Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Evening with Anna Quindlen

"A bigger threat to democracy is to cut library budgets than to cut defense budgets." Although the crowd was not made up of librarians, this was the statement from Anna Quindlen that drew applause last night. As a librarian, I found it to be one of her most powerful statements.

I was lucky enough to have tickets to the Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecture Series at the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Gammage Auditorium at Arizona State University. Since 1989, the Flinn Foundational Centennial Lecture Series has provided Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, with the resources to bring "some of the world's most influential intellects to campus." The lecture is free to the public. Past speakers have included Edward Albee, David Halberstam, Carlos Fuentes and Annie Dillard. For me, this was an opportunity to hear Anna Quindlen on "The Value of Reading and Writing in a Democratic Society."

Quindlen may be the author of five bestselling novels, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and the first writer to ever have books on the New York Times Fiction, Nonfiction, and Self-Help Bestseller lists, but, most of all, she's a person who values reading and books.

She said she reads like a maniac, galleys, mysteries, and rereads classics. She has resisted writing blurbs because her friend, Calvin Trillin, told her she has too many friends who are writers, and someday she wouldn't like something they wrote, and she'd lose a friend. However, when the Book-of-the-Month Club asked her to be on their editorial board, she realized she could help great work get noticed.

Anna Quindlen says she goes against conventional wisdom to say, this is a very good time for readers and reading. For those who say kids don't read, when have kids gone ga-ga over a single book, an old-fashinoned book with black letters on white pages, stood in line to get books, and then slipped into their bedroom to read? For those who say Harry Potter was all about hype, when a "twelve-year-old settles down with a book longer than Crime and Punishment, it's not hype."

Quindlen said when she thinks of her childhood, she was always in a club chair with her mother in the doorway saying it's a beautiful day outside. The happiest part of her life was when she was back at home, in her book. She left the characters, as if in a game of statues, and they came back to life when she got back. She lived within books. They were truer to her than anything else in life.

In America, we pay lipservice to reading, she said. We say how important it is, but view readers as lazy, aimless dreamers. However, "Reading is the pathway to the world." People testify through the written word. She said, it's impossible to be a true citizen of a democracy without reaching out to books. And, it's then she stated, "A bigger threat to democracy is to cut library budgets than to cut defense budgets."

She said, news coverage of Vietnam, as compared to that of previous wars, humanized the people of Vietnam, rather than demonized them. For the first time, it provided an understanding of the people we were fighting.

Thomas Jefferson said, "When the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe."

Anna Quindlen does not see the written word, and books, going away. She's been hearing for many years that paper will be superceded by comptuers. The laptop is wondrous, but no one wants to take a laptop to bed. No one wants to pass Heidi down to their daughters on disk. People have been predicting the demise of ink on paper for years, and they're wrong. A book can be savored, carried with us, and has a heft to it.

She said, censors are the greatest threat to reading, not the Internet. The American Library Association (ALA) publishes an annual list of Challenged and Banned Books. According to Quindlen, a person could be well-read just by reading all of the books on that list, the books that have challenged, frightened, and enraged people. Even censors can't kill books.

Anna Quindlen said well-written stories with interesting characters still manage to find audiences. Just look at Harry Potter. And, one of her final comments. "Reading creates a history for ourselves."

It was an inspirational evening, one that reminded me why I'm proud to be a librarian, and a reader.

(And, a personal thank you to two other librarians, who put up with even my flat tire on the way to the event. Thank you to Lisa Colcord and Bette Sharpe.)


Kay said...

Lesa, how wonderful to get to hear such an inspiring talk. I love (as you can imagine!) the quotes that she cites. I had a childhood very similar and also lived within my books. I still do a lot I think. Thanks for sharing this!

Lesa said...


I wish everyone who worked in a public library could hear Anna Quindlen. She's inspiring. She validates everything we stand for, and everything we do.

Clea Simon said...

What a lovely woman! I wish I'd been there and am grateful for your report, Lesa. Sorry about the flat tire, though.

Lesa said...

You're right, Clea. She was wonderful. I wish you'd been there, too. If you ever get a chance to hear her, grab it!

Ah, the flat tire. I blame it on a staff member who said, "Oh, you're off to have an adventure." Well, we did. The tread came off as we were merging from one interstate to another. I got us off, went to a convenience store in a rough neighborhood, had a street guy & the tough looking female manager take charge of changing the tire, and we still made it with a half hour to spare. The people at that store were wonderful. "Lesa's Great Adventure."

Les said...

How wonderful for you to attend this lecture! I recently read a couple of Quindlen's books (Loud and Clear and One True Thing) and would've loved to have be in attendance for this event. She has quite a way with words!

Lesa said...

She does have quite a way with words, Les. And, I've always appreciated her columns even more than her fiction.

Nan - said...

Kay sent me over here to read your wonderful piece on Anna Quindlen. How I envy you! She is one of my favorite people. Your words were so complete, so descriptive that I feel like I was there. Thank you, and thanks to Kay for telling me.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Nan! I wish everyone who loves books, reading and writing, could have been there. The three of us who went together said we felt uplifted. One told me today, two days later, it was the best appearance by an author that she'd ever attended.

Thanks, Kay, for sending Nan over!

M. G. Tarquini said...

Thanks for the review, Lesa. I had the privilege of hearing Ms. Quindlen speak at Changing Hands on Wednesday night. Wonderful. If I may, I'd like to direct people here for a wrap up.

Lesa said...

Thank you! Yes, please feel free to direct them here for a wrap up.

And, thank you to Changing Hands for offering tickets. I didn't pick mine up there this time, but I've taken advantage of four or five of your programs in the last year. And, I'll be watching for more. Thank you to a terrific bookstore!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks, Lesa. That's one lecture I'd have liked to hear, so thanks for giving me the mini-version. We read excerpts of Quindlen's work in my composition class, and she's always quite popular.

Lesa said...

I wish you could have heard her, Julia. She's so inspiring.