This post is part of our Guest Picks series, featuring members of our library community sharing their favorite books and movies.
About Jan G.
We have always been a family of readers. My grandmother, the daughter of an illiterate Norwegian mother and a literate Norwegian father, attended college because her parents believed education was the pathway to self-sufficiency. (It is!) One of her most prized possessions was a book of Walt Whitman’s poems. I have that book today. On the torn inside cover, there is a mysterious dedication (love note?) from a professor.
At one point on my South Dakota prairie farm, homesteaded by those same great-grandparents, we received over 100 periodicals in a month, including three daily newspapers (some arriving up to a week late). We belonged to Reader’s Digest Book-of-the-Month Club and had two sets of encyclopedias to verify truth (yes, we believed that truth could be verified back then).
My grandson, approaching two years of age, consumes books read to him by others and will spend the early morning hours in his crib, looking at a book and providing one for his friend, Curious George, as well. My husband’s Kindle is his favorite device as he reads his genre of choice: historical fiction with lots of swords and castles. My daughter, who is an Army JAG, reads biographies of great and not-so-great leaders, as well as nonfiction accounts of politics and warfare. My son can still describe every Captain Underpants book, by Dav Pilkey, he read as a child - I think because he could identify with the character’s approach to authority.
My first job, which I thought was the most important one I would ever have, was in 6th grade as a “student librarian” at my very small South Dakota school. I felt terribly important, being sure the library book cards were completed properly and using the date stamp in the correct block on the cards to remind of their return. I loved replacing the books in their correct Dewey Decimal position on the shelves. And, the logic of the classification system seemed as sweet as a new dress for the first day of school (girls couldn’t wear pants to school then). The scribbled signatures of students in the upper grades caused me to sense that I had special insight into them. I now knew them, and they could be my friends! Indeed, my time in the library contributed much to my core. The smell of the old books, the timelessness of the wooden desks and chairs, and the belief that I had to be both helpful and watchful at the same time gave me a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
Perhaps it was the most important job I have ever had…
Below are some of Jan's favorite books - old and new:
"My husband and I moved to Fredericksburg from Spokane, Washington, where Sherman Alexie is a very well-known and highly regarded Native American author. This book is for high schoolers and above and describes what it’s like to live in the many worlds a Native American is asked to inhabit. It is an inspiring, funny, honest book for teens."
"My husband asked me to include Dr. Seuss as he is the author he relied on as a single parent, raising his son. Is there any better companion for children?"
"Ok, so while sipping on your La Cumbre and St. Germain, try this new-ish version of the Bible (CRRL has the Catholic edition). I love reading it as the words are close enough to my old favorites (King James and Revised Standard) but more flowing in the construction of sentences and word usage."
"Thirty years ago, when my children were small, it was difficult to find many children’s books with non-European themes and characters. I looked intentionally for books portraying characters who didn’t reflect the majority population. Dav Pilkey rarely goes wrong, even in cultural-boundary spanning."
"My brother gave us this book with the comment, 'You know, Neanderthals get a bad rap.' Probably a better comment would have been that this book is 'Everything about humanity but the kitchen sink.' And that could be thrown in there, too! It’s a great existential read and we all should do one of those occasionally."
"I am still making my way through this a weighty tome, provoking self-awareness and epiphanies at nearly every turn. What is it that I believe is 'good' about my thinking about race which really comes from my own racism?"
"My daughter and I read this aloud to each other about 25 years ago as a way to understand what other young girls have the courage to endure. The story of the Bosnian War and the Serbian Siege of Sarajevo relates the chaotic effects of war on the innocents."