So, I had no idea Ruth Rappaport was a real person. I chose this as a Kindle’s first read because it has such a fantastic title. Instead of the expected fantastic historical fiction the title exudes, A Well Read Woman is actually the biography of a Jewish librarian. The author, Kate Stewart came across Ruth’s belongings at an estate sale. She then took those letters, diaries and photographs and pieced together the unusual life Ruth led.
Because the author chose to write a biography rather than a tale based on Ruth’s life, things can get a little boring and mucky with research and there were a few detours. My favorite detour was how the librarians were tasked with providing books to soldiers in Vietnam. The shear scale of the logistics required to create a library, lend books and keep them safe in the jungle paired with the demand for books was astounding. I hadn’t really ever thought about the role books played during a war, and I really appreciated learning about that part of history.
This book wasn’t anything that I expected but it was a pleasant surprise to learn what it took to run a functioning military library in Vietnam. For the most part, this book walked a fine line between being a super personal look into the life of a woman breaking many cultural norms and an incredibly boring research project. At times, the reading was quite heavy and I think a clear distinction between Ruth’s biography and history of the Library of Congress would have helped keep things on track. Overall, interesting but not something I’d recommend unless you’re super interested in librarian history.
As the one year anniversary of my Grandma’s passing creeps slowly closer, I’ve been drawn subconsciously to all things reminiscent of her. During the months after her passing, I found myself dialing her number on the way home from work to share a funny story or searching in a drawer for the perfect postcard to mail. Catching myself in these moments hurt deeply and I had to delete her phone number from my contacts using my laptop. It felt too intimate, too personal somehow to do this on the phone itself. While these moments have mercifully ceased, the other day, I found myself drawn to a section in the library that held all of the books my Grandma read with me as a little girl.
Flipping through the books, I realized that most of these books shared a common theme of strong independent girls and young women. In her own way, Grandma was planting the seed in my mind; affirming, cultivating and accepting those traits in me.
Reading together bridged the gap between us throughout the middle school years, giving us something common to discuss during those years which are notoriously difficult and known for moving children away from their grandparents. Reading books like the Little House on the Prairie series and Blue Willow also opened up a gateway for Grandma to share her own story and those of her parents and grandparents. These stories fueled my (very unusual for an adolescent) passion for history, Westerns, and ancestry.
I highly recommend these 7 books for Grandmothers to share and read with their Granddaughters. Most of these books have been adapted into movies, giving Grandmas one more activity to share with their Granddaughters after finishing the book.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Blue Willow by Doris Gates
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
p.s. These are also wonderful books for Mothers to share with their Daughters!
Libraries have always been my favorite places. They’re always cozy, warm, welcoming, and quiet. You can’t help but feel smarter when you walk into a library. There’s just something inspiring about those huge wooden book cases packed neatly with rows and rows of books and the quiet calm voices people only use at the library, the smell of old musty paper and the sun shining into the room in big strips. Entering a library is like coming home after a long walk in the snow.
One of my first vivid childhood memories is a trip to the library. I was about five years old and excited beyond words by all of the books. I wanted them all. After stacking a precarious pile on the counter, the librarian gently explained the ten book limit on children’s checkouts and helped me narrow down my selection. It was so disappointing, but she did give me my own library card and let me sign the back by myself while explaining I could come back to the library anytime. That library card became my ticket to freedom and I spent my entire childhood trying to read through the entire library. In high school, the library become a den of calm and quiet in my overactive adolescence. I remember seeking out the farthest corner on the top floor, laying on the floor between two giant book cases, positioned like sentinels, as I fell into a world of mystery, romance, religion, and intrigue. At 17, I designed my first tattoo while seated Indian style on the floor in my favorite row, merging a compilation of designs found in a book on ancient written languages. In college, the library became a quiet witness to my struggles with certain courses, the late night study sessions and the occasional naps and breakdowns between the pages of textbooks. The library was the first to know I was in love, the first to know I’d failed an exam, the first time I’d experienced a poetry reading or stopped to really look at a painting as something more than just a pretty picture.
After moving 1200 miles away from home, the library became the first destination I could drive to without referencing handwritten directions. With my first baby, when I knew nothing and felt deeply terrifyingly alone, the library was there like an old mother hen, welcoming us with the silly songs and stories every week at story hour. The library, and its endless supply of books, is an old friend in an apron and floured hands, pulling cookies from the oven.
This then, is my love letter to the library and all of the wonderful books within.