People often get to the part of the Mercantile Library brochure that says “literary center” and their eyebrows adopt a “V” formation like geese heading south, as if to ask what exactly makes us think that we’re a literary center. There are, of course, the literary events, the writing seminars and the visiting authors, the busts of venerable, literary old men and a woman, and of course, the loads and loads of books. But what really makes us a literary center is the literary work that we do. Sure, we ponder the proper locations of commas and semicolons, the inner workings of Microsoft Word’s ™ spelling and grammar check (that’s how you spell atwitch?), and what’s gone and gotten jammed in the pencil sharpener this time that sounds like ball bearings in the insinkerator? But the literary work here at the Mercantile Library goes far deeper than all this. In this venerable old hall, serious research is conducted, aimed at furthering the public good.
The Mercantile Library serves as a watchdog organization, policing the public sphere for faulty literariness—its license plates, its periodicals, its speech. A headline in that bastion of investigative journalism, The Downtowner, included the phrase: “CITY STEPS PROVE STEEP IN HISTORY”. We immediately launched into debate as to whether use of the conventional “steeped in history” would have been more effective. This raised the question of whether perhaps the break from convention was intentional, to bring attention to the terrible pun. We then debated whether perhaps the terrible pun better remain buried. While the debate lacked a firm resolution, you can see that we at the Mercantile Library are paying very close attention to the headlines of our local papers—attention to be feared and respected indeed.
Another subject of intense scrutiny in the laboratory of the Merc is the bumper sticker “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Respect.” The problem here is that, rapidly viewed as bumper stickers often are, and from a distance, the commas are difficult to see, resulting in a misreading. One might come to the erroneous conclusion that the driver of a vehicle bearing this bumper sticker desired his or her fellow beings to “Reduce Reuse” and to “Recycle Respect.” Now certainly there’s no reason to reduce reuse in our takeout, disposable society, and who wants recycled respect? Second-hand respect is practically an insult. We, the staff of the Mercantile—or at least a quorum of one-fourth—conclude that the bumper sticker and its imperative language would gain strength by replacing the comma with the firmer, more resolute period. And so you see, the work is never done. We invite vigilant members to join us in bringing attention to such matters as require rectification.