spawned thousands of offspring: books on crafts, wholesome foods, health, exercise, psychology, alternative religions and lifestyles, feminism, and ecology. The assumptions these offspring questioned and the problems they confronted remain complex, inter-related and enormous. Today, the need for books – fiction as well as non-fiction – to stimulate awareness and dialogue, propose solutions and inspire change, is the greatest and best challenge a writer could want.
For writers, published and unpublished, the gauntlet is down. Your ability and imagination have never been more needed:
* Help us to realize our gifts and motivate us to use them.
* Tell us how much time and effort we each owe to our individual countries and how to make a meaningful contribution to them.
* Create in us a sense of the unity of the concentric, occasionally contradictory realities which revolve around us like planets round the sun – oneself as an individual, member of a family, citizen of a town, country, and universe.
* Show us how to sustain the creative tension between beauty and pain.
* Prove to us that in life, as in art, unjustified pain is obscene and intolerable.
* Teach us an abiding compassion and responsibility for all living things, as well as for the right and the need for them to exist.
* Provide us with works of art that uplift our spirits and make us believe in ourselves.
Most importantly, take heart in the knowledge that no other medium of communication is as intimate, enduring, effective, authoritative, profound, or powerful as a book.