As villainous one-liners go, “Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure” is one for the ages. Part of a note left in the comment box of the library in Coeur D’Alene, a small town in Idaho, US, the declaration of sadistic pleasure is from an as yet unidentified vandal who has been deliberately hiding books that are anti-President Donald Trump and/or deal with issues like gun control and LGBTQ rights. Going by reports, the “liberal angst” in Coeur D’Alene is indeed palpable.
All libraries are labyrinths: They must be navigated through complex notations, the Dewey Decimal System, and the librarian, like some ancient, formidable sphinx, guards knowledge, and ensures silence. But the mazes of shelves and books do talk, often to each other, and open up strange new worlds for the unsuspecting reader. Browsing, long before it meant scrolling through the algorithm-determined shopping suggestions on Amazon, was a journey of discovery. Searching for a book on marine biology, one could stumble on to Darwin, and through him, to theological explanations of first causes on to St Augustine and from him to Plato.
By hiding certain books, the vandal of Coeur D’Alene has brought back bitter memories for a town that was forced to put under lock and key books on human rights because of white supremacists 30-odd years ago. For many, Trump’s political ascendance is a throwback to that time. But the books that are hidden are still there, in the library, on a shelf they don’t belong, waiting to be discovered by an eager reader. Nestled in those shelves is a possibility of opening up a mind that would otherwise remain ensconced in the received wisdom of reading lists and letting it loose in the labyrinth of ideas. The thought alone is enough to dispel liberal angst.