How the Library (Not the Prince) Saved Rapunzel

When the Covid lockdowns started, many folks went on a buying spree (we all know the toilet paper jokes). Ever the dutiful one, off I went too. I was feeling rather pleased with myself when I got an extra bag of rice, and headed onto the library (to get books to tide us over during the lockdown).  When the husband called to ask where I’d gone, I sheepishly said that I was at the library just in case we were unable to get books during lockdown. I could hear a sound like a paper bag bursting – his version of a cross between a snort, and the urge to laugh. I bragged about the extra bag of rice, and I could see his face wondering why he had to be landed with someone, who in P G Wodehouse’s language, ‘must’ve been bumped on the head as a baby’. 

Well, I must say that when we staggered home with books for the children and self, I felt better. The local library has been one of my favorite spots to visit of course, but over the Covid period, I felt like Rapunzel in the book: How the Library Saved Rapunzel (Not the Prince). The library allowed us to schedule an appointment and arrange to pickup books on hold. What was more, they were kind enough to include a few picture books of their choice if you requested them to do so. I am eternally grateful to have access to libraries.

I felt almost an irresistible urge to increase my Science based reading this year (maybe this is a tiny rebellion for the disturbing anti-Science strain emerging with the 45th POTUS office). Starting the year off by re-reading Carl Sagan’s Cosmos set the stage for the year ahead. The following books gave me no end of pleasure and learning over the year. (My Science writing class for children)

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2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

  • Unbowed – Wangari Maathai (in progress)
  • On Looking  – Alexandra  Horowitz
  • Losing  Earth  A Recent History – Nathaniel Rich
  • This is the Earth – Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander, Paintings by Wendell Minor

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

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It was also a wonderful year to take in poetry. Mary Oliver & Margarita Engle were always welcome in a year when poets alone seemed to know the right turn of phrase for the bizarre. Dr Seuss & Jackl Prelutsky always know to turn one’s frown into a smile. 

  • Blue Iris – Mary Oliver
  • Enchanted Air – By Margarita Engle
  • Dog Songs – Mary Oliver
  • Owls and other fantasies – Mary Oliver (Yes! no!)
  • Be Glad your nose is in your face – Jack Prelutsky
  • Dr Seuss books (always worth reads and re-reads). I found a few gems that truly tickled the mind and got out some belly laughs.
    • Horton hears a Who
    • Horton Hatches an Egg
    • Sleep book
    • Oh the Thinks you can Think
    • How Lucky You Are
    • Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose

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With the Black Lives Matter movement, the year was ripe for educating oneself on the inequities of society and civil disobedience. The local library, news media, and friends all helped with an excellent array of reading material. Notable among the works read then were:

  • Becoming – By Michelle Obama
  • Black Panther – by Ta Nehisi Coates
  • Sneetches and other stories – Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela‘s children’s book version
  • My Many Colored Days – Dr Seuss

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With uplifting books and humour, life can be truly marvelous. My all-time favorites kept me company, and I am eternally grateful to their influence of course but a few others were added to the list this year.

The world isn’t such a good place either, and reading books such as these helps to remind us about the many problems that still beset society

The lure of power, and how we are seeing it all play out in real life

  • The Fate of Fausto – Oliver Jeffers
  • Louis I – The King of Sheep – Oliver Tallec
  • Yertle the Turtle and other Stories – Dr Seuss
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (pieces relating to the Minister of Magic refusing to acknowledge Voldemort’s return so he could stay in power)

Of course the true magic of life is never complete without children’s books. There are so many of them in this genre, that I did not even note half of them. But a few of them lit up my life

  • My Grandma is a Ninja – By Todd Tarpley, Illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou (When I become a grandma – though it is a few decades off, that is how I wish to be 🙂 )
  • Gondra’s Treasure – By Linda Sue Park
  • Enchanted Wood – by Enid Blyton (old Saucepan Man, Silky and Moonface with the lands above the enchanted tree – though it doesn’t hold the same level of magic it did as a child, it still has its charm)
  • The Red Pyramid – By Rick Riordan (this was the son’s recommendation, and thoroughly enjoyable it turned out to be romping down the Egyptian myths!)
  • The Quiet Book – by Deborah Underwood
  • A Fun Day with Lewis Carroll – Kathleen Krull & Julia Sarda
  • Peter Rabbit’s Tales – Beatrix Potter
  • Why is my Hair Curly – By Lakshmi Iyer
  • A History of Magic – Based on Harry Potter Universe
  • Tintin Comics (a fair few)
  • Calvin & Hobbes
  • The Velocity of Being – Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick

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On that magical high note, here is wishing everyone a healthy, happy new year in 2021. Things are already turning around, and looking hopeful. Keep reading, and sharing 🙂

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The Glimmer of Hope

I sat in my backyard reading on a hot Saturday afternoon. It was the 4th of July week-end, and I had pages to go before I slept. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, I resolved to read more about the life of minorities, racism, civil disobedience and much more. The son & I had painstakingly collated a list after reading several lists online, suggestions from friends, teachers, colleagues, and the companies we worked for. If there are any other recommendations, please let me know in the comments section. (Thank you 😊 )

  • Becoming – by  Michelle Obama
  • Civil Disobedience – by Henry  David Thoreau
  • Sneetches and other Stories – By  Dr Seuss
  • A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela – Abridged by Chris Van Wyk
  • Black Panther – by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • XVIII – 13th Netflix Documentary
  • Hidden Figures movie

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While I sat reading, there was a faint niggling guilt to the apparent normalcy of it all. Was it alright to be sitting calmly and reading in one’s backyard while the world around us was still reeling?  

