Archive for the 'john king books' Category

Comparative Literature

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Today Mike and I did a little holiday shopping at John King Books, one of Detroit’s most awesome places to lose hours in. Although I barely scratched the surface, I still found some things: one Russian dystopian sci-fi book called We and two reproductions of old-tyme wood-cut christmas cards. The cards are really beautiful, if surprisingly morbid. One of them depicts “Charlie” – a little boy on a “wintry, piteous night,” who’s getting ready to “meet the angels.” On the inside it says, “amidst the joy there are still too many Charlies in the world.”

John King Books is one of the places that makes Detroit great. It boasts “over one million used and rare books.” It has a range of categories that resembles an encyclopedia. There is no computerized method of tracking the books, but if you ask the woman behind the desk on the first floor about the illustrated book of fairy tales by Oscar Wilde, the Illuminati Papers or the history of Hamtramck, she will tell you whether or not your selection is among the million. Then, if for some reason it’s not, she will recall the person who came earlier and luckier than you, to obtain it. Finally, she’ll assure you that multiple copies of your selection exist in the world and if you just try back often enough, you’ll get it eventually.

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This is something I found on flickr. I guess it’s a picture of The Detroit Public Schools’ book depository. The post said: “…it was finally abandoned in the 80’s with a building full of supplies that have sat deteriorating and wasting-away while the school system can’t supply their students with the basic necessities.”

It’s interesting. Though I’m pretty heavily involved in educational justice stuff through Detroit Summer, I didn’t know this existed. Looking at this picture gives me the same tragedy-stricken sense of disbelief that driving past the Packard Plant or the old Michigan Central gives. But even more than that it gives me a gross sense of gazing upon tragedy through the lens of an “urban explorer.” I could be really wrong… but the photographer, and the flickr community of photographers who commented on this image, struck me as archetypes of the unfortunate, suburb-dwelling, disaster-fetishists. Many of the comments were predictable: from “what a mess” to “how hauntingly beautiful.” But others went so far as this one: “…after checking the forecast for Detroit – I can only think of one thing left to do with this mess. Bring your hot dogs though.”

If this urban-explorer-photographer’s efforts amount to this, to pats on the back from his collegues, to expressions of immobilizing despair, and conclusions for a ‘final solution’ to Detroit’s problems, then I hope the next adventure is met with this: a hauntingly beautiful pack of wild dogs.

…Not really. Some friends that were visiting me from out of town last summer got chased by a pack of wild dogs and it was no joke! I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. But I do wish that the people whose curiosity brings them in and out of this city had more humility towards the vitality that persists here, more respect for facts of suffering, less enfatuation with the fantasy of the post-apocalypse. And I wish that they would figure out something better to do than take pictures of it all.

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