The Awl: The Phantom Tollbooth, or The Democratizing Principle of Literature

Maria Bustillos nails it on the Awl Blog

“…I cannot help but think that it is flat wrong to teach anyone that he or she should not read, or love, or identify with, any book he or she pleases.”

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, originated a great turn of phrase — “”There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”

Now unlike friend Fox, I’m not a Christian in the Supernatural Sky Father sense of the term, but I evaluate all art on whether it speaks to my condition. And that means that there are no boundaries: I can dig on Omar Souleyman, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Burning Spear, and Ferron. Even though I’m not a Syrian Muslim, an oppressed black man, a Rastafarian or a lesbian.

One of the things that makes them each great artists is that they can speak to my condition — their work is about the specifics of their condition, but there’s nothing narrow or specific about their ability to connect with an audience. I’m with Maria Bustillos on The Phantom Tollbooth. That book fired my imagination and I’ve always been an evangelist for it. In fact, when my brother Sean was still in grade school I gave it to him for his birthday twice the second time because I’d forgotten the first.

To paraphrase Norton Juster, our project should be to swim in the sea of knowledge and get wet. If we put blinders on for any reason no matter how well intentioned, we lose.

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