April of 2015 was the first time that I went to both coasts in the same month. The beginning of the month was Spring Break, and a week in Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, and points in between. We ended our trip in San Francisco, and that’s where this story picks up.
City Lights Bookstore on Columbus Avenue in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco is what a bookshop should be: independent, progressive, and enduring. Most other bookshops have one of those three, if they’re lucky. It was on my list of things that I wanted to do, and it didn’t disappoint.
I knew I would be flying back home shortly, and I wanted a book to help pass the time (no e-reader for me, thanks). I gravitated toward History, as I always do, and found Tony Horwitz’ Midnight Rising to be just what I was looking for. I’ve written of John Brown here before, and Confederates in the Attic was an unsettling but effective read, so the book practically sold itself to me.
I read what I could on my flight back to Chicago, and stuffed the book into my work bag as the plane touched down at O’Hare airport. Since I don’t commute into an office anymore–thankfully–the half-read book sat in my work bag until the end of the month, when I headed to New York for a few days on business. My traveling partner on the way was John Brown, as told through the lens of Tony Horwitz. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to pass the time.
John Brown made it to New York with me, waited in the hotel for a couple of days, and then accompanied me to LaGuardia for the return flight. And then, somewhere over Michigan, the tale was finished. On the final day of the month, John Brown and I parted ways.
I had never traveled more than 3000 miles in the air with a book before, but John Brown and his story were the ideal companion. He shook things up with his ill-fated attack on Harpers Ferry Virginia, and nothing that followed after that was ever the same again.
Although John Brown was unsuccessful in freeing and arming a large band of former slaves in 1859, he did succeed in forcing the issue of slavery into everyone’s consciousness. And if that’s not worthy of being read from sea to shining sea, you’ll have to tell me what is.