Tag Archives: Half the Sky

Great Gifts for Literary Travelers: From the Material to the Ethereal

The hottest gift for anyone who reads this year is an e-reader, be it Kindle, nook, iPad or others.  I’ll never give up printed books completely, but I’m sure to succumb to an electronic version for a lot of reasons.  If you travel a lot, you can load up on books to take with you without needing an extra suitcase to carry them all. An electronic reader is an even greater benefit if you travel to places where books in English are few and far between.  I’m leaning toward that new color version of the nook at Barnes & Noble, partly because that nice nook sales person greets me so enthusiastically every time I go to Barnes & Noble, which is a lot.

Yet, there’s a huge array of alternative and less expensive gifts for your favorite reader/traveler. At the other end of the spectrum from e-readers, Levenger.com offers a wonderful array of, as they say, “Tools for Serious Readers.” They have a great assortment of bookends. I’m particularly partial to the Winston Churchill Pig bookend inscribed with his quote:
“I like pigs: cats look down on human beings, dogs look up to them, but pigs just treat us as their equals.”

A tenement isn’t the first place you think of for buying Christmas gifts, but I got an “I Read Banned Books” bracelet at the Tenement Museum in New York City a while back and every reader I know comments on it. Also, declaring that I read banned books makes me feel like a rebel.

A lot of stores are selling really cute Kate Spade “Library Books” and “World Traveler” mugs.  You can find them online or at Macy’s, Bloomingdales and other places. Pop that together with a pound of coffee or some fancy tea and your “giftee” can settle in for a good read.

Magellan’s.com has a huge array of gadgets, gear and clothing for travelers.   Check out the book 1,000 Places to Go Before You Die and its accompanying travel journal.  Or, conversely, 100 Places Not to Go Before You Die.

Finally, if your goal is a gift for the greater good, give a copy of a book paired with a donation, for example Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn’s book  Half the Sky with a donation to one of the many charities on the Half the Sky Movement Web site.

Bundle a book about Haiti such as Isabelle Allende’s novel Island Beneath the Sea or Tracy Kidder’s non-fiction Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti with a contribution to Farmer’s organization, Partners in Health. Or, Dr. Greg Mortinson’s book Three Cups of Tea (a lot of book club people have already read this) or his newer book Stones into Schools pairs well with a donation to his non-profit foundation, the Central Asia Institute.  He also has a children’s book called Listen to the Wind. Take a look at the video about the latter book and his work in Afghanistan.


Reading + Travel = Empathy

It seems like every week brings a new sad development in Haiti—cholera a couple of weeks ago, flooding from Hurricane Tomas this week—added to the devastation of the earthquake earlier in the year. I was particularly sad this week to see people in Leogane, where I visited a couple of years ago, dragging themselves through waist deep water.  Then there are the earthquakes in Indonesia… Viewing these images on TV makes us stop for at least a moment and imagine what it must be like for people whose lives are devastated by these disasters, to empathize.

The New York Times’ Jane Brody, in her excellent piece  “Empathy’s Natural, but Nurturing It Helps” says that, “Empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and recognize and respond to what that person is feeling, is an essential ingredient of a civilized society. Lacking empathy, people act only out of self-interest, without regard for the well-being or feelings of others. The absence of empathy fosters antisocial behavior, cold-blooded murder, genocide.”

From natural disasters to politics (some might see those as overlapping), it seems like we could all use a little dose of empathy these days.   Brody reports that one way to cultivate empathy in children is “reading books and talking about how people (or animals) in a story feel and why they feel that way.” Reading Rockets, a great Web site about “launching young readers,” has an interesting article called, “It Happened Over There: Understanding and Empathy Through Children’s Books.” Scroll down to the end of the article for children’s book suggestions.

I’d add that it’s not too late for older children and adults, too, to cultivate empathy by reading.  Think about To Kill a Mockingbird, The Diary of Ann Frank, Dave Eggers’ What is the What, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWinn’s Half the Sky, Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kiterunner for starters. Do you have other suggestions for “empathy reading?”

Travel is, of course, another way to gain understanding and empathy for people whose lives are far different from ours.  It’s not always possible to travel (or in the case of places with natural disasters, desirable), but you can do it through the pages of a book.