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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Reflecting on a Lifetime of Reading and Other Letters to the Editor

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To the Editor:

Min Jin Lee’s wonderful essay, “Shelf Lives” (April 18), sparked a flood of memories. My family moved often and my brother and I rushed to unpack because, as soon as we finished, our mother would take us to the local library.

While she went to pick out her book, we pored through shelves of children’s picture books, trying to pick out our 10 to take home. I remember the smell of ink and paper, magical illustrations, different print styles. The excited new-book anticipation that Lee describes has stayed with me into my 80th year.

Susan Sussman
Aventura, Fla.

To the Editor:

Lee’s essay reminds me of my time renting books from a circulating library in Mahim, a Mumbai suburb, in the 1960s. I would save up pocket money for books from this library. The owner of the library did not make enough money from the circulation, so he sold detergent too.

I read Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”; Arthur Hailey’s “Hotel”; the Nancy Drew series; R. K. Narayan. When I came to the United States and went to a library where I could borrow as many books as I liked with a library card, it was unbelievable.

When I was a young mother, my four boys would fill their backpacks every Saturday morning with books from the local library and sprawl on the living room carpet, absorbed in their world. Min Jin Lee shared every immigrant’s experience of assimilating into American culture by sharing stories of her shelf lives.

Bela Banker
Haverford, Pa.

To the Editor:

Lee getting her first library card reminded me of the time I got mine at the Scranton Public Library. I had just turned 12 and was eligible to enter the adult section, no longer forced to languish in the children’s division where I had read everything worth reading. I knew about the adult stacks and wanted desperately to explore them.

But nothing prepared me for the rows of books and the window seats where I could sit and read with little interruption. One day, I happened to notice a collection of W. Somerset Maugham’s stories. I knew his name, having seen the movie version of “The Razor’s Edge.”

I opened the collection and came upon “Rain.” I will never forget the experience. When I came to Sadie Thompson’s outburst at the end (“You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you”), I knew what had happened and what the minister had done to her. Maugham had no reason to go any further, nor did I want him to. I wanted only to ponder what I had read. Reading “Rain” was my first exposure to the art of ellipsis.

Great storytellers make readers co-authors, letting them complete with their imagination what has been left unsaid on the printed page. For the first time in my young life I felt like an adult.

Bernard F. Dick
Teaneck, N.J.

To the Editor:

In her essay, Lee performed a magnificent literary concerto, keeping tempo and hitting the right note with every heartstring pluck.

I want to read (sadly in only one case reread) every book she mentions as well as (however impossible) meet her Uncle John — and especially, after finishing her essay, “pick up another” of her works.

Paul Fehlner
Ridgewood, N.J.

To the Editor:

In Madeleine Brand’s review of Ronald Brownstein’s book “Rock Me on the Water” (April 18), she erroneously states that TV shows of the ’70s “did not walk the walk.” Her example includes “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which she lumps in as one of the shows that were written “by white men.”

As a female TV writer given the honor of being one of the first to write for “Mary Tyler Moore,” following Treva Silverman, and thankfully opening the door to many others, I can correct her. I assure the readers that James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, the two white men who produced, went out of their way looking for women to break that hitherto impenetrable glass ceiling and indelibly changed things for women both on and off the screen.

This error and other observations about the “failings” of giants in the industry like Norman Lear are so flawed, I think I’ll skip the book, and wish I’d done so with the review.

Susan Silver
New York

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