Read Whatever You Want. Whenever. However.
This year marks 50 years I have worked in libraries. I entered this sacred profession on June 3, 1974 and have never once regretted my decision not to go to Law School (Sorry, Mom).
Books have been my life’s work. Reading them. Sharing them. Reflecting on them. And as library director, making them available to all.
I was first awestruck by the power of language while reading Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "So Big," in my late teens. The book wasn’t on any reading list of mine; I likely just picked it up from Westover Library, possibly helped by the librarian who often recommended books to me.
It’s a coming-of-age story (a favorite genre of mine) and features a young woman, Selina Peake De Jong, who decides to become a schoolteacher in a Midwestern farming community. As Selina travels by train to her new home, she looks out the window and beholds the majesty of the fields, shimmering in brilliant color and light as the train hurtles past.
The description took my breath away, filled as it was with anticipation of new beginnings, as was I on the cusp of adulthood.
I grabbed an envelope and wrote down the words, memorializing the moment when I matured from reader to READER. A thrilling realization of the strength of language and stories to guide me both deeper into and out of myself.
No doubt many of you have had that same experience. It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?
I reconnected with Selina at the October Friends of the Arlington Public Library (FOAL) book sale when I found and bought a copy of "So Big." The years have not lessened the appreciation I have for what she and Ms. Ferber have done for me.
I am no longer the young woman on the brink of adulthood. I have traveled many thousands of miles and experienced profound joy, deep sorrow and everything in between. And through it all, I have found meaning, solace, and courage in the books I have opened whether shared by friends and family, touted in reviews or simply stumbled upon. What a wonderful life and one I am grateful for each day.
My 2023 reading year was a year of discovery—debut authors or authors new to me; final chapters with beloved characters; several dips into classics overlooked by me; an occasional dip into the zeitgeist; wider reading of LGBTQIA+ authors and authors of color; some mysteries, some memoirs, some magic and a couple of books starring librarians. Of course.
For those of you looking for suggestions, here’s my list.
'Tis the season for resolution-making. If you are looking to sustain a reading habit or create one anew, we have some helpful tips to share:
- Try an eAudiobook. As I write this message, I've listened to 48 hours of Barbra Streisand's amazing 970-page memoir "My Name is Barbra." I've loved every minute of it.
- Find a book buddy. I have two: my son Matt and my dear friend Deb. We talk and trade books among the three of us and keep the spirit of reading strong.
- Frequent our FOAL bookstores, each purchase supports the library. Find your version of "So Big," the book that made you a reader.
- Join a library book club or the Winter Reading Challenge.
- Join the library in reading one of Baldwin’s best-known works—"The Fire Next Time"—during February and then participate in a community discussion of this pivotal work on Feb. 29. The library will have unlimited eAudiobook copies of this work available, along with a few of Baldwin's others, from January through March.
- Bonus tip: do not worry about finishing every book you pick up. There are plenty more out there. Life is too short to spend time on doing something you don’t enjoy. And that’s true for most things, including reading.
Here’s hoping you find something good to read—whatever, whenever and however.
Director, Arlington Public Library