Why Libraries Matter: Letters to the Children of Troy

iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia
iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

It was the spring of 1971, and the public library in Troy, Mich., was finally getting a permanent home. As the grand opening neared, Marguerite Hart—the children’s librarian—dreamed up a way to inspire Troy’s youngsters to come to the new library: she wrote dozens of letters to actors, politicians, and authors from across the globe. Hart asked them to address the children of Troy and speak about the importance of libraries, books, and reading. By the time the library opened, 97 letters had graced her mailbox. Here’s a snapshot of what they had to say.

William White (Professor):

“It really gives someone a bang to discover suddenly that reading books can be fun. Just don’t wait too long to find this out—think of all the hours and days of fun you’ll miss. Go read a book in the library. Now.”

William Broomfield (US Congressman):

“Almost everyone is ignorant about almost everything. Surely there is no denying that. The most brilliant people are only brilliant about one or two matters, and ignorant of everything else. And ignorance is painful and irritating—the enemy of happiness. One of the greatest powers against the forces of ignorance is the public library. It knows no racial or economic boundaries. All who enter are welcome.”

Neil Armstrong (Astronaut):

“Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking... Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.”

David M. Kennedy (Cabinet Secretary):

“Your library is not just a building full of books. It is a gateway to thousands of worlds which you may choose to enter. Any world ever explored by man, or by man’s mind, is there awaiting you in print. The choice is yours.”

Ronald Reagan (California Governor):

“A world without books would be a world without light—without light, man cannot see.”

Dr. Seuss:

Edward Ardizzone (Author):

“What men and women did before makes us what we are now, and what we are now affects the future. To read of men and women of days gone by is to learn something of ourselves. For after all, they are part of us.”

Deane Davis (Vermont Governor):

“Read! It is nourishing, civilizing, worthwhile. Read! It destroys our ignorance and our prejudice. Read! It teaches us to understand our fellowman better and, once we understand this, it will be far easier to love him and work with him in a daily more complex society.”

Robert D. Ray (Iowa Governor):

“Freedom cannot falter where libraries flourish.”

John Burns (Hawaii Governor):

“Be very kind to all the librarians. They are among the wisest people in the world. We could do without governors if we had to, but we could not get along very well without librarians.”
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“A library is like a railroad station or an airport: you sit in a comfortable chair and you are carried swiftly to other lands… Never gab-gab-gab in a library to disturb others. Remember that people in a library may be far away—in Afghanistan or Botswana or walking along the road to Mandalay or high in the sky in a silent swift balloon over the Pyrenees.”

John Berryman (Poet):

“The chief thing is to read as hard as you play, with the same seriousness and a mind wide open…You have a pretty building for your books. Go in, and change your life.”

Clara Jones (Director, Detroit Public Library):

“The person who reads need never be lonely.”

John Gilligan (Ohio Governor):

“A library is a place to visit the past and future, or to experience a non-existent world through the pages of volumes containing the dreams, beliefs, knowledge and skills of an author’s imagination and mind.”

Lisl Weil (Author):

“Books speak, if you listen well, they will make you think and grow tall and strong in feeling and seeing the world around you.”

Joseph Alioto (San Francisco Mayor):

“Books can be your companion on rainy days. They will always be there. And when you want to read, a book will never say, ‘No, I don’t want to.’”

Helen Gurley Brown (Editor in Chief, Cosmopolitan):

James Yaffe (President of Colorado College):

“We cannot live in more than one world; we cannot break through the barrier of our own individuality. We are doomed to be ourselves, when we yearn to be everybody. Man invented books to help him out of this dilemma…Through books we can catapult our imaginations into those worlds that our bodies can never reach. When we read history, we demolish the prison of time and become one with the men of the past… When we read poems or plays or stories, we are drawn into the inner lives, the feelings and thoughts, of other souls we could never have imagined for ourselves. [A library] helps us become more than ourselves.”

Mary Hemingway (Wife of Ernest Hemingway):

“A library is like a roomful of friends, each one with his own story or observations ready and waiting to be discovered.”

William Levitt (Real Estate Developer):

“As time goes on you will realize that books are very good friends. They ask nothing of you, but are ready to give everything. They are never in a hurry, but are always there when you want them. They are never short tempered, but are always ready to entertain you.”

Malcolm Boyd (Author):

“[Reading] is one of the things that transforms existence into life.”

Walter Havighurst (Author, Critic):

“A library is a quiet place. ‘Quiet, please’ reads a sign on the wall, and the books are silent on the shelves. But in the silence there is a murmur of voices waiting to be heard.”

George Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development):

“Every generation stands on the shoulders of generations that have gone before them…People who read books are wise because they use the tools of other men’s experiences.”

John Chafee (Secretary of the Navy):

“Libraries are wonderful places in which to be lost...Adventure is only an arm’s length away, and new friends are waiting for you between the covers of books.”

Neil Simon (Playwright):

“When I look back on the many pleasures [my library] afforded me, I do not for one instant regret living and growing up in a TV-less society.”

E.B. White (Author):

Mike O’Callaghan (Nevada Governor):

“[A library] is a living place, no matter how inanimate you may think the books themselves are. In those books are the ideas and thoughts of men and women who lived long ago, as well as those of people living today… Remember that libraries need feeding too, since they are living, and that it is far better to add a book to the shelves than deprive others of the opportunity to use it.”

Herbert Zim (Author):

“Bring a friend to the library. Get him to bring a friend, also. A good library is one that is over-worked and over-used.”

Richard Armour (Author):

“I am sixty-four years old, probably as old as your grandparents, but I am still learning. I learn from traveling and talking with people, but mostly I learn from reading books…Books are precious things. Between their covers are facts and ideas and imaginings put into words by the most sensitive and imaginative and creative people who ever lived.”

