The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Reading: it stuffs us into the feelings and choices of our lives

Late November has settled around us, and Lanie’s year is coming to an end.

It’s making me a bit melancholy–and also making the memories of my whirlwind year all the sweeter.

I’ve talked to several people recently who didn’t realize that Lanie doll won’t be around after December 31.  Alas, true.  But I’m tickled pink, as my grandma would have said, that the books will.  New families will discover them and some of them will even drop me a note, and I’ll know my words are at work out in the world.

It’s been a year more than ever to think about reading and writing and why I’m grateful my reading mom gave me a lifetime of books.

I was sorting files yesterday–a dreadful thing to do.  But fascinating, too.

I pulled out a piece of paper and read Philip Pullman’s words that we’ve “forgotten the true purpose of literature, the everyday, humble, generous intention that lies behind every book, every story, every poem: to delight or to console, to help us enjoy life or endure it.  That’s the true reason we should be giving books to children.”

A scrap from the diary of a friend I went to school with in Ethiopia offered this:  “Yesterday Janie and I made taffy for Mrs. Anderson’s birthday.  Janie made up a real cute poem and it was pretty keen.”

A scrap from an essay:  “I needed to read about girls who were stirring up trouble and turning heads and altering the landscape on purpose.  I found a novel that genuinely sustained me and gave me hope.”

I looked at a picture from a brilliantly drippy retreat center near Portland, Oregon, writing with a group of women about our lives.  Writing, I said that day, is a way to pay attention.  I re-read an interview with author Richard Selzer.

“Father’s office,” he wrote, “occupied the first floor of our house.  From the landing of the staircase I could listen to the cries and moans of the sick people below….I had the feeling that I was living between parantheses.  This made an observer of me; it was quite isolating.  These are the two essential qualities of a writer, of course.”

I re-read a letter from a student who wrote to me after an author visit:  “Ethiopia is where I used to live.  Houses were different than the U.S.A.  One hundred people died in a war.  People are really nice there.  I miss Ethiopia.  A lot of people are nice over here too.”

I read a letter from a girl in Ethiopia who spends “almost 5 days in a week” in an Ethiopia Reads library. “I advise my friends to read books.  People must be friends of books to eradicate poverty and avoid our world’s problems.”

I picked up a snippet on one piece of paper: “Before I was in school, I felt like such a worthless girl.”

Another: “Reading stuffs us deeply into the thoughts and feelings of another human being.”

And…”I beg you to expand your projects and reach other Ethiopian children who are living in different urban and rural areas.”

When I began my day of sorting, I was feeling overwhelmed by how long it’s been since I sorted files.  By the volunteer commitment that Ethiopia Reads has become, by the hugeness of trying to get one model school library in every region of Ethiopia.

When I finished, I was thinking about Philip Pullman’s words:  “Stories are written to beguile, to entertain, to amuse, to move, to enchant, to horrify, to delight, to anger, to make us wonder.”  And…”if we get education right, it would show that we were being serious about reading and thinking and understanding ourselves; it woulod show that we were paying our children the compliment of assuming that they were serious too.”

(Thanks to volunteer Marie Claire Andrea for this photo taken by one of the donkey mobile libraries.)

2 thoughts on “Reading: it stuffs us into the feelings and choices of our lives”

  1. Your blog is amazing! Thanks for the note, It would be really cool to see our pumpkin project on your blog. I(Rosa, I am now 12!) read your book called “Saba under the hyena’s foot”and it is my favorite book of the whole girls of many lands series. My sister Carmen is reading your Lanie books and loves them like no books before. We all love reading good books thanks for helping make that possible by writing good books.

    • Wonderful! I’d love to use your pumpkin growing-book supporting picture and adventure to inspire other people about how little bits add up to big results. It’s terrific to hear about your reading, too.


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