Reading, to me, isn’t just a pastime. It’s a time to engage with new ideas that challenge me. It’s a time to walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s a time to travel through time and space, maybe not physically, but in my imagination.
During Covid times, we’ve seen the crushing effects on small businesses, and if you are a small business owner, my heart truly goes out to you. You haven’t only lost money, you’ve lost your steam, your motivation to wake up in the morning. All around us, mom and pop shops are closing down. Even bigger businesses are struggling to stay above water. While we can’t do much to stop Covid, we can still support small businesses during these awful times. Specifically, I’d like to focus on local bookstores.
If you know me, you know that I love to read. It’s a pastime that started when I was very young. My mom would take me and my brother to the Arcadia Public library and we’d stay for hours, roaming each aisle, seeing what new treasures we could find. I remember having difficulty deciding which books to bring home with me and which ones to reluctantly leave behind – that darn book borrowing limit. As we got older, we’d go to a local used bookstore called the Book Rack. Books there were dirt cheap, so we stocked up whenever we went. Some of my fondest childhood memories are going to the library and bookstore. These places were my home away from home, and they still are today.
Certain books I picked up along the way shaped my worldview and sense of empathy for humanity. I may not have had a prestigious education. If anything, my education can be considered humble. But when I think about the books I had access to, the non-school books, I feel lucky. I learned about historical events that no history book could ever compare to. I learned about people’s experiences and I had greater compassion for them. Are these things not to be considered when the word ‘education’ is mentioned?
Here’s an example. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, we had a children’s book in the house called My Hiroshima. That book haunts me to this day. It is the story told through the perspective of a young girl whose family is affected by the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. It was the very first time I had learned about atomic bombs or World War II. At such a young age, I had no context, no larger picture of how such a tragic event could occur, but what I did have after reading the story was compassion for the Japanese people.
Children of the River brought me to Cambodia in the late 70’s when the Khmer Rouge had taken over, leaving thousands of Cambodians in search of a new home, and nearly 2 million others dead through genocide. This story opened my eyes to what a corrupt government is capable of doing to its own people and the grave effects of communistic overhaul.
The Secret Life of Bees, which I read at 14, led me back to 1960’s America, a time of great social upheaval and change. A time of tensions between blacks and whites, between the privileged and not-so-privileged. It allowed me to walk in Rosaleen’s shoes, to see how hard it was to be a black woman with few rights and a dim future in a grim part of our country, where racism reigned unbridled.
When I think about these historical fiction stories (which all came from the Book Rack), I get chills, because I was so young and yet still so aware of injustice in the world. My young, still developing mind grappled with those injustices, wondering how and why people could be so cruel, so evil.
Learning about the real world led me to realize you and I can make it either better or worse. We are left with choice and responsibility. How can we bring forth fairness, equality, justice, peace and harmony? We have a choice! We can choose to love rather than hate. We can choose understanding over ignorance. We can fight for the underprivileged rather than increase our own. We can do all these things and more with the help of books. Books that can open our eyes to humanity so that we can be more human.
And that is why I urge you, my dear friends and family, to support your local bookstores and libraries, instead of perhaps ordering from Amazon or other large retail stores (for the time being!) so that we may continue a tradition of passing down books to our children, of creating fond memories surrounded by books big and small, and of opening our eyes to fellow human experiences so that we may offer more grace and understanding – to ourselves, to each other, and to all of humanity.