For National Book Month: An Ode to Libraries
"When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”
October is National Book Month! It is a month-long celebration that centers on the importance of reading, writing, and literature. It is the perfect time to cozy up with a cup of hot something (coffee, tea, mulled wine, whatever you wish) and read all the books you want. You can also pick up the books, e-books, and audiobooks from your local libraries and bookstores that you’ve been meaning to add to your reading list. Especially in this difficult time - from Covid-19 to global sociopolitical crises- your mental health is of major importance. Reading is a wonderful way to reduce your stress, get mental stimulation, be entertained, and escape*!
(*Sometimes we have reading blocks and that’s perfectly normal! Take it easy. You can also start small - read something fun like a beach read, your favorite children’s book, or a graphic novel.*)
For me, books and libraries have been my life for as long as I could remember.
I’m of mixed race: born to an Italian father and a Jamaican mother. Born in Rome, I am an immigrant to the United States even though I became a citizen at a young age when my parents took me and my twin sister to NYC for better work opportunities and to expand our family. Shortly afterward, my young brother was born. Believe me, there were many happy moments in my childhood, yet I cannot express the utter loneliness and imposter syndrome I felt as a child. I lost count of the times I felt denied and rejected, or when I was bullied and harassed, including racially. The slur ‘Monkey’ was attached to me like a tattoo or, a better example, a scar that is unbearable to look at.
Originally, I had trouble at school, where I was accused of laziness and was mocked by several of my peers and teachers as retarded. At the age of 18, I was diagnosed with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, very much like both Asperger syndrome and Autism. I felt a mix of relief and self-pity as I had (so wrongfully) believed something was wrong with me. I felt alone and lost. Being on the Spectrum, it was hard for me to read social cues, body language, facial expressions, syntax, and tones in the voice. Human interaction left me nervous and anxious, and anything positive made me suspicious. But I never misunderstood books and libraries. They were my safe haven, my cornerstones of imagination and creativity. Libraries are my homes away from homes and the books are the vehicles to many worlds and ideas.
Libraries and books are vital foundations of a healthy, happy community. They are for everyone - from immigrants and the homeless to children and families. We get lost in wonderful stories; we obtain knowledge of things we may not know anything about. It is a lifeline to the world and all the information in it.
Libraries and books are two of the few things that can bridge us all together. That is why we are all calling out for diversity that brings inclusion - women, people of color, immigrants, and more.
I always found it a shame that this isn't taken seriously. I recall that when I was a child and I expressed how I wanted to be a librarian I was swayed from the idea. I was told that libraries are dying. Books are dying despite digital options. It wasn't until I met Dr. Carla Hayden, our current Librarian of Congress (the first woman and African American to be appointed to the position), that I realized how wrong this was. There are people who are still library lovers and bookdragons, and we need them now more than ever.
Despite the progress we’re seeing - there’s still work to be done. We are seeing a call for action - from generous funds donated to public libraries to more publishing of voices by and about marginalized people. I, for one, strive to do my part as an Events Assistant at the New York Society Library, the oldest cultural institution/library in NYC, and one of the oldest in America, in more ways than one. I have a growing Instagram profile where I try to use the platform to recommend books, to discuss my Jamaican Italian heritage, and to promote libraries. I'm also applying for a degree in library science and information technology.
Celebrations like National Book Month (October) and Library Lovers Day (February 14) are every day for me and other bookish types. Libraries and the love of reading change lives, build bridges, heal, tear down walls, inspire, empower, and delight. Let’s always support and invest in libraries, books, writing, storytelling, and culture.
“Libraries made me – as a reader, as a writer, and as a human being.”
~Laurie R. King
Here are just a few of the books that changed my life, thanks to libraries:
- Matilda by (Library member) Roald Dahl (1988)
- Patsy: A Novel by Nicole Dennis-Ben (2019)
- A Story, A Story: An African Tale, retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley (1970)
- The Girl Who Spun Gold by Virginia Hamilton, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon (2000)
- The Book of Night Women by Marlon James (2009)
- Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid (1985)
- The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (2019) - and watch her 2019 Members' Room lecture here
- Favorite Folktales from Around the World, edited by Jane Yolen (1986)
I also asked our social media community members to share a book that changed their lives:
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, annotated and edited with an introduction by David M. Shapard (2012)
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, edited with an introduction and notes by Stevie Davies (2008)
- The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream by Paulo Coelho, translated by Alan R. Clarke (1998)
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (2012)
- The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer (1964)
- Harriet the Spy, written and illustrated by Louise Fitzhugh (2000)
- Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (2011)
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, with an introduction by Peter Washington (2008)
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams (1980)