Books About Books
Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning & Information Services
It probably won’t come as any surprise to you that I love books. So, when I find a book about the importance of language and reading, it makes my heart skip a beat. Through reading, I have recently traveled to inland China and the hills of Kentucky, with characters that brave the elements and danger because they value books so much.
“Library of Legends” by Janie Chang is set in 1937 China. As the story starts, Japanese air raids have become a regular occurrence, pushing the Chinese population inland and making travel difficult at the same time. After a failed attempt to meet her mother, Hu Lian was forced to join the rest of her remaining classmates from Minghua University as they travel 1000 miles inland to set up a safe temporary campus. They were each charged with protection of one book from the “Library of Legends,” a 500-year-old record of myths and folklore, requiring them to guard each volume with their lives, and read and learn the stories along the way. They had to walk most of the way, sleeping on hard floors wherever they found them, and avoiding the occasional strafing from Japanese warplanes. Lian had always tried to blend into the background and remain unnoticed, but the common struggle and the close conditions forced her to interact more closely with her classmates, leading to new revelations about friendship. At the same time, the atmosphere was charged with political zeal. Some students discussed the rising Communist movement, and students from wealthy families saw poverty that they never imagined existed. “Library of Legends” is a detailed and captivating account of this historical event as it would have been felt in the lives of those who lived it. As we progress in the book, we see that the stories from the books they carry are interwoven with the world around them, and that there is magic even in the most forbidding of surroundings.
“The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Moyes also takes place in the 1930s, as the United States was reeling from the Great Depression. The Appalachia area of Kentucky faced unique challenges with lack of electricity, transportation, and literacy. The WPA started a project of delivering books by pack horse, the only way to get to many of the homes in the area. Moyes brings the story alive for us, with Margery, Alice, Beth, Izzy, and Sophia, who came together to spread literacy, but ended up affecting each other and the entire town beyond what any of them could have anticipated. They faced brutal weather conditions, human ignorance, and challenges in their own lives to help children and adults learn to read. Their work helped the mountain people to better navigate the small world around them and imagine the possibilities beyond what they had ever known. “The Giver of Stars” is a heart-warming story about overcoming odds and taking care of one another, all with the help of books.
Both books are available in print by placing a hold from www.mhklibrary.org. “The Giver of Stars” is also available as a digital eBook or audiobook from Sunflower eLibrary, which you can access through our website.
It doesn’t seem right to discuss books about books without mentioning some of the greats. “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George are both about how books can save us, even in the darkest of times. Go to our website at www.mhklibrary.org or call (785)776-4741, and let us help you find stories to join you in your journey, whatever road you take.