A Reading Diary Entry or, The Importance of Community

I don’t have a particular philosophy for how I pick my reading list. I start with the very vaguest of plans, and frequently indulge in impulses. And yet, at times, certain patterns emerge anyway.

As the title suggests, I’ve been thinking a lot about community. There are reasons for this in my private life, but in terms of my media consumption, it starts with Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant. I had little context for Grant himself, other than knowing his prestige as a general, and I’ve been quite surprised. It turns out he wasn’t always confident and self-assured. In fact, prior to the civil war, he was frequently assailed by bouts of loneliness and depression. Mostly bereft of close friends other than his wife, Grant’s struggles with alcohol were much pronounced when lonely, something I suspect many (though not all) of those with the same struggle would identify with.

Next came a new release by Senator Ben Sasse, Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal, which I picked up impulsively from a display at my local library. In it, Sasse argues that we’re so angry because we’re so disconnected from a sense of shared community, especially locally, and people who disagree with me become an avatar on a screen instead of Jake from PTA meetings. “In the midst of extraordinary prosperity,” he says, “we’re also living through a crisis. Our communities are collapsing, and people are feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before.”

Isolation.  Purposelessness.

Then most unexpectedly, when reading the science fiction graphic novel Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan (mostly well known as the writer of Saga), I came across this theme again, although it’s admittedly not the foremost theme of the story.  Amidst some crazy timey-wimey scifi stuff (because, you know, spoilers), a character says her only regret is being too afraid of the “coolness” of other girls to form friendships with them.  Loneliness, it turns out, is the behind some regrets, as well as depression and alcohol addiction.

I don’t necessarily have a “so what,” except to say that loneliness and the need for community are experiences central to being human, which is why we find them across genres.  Biography, quasi-politica nonfiction, and sci-fi graphic novel casts quite the spread. But good stories speak to the human experience, even if the genre window-dressing varies.

Other stuff I’m consuming:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (excellent!), Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesteron (quite good), and of course, the return of the Attack on Titan anime.

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