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Staving Off the Apocalypse with a Thousand Points of Light

During the last week of 2018, I continued my practice of fasting from all TV news (and their pernicious attempts to upset me) and trying to focus, as often as possible, on reading newspaper stories without the president’s name in the headline. (And no news reading after 7 PM!) These are my small attempts to hold back the apocalyptic dread I feel deep in my bones in order to still function and even get a few hours of sleep each night. But, alas, on that day I chose to read about Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his desire to roll back Brazil’s environmental progress and lessen gun-control standards so that all Brazilians can “protect” themselves (from each other, presumably). And so, once more, the world-weary wave of despair washed over me.

As usual, my wife helped in my recovery. While she suffers similarly, she has discovered a strange practice that helps. She re-watches recent funerals of public figures and, as a result, feels calmed and encouraged. I have seen the surprised looks she receives when recommending watching Senator John McCain’s or President Bush’s funerals as if they were self-help books—despite the fact that I can’t imagine her ever voting for either. But I understand her reaction. Affirming what is good, noble, just, and right, as is done for these men at their funerals, does more to push back the darkness than avoiding reading bad news.

In that context I was reminded of President Bush’s “thousand points of light” speech, which at the time I dismissed, but now, in a less partisan context, strikes me as not only wise but much needed. His point was to notice and be encouraged by all the local groups and organizations doing good in our communities. He was right, and perhaps I should not look so far afield if I want ammunition in the fight to keep hope alive. In fact, what we do day-to-day at HarperOne strikes me as counting as many points of light.

I often tell authors that I have no idea why anyone would write a book. It is a long, hard, demanding, often capricious, and seldom lucrative enterprise that 95 percent of the time disappoints everyone’s expectations. But yet authors continue to write books and several dozen of us show up here each day to help them do it successfully. Why?

Because books are how human beings pass along what is most worth remembering and cherishing, whether for the sake of knowledge, wisdom, instruction, insight, transformation, ideas, or just plain fun. And so, whether our efforts result in success or disappointment, with each book we keep alight something both noble and ennobling. That is something worth celebrating.

Here are a few of our points of light in 2018:

  • Rose McGowan continued her brave and revolutionary efforts to expose epidemic sexual harassment in her memoir Brave.
  • Philosopher and boxing aficionado Gordon Marino made the wisdom of Kierkegaard and existentialism hip and helpful in The Existentialist’s Survival Guide.
  • Harvard’s Todd Rose once again tried to ween us from the mistaken idea that conformity to the right formula is everyone’s best path to success in Dark Horse.
  • Historian and Protestant sage Diana Butler Bass did the impossible: write a probing, in-depth survey on the importance of gratitude during the election of 2016. Read Grateful for its bracing good news.
  • A member of Pussy Riot, who not only spent time in Russian jails but made knit hats cool again, Nadya Tolokonnikova, passed on all she learned from her impressive record of fearless activism, when we needed it most, in Read & Riot.
  • Journalist Maya Dusenbery embodied the best of her profession by blowing the horn on the systemic injustice of how healthcare for women is often untested, misinformed, and injurious in Doing Harm.
  • Worship music star Vicky Beeching told the moving story of how she lost her livelihood and her church when she decided to stop hiding her sexual orientation and become whole and more holy in Undivided.

I could go on, but that sampling will make my point. Whether or not you read any of these books, let’s stop for a moment and take in the fact that these people made a herculean effort to create a book because they thought they had something to pass along that would make our world a little better. Their efforts might not appear in our news feed, but they are nonetheless newsworthy in a deeper sense. They help push back the darkness. For me, at least, these efforts make it a little easier to come to work in the morning and do my part in helping along the points of light I encounter. So perhaps I should stop focusing on headlines. Perhaps the best course for staving off the apocalypse’s oppressive darkness is to follow the late President’s advice and blow on the embers of light around us until they shine so brightly that the darkness vanishes. May your new year be full of light.

Michael G. Maudlin
Senior Vice President and Executive Editor

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