My father is a book lover. It became apparent to me early on that the best way to please him on Christmas Day or Father’s Day was to deliver a rectangle package. It didn’t matter what the book was about, I think the first one I gifted him was on Abraham Lincoln, he loved it because it was new reading material and it was from his daughter. He has a stack of books in his bedroom and one can find him there after office hours sitting in the blue rocking chair with a book plopped open.
My brother Christopher is also very fond of reading. He devoured Matt Christopher books during car trips to visit relatives and always finished Book It faster than Jason or myself.
I enjoyed books but wasn’t an enthused reader. I liked the Babysitters Club and read the Diary of Anne Frank in the fourth grade, but reading was more of a novelty to me. In high school and college, I didn’t go much beyond the required reading and developed a love for long-form journalism in J school. Instead of classics or the latest pop-culture read, I enjoyed issues of The New Yorker on Saturday mornings or online Esquire features.
My reading became more of an intense study, the way some pick up yoga or Buddhism, when I came to the Peace Corps. “Read more” was always on my list of things to do when I wasn’t working crazy hours, which didn’t happen until I arrived in Africa. In a twist of pure fate, or so I believe, my hard drive, full of television shows and movies, broke early on in my service so I books became my only form of entertainment.
I read in between classes. I read before bed. I read during long afternoons. I read while waiting for someone to show up. Books have become my comfort, or salvation, the way running has. I’ve conquered more than 50 titles since arrive in country. I’ve discovered, albeit shallowly, classic authors, such as Hemingway, Thoreau, Dickens and Austen. I’ve also explored more contemporary pieces by Dave Eggers, Barbara Kingsolver and Toni Morrison. Fiction, memoirs, non-fiction, poetry, short stories. Each new finished book leaves a wide open possibility for the next one. I’m thrown into worlds I want to be a part of and ones I don’t. I love characters and loathe others. I laugh and cry at the words because something feels so genuine about them.
It’s almost as if I’ve never understood the power of a book before.
My school library is a project that I inherited. After a year attempting to draw interest in it and trying to make it sustainable, I’ve resigned to the fact that most are not attracted to reading or the library, beyond looking at pictures in old magazines.
Except for Sara.
Sara, not her real name, is a double orphan. She lives with her sister and her niece and walks two hours, one way, to school. The only meal she has each day is the one served at school, when we have lunch that is.
She is new to the school this year and is still learning her way around the social circles. Although her spoken English is one of the best in the school, she struggles in all subjects. Her life is not an easy one.
Yet, Sara finds refuge in the library. When it is her class’ scheduled time, she is often the first one at the shelves to pick out something. She began to borrow books and soon became addicted to the escape they offer from real life. She reads in between classes, sometimes I even have to tell her to book her away in my class. She goes through books so fast that I let her take two at a time. Lately, she is interested in a series called “Bailey School Kids” with titles such as, “Mermaids don’t run track” and “Frankenstein doesn’t drink lemonade” that remind me of the “Wayside School” books.
Her passion for books is spreading. One or two other students will come with her when she hunts me down to check out books. They want to take home two, too.
She may be the only student who finds use in the library, but I’ve come to realize that is more than enough.
As reading has become more than just a hobby for me, I am also watching it take over this young girl. I can see her love blooming, almost if it was a young boy instead of dead trees. She is happy with her books and I am with mine too, although at least a decade separates us in age. When she is reading in the library, I usually take out a book or my Kindle so it is like we are reading together. We are both falling under a spell but it is such a good spell to be under at any age.