Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Reading in the family

Love of the printed word runs through my genes. My grandfather was punished as a child when he was caught reading on his family’s rocky farm in northeast Scotland. If he was reading he wasn’t working and work was the bottom line in his stern, evangelical family. But he read anyway, clandestinely.

His son, my father told me the only year in his childhood he got any education was the year he stayed out of school recovering from scarlet fever. He discovered the classics that year and devoured them, and kept right on reading all his life. Now he is in a Skilled Nursing environnment, and can’t do much except read. The books and magazines he chooses bring him solace in old age, and allow him to connect with the world on his own terms.

As a librarian, I’ve taken this inherited predisposition a step further and made the selection and care of books my life work. Every day I walk through the stacks in the library in California where I work , interacting with my friends, the books. My favorite sections of the Dewey system are the early 900s, old travel accounts; 979, local history; 792.8, dance; 779, photography; and of course fiction. And yes, I do read the books. My schedule is hectic these days, but the one thing that never gets shortchanged is my hour of reading before I go to sleep.

My two sons have taken it one step further – from the consumption of the printed word to its creation. One of them is a scientific editor who crafts microbiology information into language for the average human being to understand. My other son writes short stories and has translated a novel, that is, when he’s not writing legal briefs.

The book I’m reading now lives in the 973.049 section, ethnic groups in the United States. West of Kabul, east of New York : an Afghan American story is Tamim Ansary’s memoir of growing up in Afghanistan with an Afghan father and an American mother, and of defecting to the United States with his family as a teenager (minus his father, you must read it to get that story) and his experience with one foot in Afghanistan and the other one in the United States. It’s easy to read, fascinating and very relevant.

Here is an excerpt from the book (with due credit to Tamim Ansary):

In 1948, when I was born, most of Afghanistan might as well have been living in Neolithic times. It was a world of walled villages, each one inhabited by a few large families, themselves linked in countless ways through intermarriages stretching into the dim historical memories of the eldest elders. These villages had no cars, no carts even, no wheeled vehicles at all; no stores, no shops, no electricity, no postal service, and no media except rumors, storytelling, and the word of travelers passing through. Virtually all the men were farmers. Virtually all the women ran the households and raised the children. Virtually all boys grew up to be like their fathers, and all girls like their mothers. The broad patterns of life never changed, never had as far as any living generation could remember, and presumably never would. People lived pretty much as they had eight thousand years ago.


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