At the Center of the Page
By Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library
I deeply believe in the power of reading. Reading fiction, I think, is especially powerful. I understand that this statement reflects my bias, but I think when you are reading for clarity, sense-making, and empathy, fiction reigns. For me fiction allows for a more deeply personal connection between reader and story.
Chosen well, fiction provides us insight into people, settings, and ideas we might never encounter in our day-to-day lives. For almost two years I’ve been facilitating a book discussion at Magic City Books. I select books that challenge readers to see beyond our own perspectives, confront our biases, and explore the complex and multi-layered nature of identity. It is a magical thing when readers share their questions, insights, and even frustrations with a novel. I’ve grown as a reader and as a person by being part of this group.
The book we read last month is one that I’ve been obsessing over for the last year or so. The Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras is set in Colombia during the violent rule of Pablo Escobar. But instead of an action-packed suspense like the television series Narcos, we get a deeply moving and poetic coming-of-age story narrated by two girls—Chula, age 7 and Petrona age 13. Sandra Cisneros writes of the novel: “When women tell stories, they are finally at the center of the page. When women of color write history, we see the world as we have never seen it before.”
The Fruit of the Drunken Tree is a lesson in culture, history, and violence as experienced by girls. In their attempt to understand the world around us, they tell a story of the impact that war has on the domestic sphere, typically relegated to women and children. It is a story about trauma and resilience, the way language and art can heal, and the grief of migration. It’s a very necessary read for our time.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t invite each of you to attend a conversation with Ingrid Rojas Contreras at Martin Regional Library on Saturday, October 19 (shameless library event plug). She will be in conversation with the library’s Hispanic Resource Center Coordinator, Amairani Perez. We are also fortunate to have visiting students from Colegio Comfracesar who will provide music before the event. Music begins at 1:30 and the author presentation will begin at 2:00. I hope to see several public radio listeners there.
Finally, I want to encourage the reading of voices that are different from our own. In the noise surrounding political, religious, and social issues, reading offers a place for quiet contemplation. Complex issues require reflection and, dare the librarian say it, quiet. And, after quiet comes the conversation. Talking about books with others is transformative. It can create a space for vulnerability and it can create a space for action. If you need some reading suggestions for diverse books, I have a list (naturally).