The butcher pulled the big, bone-in loin out of the case and lifted it up on the scale. “That’s perfect,” I told him. “Don’t trim the extra fat. I like the fat.” He yanked a sheet of crisp brown paper off the roll, and wrapped up my parcel.
It was the first Friday morning in November. The presidential election was only days away. And it was then, as I stood in line waiting to pay for a pork roast, that I realized what was going on: Cooking had become my election coping strategy. And, now, on the day of the inauguration, my kitchen continues to be a source of activity—and solace, too.
Among the few things that those of us from beneath the Arctic Circle are likely to know about polar Alaska is that the Inuit peoples have dozens of words for snow. It’s such a darling and oft-repeated fact that one wonders if it’s legend. Yet inside a warm, fifth-grade classroom in Barrow, Alaska, on the edge of the Chukchi Sea—it’s twelve below zero outside and the wind is scouring the tundra—a group of nineteen students sit at rapt attention, copying their new vocabulary words onto loose-leaf paper: the many Iñupiaq words for snow.
“Qanataag,” the teacher writes on the board at the front of the class. The students repeat it back to her in a ragged chorus.
“Good,” she says. “Qanataag means ‘ice or snow overhang.’”
If this is how we’re going to save the book — decorative mimicry — well then, forget it. True believers know that a room with books should accomplish something altogether more subversive and selfishly edifying — that it should foster radical internal mediation rather than decorative inspiration. Books should conspicuously confirm the persistence, in the face of so many competing (and lesser) forms of distraction, of a fierce dedication to promiscuous reading, the kind that requires — a la Zweig — that walls of literature be constantly approached, scanned, and chosen from. And then — the part that we rarely talk about when we talk about books — a roomful of books must be allowed to exact a cost.