Anne Lamott’s Wondrous Letter to Children About Books as Antidotes to Isolation, Portals to Perspective, and Crucibles of Self-Discovery
By Maria Popova
Books awaken us into living from the slumber of near-life. Books are lifelines of survival in inhumane times, building blocks of conscientious citizenship, reliquaries of the human spirit. What we read shapes not only what we become, but how we become.
That is what the wise and wonderful Anne Lamott explores in her lovely contribution to A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (public library) — a labor of love eight years in the making, collecting 121 original illustrated letters to children about why we read and how books transform us from some of the most inspiring humans in our world: artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and adventurers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading.
I really want you to hear what I am going to say, because I think it is the truth. Okay? I’ll make it fast.
If you love to read, or learn to love reading, you will have an amazing life. Period. Life will always have hardships, pressure, and incredibly annoying people, but books will make it all worthwhile. In books, you will find your North Star, and you will find you, which is why you are here.
Books are paper ships, to all the worlds, to ancient Egypt, outer space, eternity, into the childhood of your favorite musician, and — the most precious stunning journey of all — into your own heart, your own family, your own history and future and body.
Out of these flat almost two-dimensional boxes of paper will spring mountains, lions, concerts, galaxies, heroes. You will meet people who have been all but destroyed, who have risen up and will bring you with them. Books and stories are medicine, plaster casts for broken lives and hearts, slings for weakened spirits. And in reading, you will laugh harder than you ever imagined laughing, and this will be magic, heaven, and salvation. I promise.
Complement with other wondrous letters from A Velocity of Being by Rebecca Solnit, Jane Goodall, Alain de Botton, Debbie Millman, Jacqueline Woodson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alexander Chee, Kevin Kelly, and 100-year-old Holocaust survivor Helen Fagin, then revisit Lamott on the relationship between brokenness and joy, finding meaning in a mad world, how perfectionism kills creativity, and her magnificent manifesto for calibrating existential priorities.
Published April 10, 2020