Perhaps my love of books has always made it easier for me to have a sense of kinship with people in far away places, people whose lives are vastly different from mine. Through books I get an idea – a limited one, of course – what life is like for people of other cultures, other religions, even other time periods (though authors of history and historical fiction inevitably will project some of their own perspective onto the people they portray). I have been fortunate enough to have actually lived in another country (six months in Valencia, Spain, and a year later nine months in Madrid), though Spanish culture in a modern city is far closer to suburban life in the U.S. than if I had gone to, say, the jungles of South America or a village in Africa.
One of my favorite ways to spend time is among books. A library or a store that sells used books (I started to write “used bookstore” – but I hope all bookstores are used frequently) is one of my favorite places to browse, hoping for treasures that I can take home for a few weeks for free, or – for a small price – for a lifetime. And as books play such a significant role in learning and being exposed to new ideas, any place where people can buy and sell books freely has something good going for it.
So I was pleased to read today about a book market in Baghdad that is back in business following a bombing last March.
The bombing wiped out dozens of bookstores, stationery shops and presses. The stench of burned paper and human flesh hung in the air for days. But it did not stop Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish vendors from continuing to work here in harmony.