Kingsley Amis (Author):

“Use your library, remembering that, whatever else you may not have, if you have books, you have everything.”

Check out the complete collection on Troy Public Library’s webpage.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
Lucien Aigner/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that unites philosophers, writers, politicians, and scientists across time and distance, it’s the belief that reading can broaden your worldview and strengthen your intellect better than just about any other activity. When it comes to choosing what to read and how to go about it, however, opinions start to diverge. From Virginia Woolf’s affinity for wandering secondhand bookstores to Theodore Roosevelt’s rejection of a definitive “best books” list, here are seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.

1. Read books from eras past // Albert Einstein

albert einstein at home circa 1925
Albert Einstein poses at home in 1925 with a mix of old and new books.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Keeping up with current events and the latest buzz-worthy book from the bestseller list is no small feat, but Albert Einstein thought it was vital to leave some room for older works, too. Otherwise, you’d be “completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of [your] times,” he wrote in a 1952 journal article [PDF].

“Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses,” he wrote.

2. Don’t jump too quickly from book to book // Seneca

seneca the younger
Seneca the Younger, ready to turn that unwavering gaze on a new book.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Seneca the Younger, a first-century Roman Stoic philosopher and trusted advisor of Emperor Nero, believed that reading too wide a variety in too short a time would keep the teachings from leaving a lasting impression on you. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” he wrote in a letter to Roman writer Lucilius.

If you’re wishing there were a good metaphor to illustrate this concept, take your pick from these gems, courtesy of Seneca himself:

“Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

3. Shop at secondhand bookstores // Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf
Virginia Woolf wishing she were in a bookstore.
Culture Club/Getty Images

In her essay “Street Haunting,” Virginia Woolf described the merits of shopping in secondhand bookstores, where the works “have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

According to Woolf, browsing through used books gives you the chance to stumble upon something that wouldn’t have risen to the attention of librarians and booksellers, who are often much more selective in curating their collections than secondhand bookstore owners. To give us an example, she imagined coming across the shabby, self-published account of “a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it.”

“In this random miscellaneous company,” she wrote, “we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

4. You can skip outdated scientific works, but not old literature // Edward Bulwer-Lytton

edward bulwer-lytton
An 1831 portrait of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, smug at the thought of people reading his novels for centuries to come.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Though his novels were immensely popular during his lifetime, 19th-century British novelist and Parliamentarian Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now mainly known for coining the phrase It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. It’s a little ironic that Bulwer-Lytton’s books aren’t very widely read today, because he himself was a firm believer in the value of reading old literature.

“In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest,” he wrote in his 1863 essay collection, Caxtoniana. “The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

To Bulwer-Lytton, fiction couldn't ever be obsolete, because it contained timeless themes about human nature and society that came back around in contemporary works; in other words, you can’t disprove fiction. You can, however, disprove scientific theories, so Bulwer-Lytton thought it best to stick to the latest works in that field. (That said, since scientists use previous studies to inform their work, you can still learn a ton about certain schools of thought by delving into debunked ideas—plus, it’s often really entertaining to see what people used to believe.) 

5. Check out authors’ reading lists for book recommendations // Mortimer J. Adler

mortimer j. adler in 1983
Mortimer J. Adler in 1983, happy to read the favorite works of his favorite authors.
George Rose/Getty Images

In his 1940 guide How to Read a Book, American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler talked about the importance of choosing books that other authors consider worth reading. “The great authors were great readers,” he explained, “and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

Adler went on to clarify that this would probably matter most in the philosophy field, “because philosophers are great readers of each other,” and it’s easier to grasp a concept if you also know what inspired it. While you don’t necessarily have to read everything a novelist has read in order to fully understand their own work, it’s still a good way to get quality book recommendations from a trusted source. If your favorite author mentions a certain novel that really made an impression on them, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

6. Reading so-called guilty pleasures is better than reading nothing // Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft in 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, apparently demonstrating that a book with blank pages is worth even less than a novel.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the 18th-century writer, philosopher, and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, just about all novels fell into the category of “guilty pleasures” (though she didn’t call them that). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she disparaged the “stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste and draw the heart aside from its daily duties.”

If her judgment seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s probably because it’s taken out of its historical context. Wollstonecraft definitely wasn’t the only one who considered novels to be low-quality reading material compared to works of history and philosophy, and she was also indirectly criticizing society for preventing women from seeking more intellectual pursuits. If 21st-century women were confined to watching unrealistic, highly edited dating shows and frowned upon for trying to see 2019’s Parasite or the latest Ken Burns documentary, we might sound a little bitter, too.

Regardless, Wollstonecraft still admitted that even guilty pleasures can help expand your worldview. “Any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement, and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers,” she wrote. In other words, go forth and enjoy your beach read.

7. You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read // Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt in office in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt pauses for a quick photo before getting back to his book in 1905.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Theodore Roosevelt might have lived his own life in an exceptionally regimented fashion, but his outlook on reading was surprisingly free-spirited. Apart from being a staunch proponent of finding at least a few minutes to read every single day—and starting young—he thought that most of the details should be left up to the individual.

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be,” he wrote in his autobiography, and rejected the idea that there’s a definitive “best books” list that everyone should abide by. Instead, Roosevelt recommended choosing books on subjects that interest you and letting your mood guide you to your next great read. He also wasn’t one to roll his eyes at a happy ending, explaining that “there are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple.”

In short, Roosevelt would probably advise you to see what Seneca, Albert Einstein, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other great minds had to say about reading, and then make your own decisions in the end.