I visited the Westerly Red Cross shelter the week of the floods, thanking the volunteers and speaking with the more than fifty people who had been forced from their homes by the rising water. It was so stressful for them. But I noticed that many of them were passing the time reading. There were children and adults in the center sitting at the long tables usually used for meals, engrossed in a book.
Right now, readers around the state are participating in the Reading Across Rhode Island. This year’s book is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. An odd title. A delightful book. I began it on the day I visited Westerly. I, too, found myself engrossed in a world far from RI where a community came together to endure hardship—in their case, the five-year Nazi occupation of Guernsey Island in the middle of the English Channel. The literary society of the title arose by accident, when trying to explain a curfew violation to the occupying soldiers, but it became a means for surviving, maintaining a community during a time of privation.
The bonds created by sharing books (each member could choose their own, with often unexpected results) helped many survive and endured well beyond the end of the war. This book, set in 1946, shows how the society and the shared love of reading, whether it was Marcus Aurelius or cookbook recipes, helped define the future of this island community.
It seems a particularly appropriate time for RIers to be sharing the experience of reading. May it bind us together and help us to survive hardship, as it did for those in the Westerly Red Cross shelter as well as for those fictional characters many decades and thousands of miles away.