Friday, October 29, 2010

Connecting Through Books

One of the best things about working at a library is that people love to tell you what they are reading. I might run into a friend at the grocery store or a lecture and invariably, we start talking about books. Of course, talking about books is a big part of my job, so maybe I do tip the conversation in that direction!

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Bucksbaum Lecture and hearing Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Dr. Nafisi’s book is about the women’s book discussion group she began, comprised of seven of her best female students who secretly attended regular meetings at her house weekly. They would study such books as Lolita and Madame Bovary, literary works considered controversial and even dangerous to read in Iranian society. Often, Nafisi would encourage her readers to bring westernized clothing underneath their veils, and they would put on make-up during the meetings.

Much of Nafisi’s talk addressed the importance of taking personal responsibility and the need for greater civility throughout the world. But the portion of her talk that really struck a chord with me was her focus on the absolute joy of reading—the intimacy of strangers, she called it. She described how reading a book can close the gap between cultures, between countries, between strangers. Two people reading the same book, immediately have a sense of sameness—no matter their backgrounds. There is a sense of sharing the experience along with a sense of escape-- the sense, as described by Atticus Finch, of walking in someone else’s shoes.

I guess that might explain why wherever I go, I love to ask people what they are reading. It’s amazing how quickly and easily you can connect with someone by just listening to them describe the book that might be stashed on their night stand, or in their Kindle, or on a CD in their car’s stereo. If you’ve read the book that they mention, you instantly want to share your favorite parts with them. If you haven’t read it, you want to know what they like about it. If you are familiar with the author, you may gain a bit of insight as to how the reader thinks. It’s all about connecting, and isn’t that a wonderful thing? In this fast paced, often impersonal world of technology and cubicles, it's wonderful to actually connect with a person. Here at the library, we are seeing an increase in teens wanting to connect via our craft programs, gaming events, and book discussions. It's a nice role for the library--and another great reason to support it financially!

And in case you're interested....This week I am listening (in my car) to The End of Overeating by David Kessler. On my nightstand is, an advanced reader copy by Julia Glass, called The Widower’s Tale. And next to my reading chair downstairs is a book by Benjamin Percy, a young Iowa State University teacher I just heard about called, The Wilding. Three very different books, but I am enjoying each one!
What are you reading?

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