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HAGER: I believe in the sustenance of good literature

• Jun 28, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Our local libraries are a wealth of entertainment as the summer days fly by. Their cool interiors are packed with all sorts of books to reawaken a sense of wonder, an opportunity to be transported to another world with other characters, at least for a little while.

Might I suggest Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”? Published in 1985, this strange story tells of an overthrow of the government by religious conservatives who are hell-bent on returning the nation to what they perceive as its roots. One small colony survives and there dwells our handmaid, a woman chosen so because of an adulterous relationship, a woman torn from her child and her husband to serve as a surrogate to the wealthy and righteous. Imagine that — a woman shamed and lowered to regular rape, a woman whose daughter is taken from her and interred with other children, because she is outside of what the theocracy says is moral. There’s a popular Hulu show based on Atwood’s work, almost unwatchable in its in-your-face truth, but I suggest you read the book first.

I love Young Adult fiction, and so “The Hunger Games” is another good series to consider. Suzanne Collins writes of another overthrown government, of the United States reorganized into districts based on what goods those districts produce; each district is poorer than the next and there is no way out. As entertainment for the well-to-do citizens of District 1, each year the people of the other districts draw names to see who will compete in the Games — with only one person walking away as the rather dubious victor, dubious because the victor will be the only one left alive.

Crazy to imagine a world where children are armed and then pitted against one another in an area where they will fight to the death. Kind of sounds like our high schools to me. Emma Gonzalez, err, Katniss Everdeen, is the heroine of these books. A young woman with the guts to stand up to a barbaric system.

There are some older books, as well. Orwell’s “1984,” published in 1949, foretells a world oppressed by constant warfare and public manipulation. There are “thought police” who monitor and discipline independent thinking, and in the midst of this world a man happens to fall in love. There’s “V for Vendetta,” a comic-book character who premiered in 1982, a story of a world where black people, political prisoners, LGBTQ and Jewish people are exterminated by a fascist dictator.

You can find the Divergent series, “The Giver,” “The Road,” “Never Let Me Go” — and I wonder what all of these authors are trying to do, I wonder what they’re trying to tell us. My guess is that they’re holding up a huge gilded mirror and inviting us to take a look at the way we exploit our children for our own interpretation of an amendment to the Constitution that wasn’t meant for our weapons or times. They are calling to us like little yellow canaries in a coal mine, telling us that the air is running thin as we allow a small minority of people to manipulate and use the word of God to back up a dishonest and despicable government. The books are proof that these things can snowball, that before you know it, your own past sins will be trotted out for a tribunal and you’ll be assigned accordingly.

That isn’t love, folks, and it isn’t the message of the Jesus. But that’s another column.

And these aren’t just stories. These stories have a ring of truth, a warning.

As a nation, we are on the verge of something either beautiful or terrifying. I believe that we are approaching a precipice that will define what and who Americans are, hurtling toward it, all of us in our corners with our boxing gloves and our fake-news armor on. The rest of the world thinks we’re crazy, they are hesitant to enter our circus — and if you’re still sitting there drinking your coffee and believing that somehow something is better, I beg you to wake up.

We don’t need to lock little kids in cages. We don’t need to care who we’re baking a wedding cake for. We don’t need to hold on so tightly to our rights to own firearms. There really isn’t anything to be afraid of. Mexican gangs and drug lords aren’t crossing the border, they are precipitating the wave of human misery that is. Gay people can love each other and get married without negating the value of your marriage. You don’t have anything to hide from a background check before you can buy a gun.

We don’t need to use the Bible to back up our shameful political agendas.

In some of these stories, the heroine saves the day. But that’s only in some. In many others the people never wake, they never see the damage being done that they are complicit with simply by their silence.

We should all read more, watch less TV, get out and go for a walk. Spend less time thinking about what we are told we’re losing and more time appreciating what we have. Stop beating people over the heads with religion. Maybe love more, smile more.

Maybe rise up in a resistance of love that bends to morality and love instead of executive orders. These are just my thoughts from a little corner of our beautiful Tri-Cities. And I believe in the sustenance of good literature. And I believe in us.

— By Alicia Hager, Tribune community columnist

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