I read as the sun overhead appeared to move towards the west, and finally got up to take a long walk. If anything, I had several things to think about in the book. There was a section in the book where she writes about failure being a feeling that sets in long before failure itself does. She writes about this in the context of the South Side in Chicago, and how the ghetto label slowly portended its decline long before it did. Families fled the place in search of upwardly mobile suburbs, the neighborhood changed in small, but perceptible ways at first, and then at an accelerated pace. Doubt is a potent potion, and when fed in small portions can quickly shadow everything.

The limitations of dreams are seeds planted in our sub-conscious slowly and surely so that we may fulfill what society thinks we ought to do, no more and no less. Minorities the world over know the feeling well enough.

Trevor Noah, in his book, Born a Crime, writes about the ability to dream being limited to what a person knows. If all people know is the ghetto, they can truly not think beyond that.

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” – Trevor Noah – Born a Crime

The largest section of population to know these limitations must be women.

In the Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes in her very first introductory chapter, “All we need to uplift women is to stop pulling them down.” 

It was, therefore, in sombre mood that I set out for the walk, little knowing that Serendipity, that most mysterious of forces will work its magic by the end of the night. 

I walked on taking in the setting sun at a fast pace. My mask hoisted on the face was sweaty, and every now and then on the trail when there weren’t people nearby, I slipped it down to take a deep breath of the summer air. I was walking by the waterside, and slowly  feeling the calm strength of the waters. My thoughts were slowly lifting as the sun was setting, and the full moon rose in the opposite direction. Out in the distance, the sound of Fourth of July fireworks was providing an orchestra of sorts to the accompanying bird sounds, and the sound of water sloshing gently against the shores of the lake. 

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“Bring the kids – sunset and moonrise marvelous and fireworks everywhere!” I texted the husband, and off we went in the approximate direction of the fireworks. We parked on a side road to take in the revels of the night. To stand there with the full moon behind us, and an array  of fireworks going off in front of us in a largely residential neighborhood was marvelous. 

Later, as we drove on, we listened to songs chosen with a special regard to the 4th of July. The children had aced the  list, and we drove on through the moonlight, lilting and dancing to the tunes.

“Behind the Clouds, the sun is shi—ii—ning. “ – What has to be one of our favorite Disney songs rent the car as we pulled into the garage. 

As I read the final section of Michelle Obama’s Becoming later that night, I found the audacity of hope (pun intended) stirring and this too felt different; worth examining. Politics is a dirty game, but Barack &  Michelle Obama had shown us what was possible. Dare we hope?  

P.S: I was blissfully unaware of (yet another) divisive speech by Donald Trump, and the announcement of Kanye West to run for President that night. I like to hold on to that glimmer of hope that permeated my heart as 4th of July ticked on steadily into the 5th of July.

Maybe hopes can translate to positive outcomes long  before they  happen.

 

Becoming – What a Title!

One would think that a book written by the former First  Lady  of the United States would not be relatable to a middle class couple living all the way in California. Not to mention that the husband and I hail from India from very middle-class  backgrounds. And  yet, that is the beauty  of the human condition I suppose, for I felt many places in the book where I could nod along and think, “Lord! How often I have felt that way!” 

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The need to question whether one is good enough, and wanting  to over-achieve believing that to be the only antidote to counter that feeling of not belonging for instance. The keen angst of youth as you overcome every  small and large bump along the way is so beautifully written.

Or the very real struggles of raising children while holding down a full-time job and constantly feeling a bandwidth issue; tugged at by the veneer of the formerly ambitious career-oriented young woman who is now slightly at odds wondering why the career years, child-bearing and rearing years, all coincide in one large tug and pull. To read that sentiment written by a former first lady is both marvelous and what makes our country great.

Or the place where she writes about her young husband and his eternal optimism. I can so readily identify with that. While it is the wind of the husband’s optimism that sets our boat to sail, it is the cause of many veering off-courses as well. For instance, I laughed out loud and read out the following paragraph to the children who chuckled and said, “Appa!”

Becoming – By  Michelle Obama

“On my way, I was learning, was he product of Barack’s eternal optimism, and indication of his eagerness to be home that did nothing to signify when he would actually arrive. Almost home was not a geo-locator but rather a state of mind. Sometimes he was on his way but needed to stop in to have one last forty-five minute conversation with a colleague before he got into the car.”

The children all laughed out loud at this, and the husband grinned sheepishly for there have been countless times when the good man has been so caught  up in whatever  he is doing, or talking to one colleague who caught him on the way out, that he lost track of time. It is now a well worn thread in our household. The good natured ribbing has taken multiple paths- “We know you are almost here Appa, and we believe  you, but when does Google say you will get here?”

Michelle Obama’s keen intellect, solid grounding, and sturdy family values shine through in her writing. 

There are passages that bring across the feeling of being African American in Chicago’s Southside that made me want to read these places again. I am sure there are plenty of good books dealing with these aspects of life in the United States. She writes about her husband – portraying him in a pragmatic human light (but again, after the 45th President, the 44th President  with his middle class upbringing, scholarly attitude, and high sense of integrity seems like a dream.) 

The book makes us realize that greatness while destined for some, the need to be motivated, live the best possible lives we can, while holding true to our intellectual and moral integrity, is something we can all choose for ourselves. 

Of course, the identify-with portions of the book ended with Becoming Me, and Becoming Us sections of the book. The final section of the Becoming More is something that only 45 families can relate to: Life in one of the world’s most famous addresses, The White House. Where life has parts of fairy-tale, power, ambition, noble intentions, inspirations, horror story, emotional wringing, the ugly and beautiful humanity of it all.

What a marvelous title : Becoming.

It captures the time-space continuum, and life’s journeys in one word. 

Unrelated, but also a good read: Ta Nehisi Coates essay: here