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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Yin and Yang of the Many Worlds of Literature

There are so many aspects of literature that it is hard to define or confine. It entails a huge publishing world that is becoming more complex by the day. Readers may blithely indulge in their favorite genre without giving it much though. Awards. Editing. Printing. Formatting. The kaleidoscope parts of fiction from structure to dialogue.

But lately I’ve been noticing a yin and yang of literature. It’s a little like matter and the dark stuff that physicists now talk about. So many exciting developments, but then a pull or tug of something gloomy, destructive, or even evil.

Peter Cook’s curbside library in Los Angeles is a case in point. These do-it-yourself libraries have been sprouting up in isolated spots across the nation (maybe the world), usually hand-built affairs. Scrap two-by-fours. Old crates. Discarded tarps or garbage bags used as liners. Each, if not deserving of being called a sculpture, is at least a creative effort of the owner, one that reflects a love of learning and a need to share. They even have a way of bring small communities together—kind of like block parties. Take a book, leave one, or swap. It’s all the same to those who love books and reading at these libraries. No strings attached.

No good deed goes unrewarded. But then along comes the dark matter, the yang. Along comes an ogre who doesn’t like that the library is planted on the grass strip between sidewalk and street. Yikes. Such an infringement! He or she—we don’t know which because grinches often prefer to stay anonymous—forgets that public property is supposed to benefit the public. So poor Cook gets reported and his readers suffer.

Of course, when a violation is reported, the city has to follow up. They, too forget that rules are meant to be broken. Especially when no zoning rule has been broken other than utilizing a nice little grassy spot near the curb where a book can be accessed easily. They forget that their first duty may not be to police zoning laws so much as to protect the people and add a modicum of neighborliness to any community.

Sometimes they miscalculate, though. Did Cook just cave when confronted with the almighty hand of the government? I should say not. He and his fellow book lovers are fighting the city. And with journalists and columnists like LA Times’ Steve Lopez around to broadcast Cook’s plight, they just might win the war against this particular zoning law that needs to be bent—and against the neighborhood Grinch.

Oh, one last thing. Journalism is our key to freedom. Sometimes it seems as if we are all too hasty to criticize it. But that love of reading, that urge to read what we want without fear of censorship? That’s one of those aspects of literature that we need to protect with every ounce of our beings. Journalism is one of the ways we keep the light side brighter and stronger than the dark.

A Tip for Writers:

My multi award-winning The Frugal Editor is now in its second edition—as an e-book (the print edition is coming a bit later.) It’s been reformatted, updated and expanded.

A Tip for Readers' Tip:

If you have a favorite author and have no idea how to thank him or her for the many hours of pleasure he or she has provided, why not pass your fondness forward? Add a reader review to or Or mention them on Facebook with a link to the buypage on Amazon. Or here’s a biggie! Offer to give them a reading party in your home. You could even make it a book potluck.

2015 Past Columns


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