Robert Gray: Summer 2022--From Beach Reads to Banned Reads 

Well, my brother has a sword and I have my mind. And a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That's why I read so much...."

--Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

I have been reading for a living for three decades, but I've read to live since the 1950s. Like you, I can't imagine a life without books, nor can I imagine anyone telling me what to read... or not read. Because I'm a reader, however, I can easily imagine villains who would restrict access to books and even limit opportunities to learn to read. 

Our summers traditionally begin with media reports about sunny beach books and end during Banned Books Week. This year, however, darkness seemed to come early, with pressure being put on schools, libraries, bookstores and more to remove certain titles from shelves. Recently the Brooklyn Public Library shared a QR code offering anyone access to its online banned books collection and the villains pounced again, as Roebling Point Books & Coffee, Covington, Ky., pointed out. 

Almost one in five children in the U.K. between the ages of five and eight do not have a book of their own at home, an increase of 1.9% since before the pandemic started, according to the latest survey by the National Literacy Trust. The Bookseller reported that the issue is "considerably greater" for young boys, as 21% are bookless, compared to 16% of girls.

So I was just looking for a little bookish hope this week when I encountered a Facebook post from Readings bookstore in Melbourne, Australia, alerting me to the fact that September 7 was Indigenous Literacy Day. The bookseller was "supporting the day by donating 10% of funds from all books sold to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, a not-for-profit charity that strives to reduce the literacy gap and improve outcomes for young First Nations people in remote communities. Alternatively, if you are in a position to do so, we encourage you to make your own donation here."

Then the Twig Book Shop, San Antonio, Tex., tipped me off to the significance of September 6: "If y’all stop into the Twig this beautiful National Read A Book Day, make sure you post a pic & tag us to let us know that you popped in! Don't keep it to yourself. Share the experience! Read aloud either to children or to grandparents. Read to your pets or to your stuffed animals and plants. Reading improves memory and concentration as well as reduces stress. Older adults who spend time reading show a slower cognitive decline and tend to participate in more mentally stimulating activities over their lifetime. Books are an inexpensive entertainment, educational tool and time machine."

Want to know something else about September 7? Sassafras on Sutton, Black Mountain, N.C., told me it was "National Buy a Book Day, and what better way to celebrate such a momentous occasion than to swing by and get one of our newest Indie Next books? What 2022 book have you read that is your favorite?" And CFO Services Group even put in a plug for a Washington, D.C., indie: "Today is #NationalBuyABookDay! Check out our good friends at @eastcitybooks for all your reading needs."

Literacy Tree tweeted some book love for London's Tales on Moon Lane Children's Bookshop: "So yesterday was National Read a Book day and today #NationalBuyaBookday (think this should have come first!) so we would like to shout out @talesonmoonlane @MoonLnEducation @moonlaneink who are constantly supplying our schools with the books they need to #TeachThroughaText."

To end the week on a positive note, Thursday was UNESCO International Literacy Day. Fabled Bookshop & Café, Waco, Tex., planned to donate 20% of sales to Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in McLennan County. And in Canada, Books on Beechwood, Ottawa, Ont., posted on Instagram: "In honor of International Literacy Day, we will be donating 10% of our sales today to PEOPLE, WORDS & CHANGE!"

I was already feeling a little better about the state of reading when I came across a Bookseller column--headlined "The business of hope"--yesterday by Sam Taylor, co-founder of Max Minerva's Marvellous Books & More in Bristol, England. "When life gets bleak, we need a release; we need a relief from the mundanity and gloom," he observed. "We need a little joy. If we're priced out of holidays and thriftily reducing our nights out, then where will we fill our hearts and top up our hope? When we can’t overthrow our inept overlords or burn down the whole blinking thing, then where can we release our frustrations and fears? Where will we find our beacons and dispose of our monsters? Where can we do all of that for just £10?...

"During the last recession, in 2009, Obama's Dreams From My Father provided the balm, while Stephenie Meyer's Twilight offered the escape. Books provided an affordable alternative to the harsh reality of life. And just as then, so will be now. In 2023, there will be another balm and there will be another escape; there will be a crime or a horror that reflects the brutality of many lives; there will be a romance or adventure that puts a much needed smile on tired faces; there will be a bonkbuster that gets the country talking and there will be an epic that speaks of the times."

It turned out to be a pretty good week after all. The world still has a sword, but we have our minds, so keep them sharpened. As Tyrion Lannister knew, winter is always coming for readers

--Robert Gray, contributing editor
Powered by: Xtenit