Books and Memory
Allie Lousch, Community Engagement Lead, Manhattan Public Library
You know how the smell of certain foods or the scent of rain-soaked soil can usher in memories you almost feel? Books do that for me. While reading this summer, I’ve had loads of memories find their way into my “feels” after my dad died, my daughter gave birth, my son and his family moved, and the world continued to spin. The books that brought the most vivid memories this summer are introduced below.
“Belonging: A German reckons with History and Home” written and illustrated by Nora Krug is also titled “Heimat: Ein deutsches Familienalbum” for the German speakers among us. Krug was raised in Karlsruhe, Germany, to the east and mostly north of the collection of German towns where I “came up.” It is in these towns and cities I experienced “Heimat,” roughly translated “the place where my story begins and I belong.”
Though Krug was born after the end of National Socialist German Workers’ Party rule, she felt the weight of the Holocaust and wondered of her family’s involvement. In her thirties, she began to research her family’s roles during the Nazi era. “Belonging” is a family album, which documents her findings and how she wrestled with what she learned.
Krug included profiles of “Things German,” highlights of the culture like the importance of “Wald,” the forest, in German experience and speech. These conjured mostly sweet memories for me. Her thread of how Nazis co-opted “Heimat,” my favorite German word, to justify their hate brought me to tears. I remembered how I’d first learned what “Heimat” meant and raced over to my neighbors’, the Thuy family, to use it in a sentence. At the time — in the late 1970s — I did not know that “Heimat” was part of the propaganda that sent the Thuys to concentration camps and was responsible for the tattoo on Frau Thuy’s arm. All I knew is that they were kind, helped me learn German and they felt like “belonging.”
“The World of PostSecret,” the second significant summer book, was the sixth compilation of secrets submitted anonymously to Frank Warren in what began as a community art project. From the weighty “I was supposed to be sleeping when I heard his plans to propose …” and “My family talks sh*t about gays. Little do they know they’re talking about me.” to “In the real world, you must wear shoes.”, “PostSecret” is a museum of things left unsaid.
While reading and thinking about it a month after my dad died, I am glad I was able to tell him how much I loved him while he was still alive. We laughed about how we were going to finally jump out of a perfectly good airplane together. He had earned his American and German “jump wings” and said that after his kids and skiing, trusting a parachute to get him safely to ground was his favorite thing. I was lucky with him as my dad and “PostSecret” profiles other good dads. Had one of my kids brought a PostSecret book home to read, I would have hoped we’d talked about it. Some of the secrets were intense.
When the kids were young, we plowed through “Dinotopia,” “Hank the Cowdog,” “Charlotte’s Web” and hundreds of books almost exclusively found in the Children’s’ Room of this library. One book that my daughter read — and I remember — particularly loved is E.B. White’s “Trumpet of the Swan.” I’m reading it now. Despite some of the descriptions being dated and a bit troubling, I am beginning to see why she might have enjoyed it so much. The story is about a Trumpeter Swan cygnet named Louis who is especially quiet. He finds ways, with the help of his family, to thrive and have incredible adventures. Sounds about right.
What stories and books unlock your memories? During your next visit to the library, you might discover books and more memories. You also find books, audiobooks, music, videos, events and — we hope —community.
Manhattan Public Library is a cornerstone of free and equal access to a world of ideas and information for the Manhattan, Kansas, community. Manhattan Public Library serves more than 75,000 people in the Riley County area through curated book and other media collections, knowledgeable staff, relevant programming for all ages, and meeting space. Learn more at mhklibrary.org.