A shove from Solnit

Commencement speakers are expected to be eloquent, though their primary audiences are probably too distracted to recognize it when it happens, or to remember the details of the message. Rebecca Solnit crafted a barn-burner for the Department of English at the University of California at Berkeley. There are lots of yessss! moments, but here are two bits that really got my attention:

The amazing thing about the novel 1984 is that Orwell could invent the Ministry of Truth, Big Brother, thought crimes, and the Memory Hole, but in his book women are still hanging cloth diapers on clotheslines. It’s easier to prophesy global politics than laundry, but our lives are shaped by both…

Books matter. Stories matter. People die of pernicious stories, are reinvented by new stories, and make stories to shelter themselves. Though we learned from postmodernism that a story is only a construct, so is a house, and a story can be more important as shelter: the story that you have certain inalienable rights and immeasurable value, the story that there is an alternative to violence and competition, the story that women are human beings. Sometimes people find the stories that save their lives in books.