Thursday, December 20, 2007
A Hunger for Books
The Guardian carried the full text of newly laureled Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize acceptance speech and it is a very moving and thoughtful piece. Here's the link to read it in its entirety, including vivid passages about the hunger for reading in Zimbabwe, India and other parts of the globe. It is often easy to overlook the great wealth we have here in the United States and when one is a bookseller surrounded by books at work and at home, I often forget how very rich I am to have the thoughts and knowledge of so many writers at my fingers.
At Old Saratoga Books, we are reminded of our book wealth at monthly intervals by a friend, Joyce, an education professor at a local college. Several years ago she asked about children's books featuring black children in them and I managed to find a handful from the stacks. She told me she takes them down in her luggage to Antigua where she goes twice yearly to help train local teachers. She said that the teachers are ecstatic when she hands out the books, because their classrooms don't have many books, and indeed, the entire Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda (69,180 population) has only one public library, in the capital of St. John, which holds 50,000 books.
We have been donating books for this annual pilgrimage to the Antigua schools ever since that first encounter. Twice yearly Joyce and some of her accompanying graduate education students fill their suitcases to the airline poundage limit with these books and stagger off to Antigua to pass them around. They used to send M-Bags full of these books before the postal prices went up this past Spring but now just use themselves as book mules.
Thankfully, our small contributions are not the only book resource for Antiguans. I just did a little Internet research and found that there is a New York City group, The Friends of the Antigua Public Library, that raises money to help the library with operating expenses, books and reading program materials, so this is a positive development. They accept book donations for Antigua, so metropolitan NYC residents might want to check this out.
Incidently, Antigua boasts a fabulous native writer, Jamaica Kincaid, whose Annie John relates the education of a young, bright girl coming of age in a stifling environment, where she yearns to break free of the limited life paths that set before her. (Kincaid is today a citizen of the kingdom of Vermont and a renowned writer of fiction, memoir and beautiful garden books). In today's Antigua, my friend tells me that the school system is fairly well geared to grooming future workers for the nation's luxury tourism industry, although individual teachers try to offer other options to their pupils.
Hungry for books indeed.