Sara Paretsky's small book of essays, Writing in an Age of Silence, carries messages much bigger than the book itself. It certainly isn't as well known as it should be. Paretsky's essays tell about finding voices for the voiceless. In this important election year, Paretsky needs to be heard.
As a librarian, I cared about the section, "Libraries and civil liberties." As readers, everyone should care. She says, "Everyting is harder for new writers now, in many ways, and one of those ways is the steep drop in book sales to libraries. Somehow in the last two decades, Americans have decided that it is outrageous to pay taxes to support the common good. As a result, we have repeatedly cut library budgets, until today libraries have about a third of the money to buy books that they did twenty years ago." If your library collections are smaller than they used to be, if they lack the depth they used to have, ask yourself this question. Do you support your public library with your voice? Do you check books out of the library, or do you buy the books you want? Do you tell your local government that you want the library to be supported?
This isn't the primary message of Paretsky's book. Paretsky speaks up for those who have no voice, those like the child she was, in a home that could crush a soul. She observed lives crushed when she worked for civil rights in Chicago in the 1960's. And, in so many ways, Paretsky is still a voice for the voiceless, using her fictional character, V.I. Warshawski, to fight for their rights.
Most of all, Sara Paretsky uses her book, and the essay, "Truth, Lies, and Duct Tape," to give voice to the truth, something that hasn't been spoken much in recent years. When she talks about what we've done to air travel, she says, "Every aspect of life in contemporary America is affected by the public reaction to the events of September 11: a ruinous war in Iraq, the threat, as I write this in the fall of 2006, that the United States will compound the sins we committed in attacking Iraq by going to war against Iran; the erosion of our civil liberties; the collapse of our economy, so that we cannot afford to fund programs for the public good, even if the government had the will to do so; and, over it all, the use of language to distort, to corrupt, to lie, on a scale only George Orwell or Joseph Goebbels might have imagined."
Writing in an Age of Silence is an important book. Read Paretsky's introduction, and her final essay, and ask yourself why this book is so important, particularly in an election year.
Writing in an Age of Silence by Sara Paretsky. Verso, ©2007. ISBN 978-1-84467-122-9(hardcover), 138p.