By Arthur H.Gunther III
“Every Hero Has a Story” is the theme of this year’s Summer Reading Club in my area, part of the national Collaborative Summer Library Program. It encourages students to continue reading over school vacation, whether they choose books with that bent or not. Local libraries display related material and hope they attract not only continuing young readers but lifelong visitors.
We public school kids weren’t given summer reading lists back in our time, but, of course, there were fellows and especially gals who liked to read so much that they just went into imaginary land without prompting. In our neck of the woods, that was often at a very small one-room library called Finkelstein Memorial, in downtown Spring Valley, N.Y.
It was a wonderful place, with detailed wooden panels — real wood, not veneer. It had reading stands, chandeliers, work tables and tucked-away nooks, perfect for a rainy-day visit. Designed in the Jeffersonian style so popular in the late 1930s and early ’40s, it was donated by the family whose name it bears. Today the library has grown exponentially, with numerous floors, many rooms and all the gadgetry of the digital age. One aspect has not changed — kids still like to curl up and read. No more nooks, but there is always that special corner to get lost in your imagination.
Reading was fundamental in my time, too, and visiting Finkelstein in the 1950s was a fine way to spend an otherwise boring day after walking a mile and a half to sit amongst the beautiful shelves filled with so many books. Ellen Heitman, the librarian, let kids look for themselves, and I soon found the biographies I liked best.
While I was not a good reader (years later, after difficulty in early college years, I learned that I had a reading/comprehension deficit), the love of words began with that library and that librarian. I held my library card as tight in my pocket as I later did my first driver’s license. It proved, though subconsciously at first, to be the incentive to a career using words as a newspaperman. It was also through reading that I was able to develop a shorthand way to compensate for my deficit.
Words — whether you learn and enjoy them through reading about heroes or other subjects in books, newspapers, magazines — are the language of understanding. They are weapons against ignorance and prejudice, the foundation of being civilized. Reading can make one heroic in life, with impressive power to the good and give each his/her own “hero” story.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.