Recently, in connection with the 120th anniversary of the magnificent Port Washington (NY) Public Library, where I spent so many valuable hours and received so much good help, I was asked to name some of the books that have made a big difference in my life. Since I’m sure that my fellow grandmothers have read some of these – and if not, would like to read them - I’m copying here the choices I sent to the library.
"The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan and "The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir. I read both of these books during the summer of 1963. I was a young mother with three small children and although I loved taking care of them, I knew that I wanted to pursue other avenues in my life, and both of these books inspired me and gave me confidence in myself. In 1997 I nominated Betty Friedan for the Career Achievement Award presented by the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and I was proud to present her with her well-deserved award.
Going back quite a few years before then, I have to say that Louisa May Alcott’s "Little Women" made a huge impression on me. I read that book five times, first when I was about ten years old and most recently in my mid-twenties, when I cried at the same parts of the book that I had always cried at. Like so many other readers I identified with Jo, the strongest of the sisters, the most independent, and – what was significant for me – the writer. I think I have to credit this book with first giving me the idea that I could choose writing as a profession.
More recently my life was influenced by Arlene Blum’s book, "Annapurna: A Woman’s Place," about the first American ascent of Annapurna and the first all-women’s summiting of the mountain. I have never climbed a mountain, but this book inspired me so much that I did end up doing high-altitude trekking in the Himalayas, fell in love with Nepal and her people, ended up going there seven times, helped my guide start a library in his village, did what was probably the single biggest thing I ever did to change someone else’s life – arranged for cleft lip surgery for a village child, and then wrote my own book, "A Balcony in Nepal: Glimpses of a Himalayan Village."