One Book, Two Hearts Project
This post is to announce the formal launch of the One Book, Two Hearts Project, which will provide a book as a gift to each community college English student at the end of the semester. If you would like to support this project, I am accepting gently used literary fiction, memoir, and nonfiction books that would appeal to college students. Please contact Professor Jennifer Hurley at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to arrange to make a donation.
This project began informally last semester when I chose a book to give to each individual student in my Introduction to Literature class. I wrote a note for each of my 30 students, wrapped the books, and gave these gifts to the students on the last day we met.
I made this effort because of a comment one of my students wrote in his reflection about our study of the book Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. My student wrote:
To be honest with you, it was the first time in my life that I finished a book. Besides school textbooks, I didn’t read any books in my life at all. So I want to say thank you! because you made me believe that reading and finishing a book is not something impossible. It can be a good start for me. Especially because I loved this book. It took me away. To sky. To nature. It made me feel as light as a ghost.—anonymous comment from an Ohlone College English student
My heart broke a little to read this. I didn’t know whether to cry or to beat the walls. My head swam with questions. How did this intelligent student go his whole life without reading a novel? Have we as a culture stopped reading books? And if so, what have we lost?
It’s hard to put into words exactly why I want my students to keep reading. I feel reading might offer them a place of solace. It might give them friends that do not yet exist for them in the real world. It might create new possibilities for how to live or how to think. For those experiencing depression or alienation, reading might even save their lives.
There is something private and intimate about reading that cannot be achieved when we watch a television show or a movie. Reading is the act of coming towards the story rather than having it thrown upon you. We can take a book bit by bit, or we can swallow it whole, in one delicious, obsessive sitting. We are alone when we read, but we are simultaneously in deep communion with the writer, someone we may never meet or someone who might have long been dead. I sometimes tell my students that reading literature can be an immersion in history, psychology, geography, sociology, politics, and poetry all at once. It’s the real story behind the facts. It’s what you see when you peel back the sound bite of life.
When I first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area 18 years ago, I used to take BART from Berkeley into San Francisco for my office job. Back in those days, lots of people used to read on the train. I took heart in seeing exhausted women in business suits and sneakers poring over dog-eared novels. I loved seeing the people who read while standing in a packed train, oblivious to everything but the words on the page.
These days, it’s hard to find anyone on BART who is not losing themselves in their phones. Somehow the quiet from a train of readers is different from a train of phone users. Reading is an act of focused concentration, while the phone is a tool of distraction. When we stop reading as a culture, we abandon our ability to concentrate, to persevere, to see a story through to its end.
This is why I want to give a book to my students. It’s true that books are everywhere, even on our streets in Little Free Libraries. But how would anyone know which book to start with? A gift of a book from a teacher who knows you a little and cares about you a lot could be a beginning. It might be the one thing that keeps someone on the path of reading for life. Or maybe not. But either way, it’s a gift.