UX Librarian: The Power of Reading When Powerless

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Power of Reading When Powerless

So in case you haven't heard, Superstorm Sandy came through on Monday evening and stuck around for a few days leaving power outages, downed power lines, and lots and lots of very wet snow. It was pretty at first. Then, when I realized the snow wasn't going to stop it got a little scary. Then the lights went out.

Without electricity for four full days I had a lot of time on my hands to consider the hardships of our pioneer ancestors who came to West Virginia to find a little patch of land to call their own. Left without electronic devices of TV or Internet, I began to read.

Someone had recommended the book "Follow the River" by John Alexander Thom. This historical fiction tells the story of Mary Draper Ingles (1732-1815) who was kidnapped by the Shawnee Indians from early western Virginia. Ingles later escapes and travels hundreds of miles to find her way home. I had trouble with the detailed violence in this book and could only make my way through about 50 pages before I abandoned this book to move onto something a little more peaceful. (If you are braver than I and want to check this book out we do have it at the library.)

A book I have been meaning to recommend that I read recently is "The Midwife of Hope River" by Patricia Harman. Set somewhere in West Virginia during The Great Depression, I found this book to be real, warm, and very believable. The titular midwife is Patience Murphy, a new midwife with a checkered past practicing baby birthing in Appalachia. The way Harman has structured the chapters is such that we read the story of a birth and then read the journal entry that Patience records for each new delivery. There is not a lot of conflict in this book, but the various people that Patience encounters along her midwife duties are fascinating and realistic. And yes, Patricia Harman lives in West Virginia and has an extensive background as a midwife.

I moved onto "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. (Nothing pioneer-like here, it is pure turn-of-the-last-century fantasy.) This book held my attention for two days and 528 pages. It is about a lovely and mysterious circus that opens only at night and without notice. The imagery in this book is amazing. All black and white with punctuations of red. My only complaint is that the conflict set up by the premise is never really fully realized. What is wonderful about The Night Circus is the imagined world of this magical circus that is populated by delicious treats, trained kittens, mysterious circus planners, and an exotic contortionist. Nothing super deep, but a fun ride none the less.

I am so grateful to have had such great books to read while we were without electricity. The power of reading allowed me to escape from the oppressive feeling (especially at night) brought on by the extreme change in our daily routines. And reading about Patience Murphy reminded me that even without electricity I had way more resources available to me than our pioneer ancestors did.

I am hoping that you all weathered the storm fairly well. We measured a full 2-1/2-feet of snow at our place just outside Glenmore near Elkins. There are countless trees down, power lines down, and also folks who are still without electricity. I am truly grateful to the power line workers who came from all over the country to help us out in the wake of this freakish storm.

All of the books mentioned here are available to check out from the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia. Stop by and check them out.

You can also purchase these books from Amazon and a small chunk of the profits come back to the Library. Click on the links below to purchase.

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