The more we read, the stronger we are
Canadians read. They read, buy, borrow and talk books. Maybe on Kindle or Kobo, but just as likely in hardcover.
Every person not strap-hanging on the TTC is reading. In Peterborough, Knotanew and Mark Jokinen’s, Hunter Street Books and that funky Books on Water, which specializes in used social-justice works, plus Happenstance and Lakefield Station Bookshop, all make us a bookish region. That’s not even including Chapters or online shopping.
Although I miss the card catalogues at Trent’s Bata Library, all that opened space serves more readers. At Peterborough Public Library, the one with the fine new art installation outside depicting a book cover blowing in the wind, I had an hour’s free tutorial with a librarian, Laura, striving to make me more computer literate (starting with the deletion of multiple Facebook accounts.)
As a nation, we avidly follow five new titles on radio every March, on “Canada Reads.” Then we read all five to make up our own minds.
We’ve just concluded a national election. Sixty-five per cent of us voted for political parties with progressive values. I put that prevailing view, which to my delight is a deeply anti-Trumpism one, down to the influence of reading. People who read, learn, revise their opinions, consider, ponder and are made more sympathetic.
Count the number of book clubs around here. Mine, originated by me, is a solo effort, I am doing the choices and my apartment is doing the hosting. It has 10 participants and is just two sessions in length. No use wearing ourselves out, though I once knew a woman who read a book a night.
Recently we discussed with enthusiasm Melinda Gates’ personal memoir, “The Moment of Lift.” Next month, it will be the cheery, reassuring “Factfulness” by the well-known TED Talks man, Hans Rosling of Sweden.
Gates took her title from her father’s work on the space program in Texas, but she broadens it to include her own journey to feminism and her profound social conscience, which has led her to make huge, repeated donations to partner groups in the global south, those working in women’s and children’s health.
Two weeks ago, looking at the perils in her own country, she announced one billion dollars over 10 years for American women in leadership.
I had the pleasure of meeting her a couple of times on that committee in 2018 when I served on the Gender Equality Advisory Council to the G7. She is a warm, intelligent and listening person with great insight. I found myself saying in a friendly manner over wine one night, “Melinda, I don’t agree with any system that makes one so rich so fast, but if anyone has $400 million to give to the world’s neediest women, I would trust you to do it.”
She readily agreed. She said that when she began this philanthropic work 20 years ago, Hans Rosling himself said to her, “The last thing we need is billionaires in here messing up.” Gradually, the two became comrades with a common vision.
Melinda Gates is also conscious that private philanthropy, which actually makes up only about two per cent of world development aid, will never make all the changes needed. Still, private money can be a catalyst for state responsibility.
She has obviously sat listening to women on a grass mat in India and Burkina Faso and other places for many hours. The Gates Foundation in Seattle employs 1,500 people, many Canadians, and both she and her husband Bill write their own newsletters.
Our book club includes a physician who works in global health and spent 12 years in Thailand, and a woman who basically does not believe in foreign aid as it is delivered today. We hold those tensions, and then enjoy spanakopita, brought by a former librarian and peacebuilder.
Gates is an honest writer, who reveals a great deal about her family, the challenges of her marriage, her relationship with her church and her idealism.
(Don’t miss the new Netflix documentary, “Inside Bill’s Brain.”)
Peterborough is a community of book lovers and avid readers, Rosemary Ganley writes today.