In Moffat we are lucky enough to have an independent book shop that not only sells both new and second-hand books, but also actively engages with the community to encourage reading. And for Book Week Scotland 2020, owner, Gillian Mellor, who is herself a rather splendid poet, is running a digital book group.
She applied for funding to enable her to buy a number of books she could then hand out to participants at no cost to them. I’m not sure how many people have taken her up on the offer – maybe I should have asked – but it’s not a competition, it’s an experiment, a process, a ‘what if?’
One of the books in the pile she gave me is: From What Is to What If, by a chap called Rob Hopkins. I only started reading it last night, but I’m totally hooked. If I hadn’t had to get up and work this morning I’d have read all night. And I plan to spend the afternoon finishing the it.
I’m no reviewer, so I won’t attempt to become one now, but the book is a treaties on the power of the imagination and its potential to solve all our problems. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Solvable, and they would make very good companions. They both ask very similar questions: ‘What if…’ and then provide examples of practical, lived answers to these questions.
As a writer, educator, and artist, I spend my life asking ‘what if’ questions. ‘What if an ordinary middle aged woman – mother, wife, volunteer at the local community shop, prize dahlia grower… – just wasn’t there one day?’ ‘What if I soak this piece of calico in boiling water, twist and distort it, and embroider it with ensōs?’ ‘What if I try running writing workshops in a local café?’, and so on. And then I set about answering by doing. I torture the calico, embroider it, and see what happens; I advertise café writing workshops, and see who comes; I write the novel, short story, or poem to find out what happens. And it never matters if things don’t quite work out because I never have much of an end-point in view, it’s all experimental, and I always learn masses.
And while I’ve never tried to solve the climate crisis in this way I have tried to solve small, local problems, and am currently working with a group of likeminded folk on a rather exciting What If project. Which means this book has come to me at exactly the right time.
The Really Virtual Book Group meets, via Zoom, tonight for the first time. I’m really looking forward to hearing what other people have to say, about any of the books, but especially about this one. I’ll let you know how it goes.