In Sara Nishe Adams’ book The Reading List, one of the main characters, Aleisha, has a summer job at the Harrow Road Library, a small neighborhood library in danger of closing. The library has been forgotten by residents in the bustle of daily life. Aleisha is at the checkout desk and is not in a good mood when an old man, Mukesh, cannot even open the door to the library. She is short with him, and he leaves upset. Aleisha’s boss takes her to task about her behavior. She is the librarian he tells her. She needs to take her responsibilities seriously. Aleisha is young. She doesn’t like being scolded, but she got this job because her brother, Aidan loved this library and he had also worked there one summer. She decided she would behave for her brother’s sake. When Mukesh forces himself to return to the library Aleisha is a different person. She has found a list in the library, left on a table. It’s a reading list. The first book on the list is To Kill a Mockingbird, although the first book mentioned in a chapter title is The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Mukesh lost his wife to cancer. She was a voracious reader. Mukesh was not. His wife also read books with her granddaughter Priya, and Priya became a book lover like Naina. Mukesh was not making much headway with Priya. She would find a chair at his house and read and ignore her grandfather. When Aleisha recommended that Mukesh read To Kill a Mockingbird, the book interrupted his grief and gave him a way to stay close to his wife even after death. This also gave him a way to be more pleasing in the eyes of his granddaughter, Priya.
In fact, everyone who found that reading list, including Leonora, Chris, Indira, Izzy, Joseph, Gigi, Aleisha, Mukesh found their lives changed by the characters and themes in those books and by sharing their thoughts about the books with others. Eventually, it seems, the repercussions from this ‘reading list’ may even end up saving the Harrow Road Library.
This is a simple tale that ends up having more depth than you would think. The problems these characters are dealing with in their personal lives are rather serious ones that could derail a life, and in real life such traumas do psychological damage that loneliness exacerbates. Some of these characters have lost loved ones, some are troubled by social difficulties, one character is dealing with such hopelessness that he cannot cope with it. Not everyone is saved. But a community of fictional characters, relevant plots, and a cause offers a reset to more than one of the characters in The Reading List, who are intended to represent real people.
Who made the copies of this book list and distributed them? Will we find out? What nationalities are these people who all live in London now? Do people from Kenya eat Indian food? What is the religion of many of the characters? Does it matter if we know the answers to any of these questions when the same solution seemed to work to pull almost everyone out of their personal preoccupations and isolation. It’s a sweet book. I know we are not supposed to use the word ‘sweet’ when describing literature. There is bitterness in this story also. But it is an uplifting story overall and it would not hurt anyone to read the books on that reading list. In fact, I might read some of them again.