Reading through the Storm:
If you’re a fan of Western novels, you know the stereotype: Texans are tough. An old-school, clichéd generalization? Maybe so, but I’m amazed at how resilient the Houston literary community is. It’s hard to imagine a hurricane flooding Chapel Hill, and I wonder how Wisdom House would cope—owls aren’t the greatest swimmers!
The Indie bookstores in Harvey’s wake found ways to deal with this kind of awful scenario.
Some have already dried their floors, restocked their bottom shelves, and opened their doors again. Others found ways to help their friends and neighbors: Murder by the Books opened its doors to the community. People without power visited to charge their phones, drink coffee, and of course, read books.
Reading has a way of making a bad situation a little better. Books don’t require electricity, so long as you have natural light, or at least a flashlight. Reading is a relief from your troubles, and books are an escape you can carry with you.
All over the country, people recognize this power of the written word. If you’ve checked Facebook recently, you might have heard of the Hurricane Harvey Book Club. As I write this, the group has over 42,000 members. Authors, teachers, and avid readers everywhere film themselves reading children’s books to share with the group.
This might be a simple thing, but it’s important. Children displaced by the hurricane need a good story to distract them. According to Publishers Weekly, that’s why Kathryn Butler Mills, a second-grade teacher in Katy, Texas, started the group: “The purpose of this [group] is to bring joy and normalcy to so many that are currently dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey,” she says.
Maybe there’s something else behind this effort, something more than simply wanting to help people in need. There are dozens of wonderful relief organizations to support, so why do some people prefer reading stories instead?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a theory: Reading is connection. When our hearts go out to people in need, we want to help them in a way that feels personally meaningful. When we read a book to a child far away, we can imagine that child enjoying our story.
On the flip side, that child knows there are people out there who care about them. They realize that entire imaginary worlds exist and can help them feel better, even if only for a little while. It’s a small comfort, a brief connection, but it’s true that every bit helps.
In this spirit, I now turn to all of you. If you want to support bookish relief efforts, consider these organizations:
Reading is Fundamental donates books to children displaced by the hurricane.
The Texas Book Festival maintains a list of relief organizations accepting donations.
The Book Industry Charitable Foundation provides financial assistance to booksellers during these kinds of emergencies.
The Texas Library Association maintains a disaster relief fund for libraries in need.
Of course, you can always join the Hurricane Harvey Book Club! The more readers, the better.
To our fellow Indies in the Houston area: we wish you the best and fastest recovery possible. And to everyone who is sending stories down to Texas: your efforts are impressive. Don’t stop reading!