by Rhonna Hargett, Associate Director of Learning and Information Services
Through the difficulties of the recent years, the shining stars of our society have been the helpers. Our healthcare workers and first responders have gone above and beyond to keep us safe in a world that sometimes feels chaotic. The January theme for the Manhattan Public Library reading program ReadMHK is “Helping and Mentoring Others.” In my experience, an important role we can all play is to help each other through rough times by just being present and providing community. I’ve found a few books that help us to explore what that can look like.
In the sweet and humorous book “Anxious People” by Fredrik Backman, a group of people at an open house for an apartment are accidentally taken hostage by a failed bank robber. Ro and Julia are about to have a baby and need a bigger place. Roger and Anna-Lena are spending their retirement avoiding conflict by flipping one apartment after another. Estelle is looking for a place for her granddaughter to live. Zara has been obsessed with apartment shopping for years. They end up trapped in the apartment together, with a relentlessly positive real estate agent, an unsuccessful bank robber, and an unexpected character locked in the bathroom. The story goes back and forth between the events taking place in the apartment and the investigation carried out by a frustrated father and son police team. What could be a terrifying situation ends up unexpectedly touching all of their lives in positive ways because they are forced to help each other as they have never done before. We know the main plot from the very beginning, but Backman is an expert at peeling back the layers of underlying stories until we learn the heart of the matter for each character.
“What Are You Going Through” by National Book Award winning author Sigrid Nunez is the narration of a series of encounters that the main character experiences while moving through the world. She shares about her interaction with the host of her guest lodgings, her ex-husband, the grouchy neighbor she visits, and especially her friend from her youth. She listens to their struggles and triumphs, quietly allowing them to process their thoughts while we get to read her inward observations. The book is introspective and thoughtful, with observations on the meaning of life and death, but also has moments of humor. Nunez’s avoidance of named characters adds to a feel that this is a story of the human condition, that these encounters could have happened to anyone, anywhere. Throughout the book, her presence and listening ear provide support to those around her, even though she isn’t always sure whether she’s made the right choices.
In “The Music of Bees” by Eileen Garvin, rural Oregon beekeeper Alice Holtzman suffers from panic attacks after the sudden death of her husband. During an attack, she barely avoids running over Jake Stevenson, a young adult who was confined to a wheelchair after a stunt gone wrong during his senior year. During their encounter, Alice discovers Jake’s difficult home situation and invites him to live in her bunkhouse. Soon after, Alice offers some carpentry work and a home to Harry Stokes. Through their care for the bees and one another, the unlikely group creates a family and finds a way to start healing the wounds they each carry.
ReadMHK is a 9-month community-wide reading program during which we can make community connections through similar reading experiences. To find more ways to participate in ReadMHK, including our podcast in which we interview Manhattan community members, themed book lists, and upcoming book discussions, go to our website at www.MHKlibrary.org.