A new book getting well deserved praise and attention is City of Dreams by Tyler Anbinder. I love the title— City of Dreams. We are a country of dreams—this is what I learned from my parents. Dreams have fueled our country from its founding, and this reality continues to make me an optimist.
This books tells the epic tale of the history of immigration in New York City over 400 years and is a powerful reminder that each immigrant in its time was considered repugnant— uneducated, dirty, mischievous or dangerous. Each group, in its time, has taken its place as part of the elite, middle class, or sturdy hard workers, making their way and educating their children. City of Dreams also reminds us of the complexity of immigration, the times when we closed our borders and the ramifications that followed.
My parents emigrated from Europe and I am a first-generation American. They were not the doctor or lawyer type of immigrants - in fact, they were refugees. It is through this lens that I therefore view the world. When I hear about refugees from Syria or immigrants from Guyana or the Dominican Republic, I picture people who feel familiar—who I imagine harbor the same hopes and dreams as my parents, who were frightened for and protective of their children as they made their way in our country, and who risked everything to live in a place of freedom and opportunity.
As we enter the close of a year that has been tumultuous and partisan, reading City of Dreams has reminded me that we all share a desire to live a good life, to provide for our families, and to find our footing. We are often more the same than we are different.
Even if we are different, a study originally done in 2006 and repeated in 2013 concluded that reading fiction predicted higher levels of empathy and created a spike in the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions.
Which brings us to our role as a bookstore. It is my hope that R.J. Julia provides both a refuge and a repository—filled with all points of views, filled with the possibility of putting each of us in another person’s shoes, and filled with books that create empathy for others and can also distract, entertain, and charm.
Two new books accomplish these last qualities: Upstream by Mary Oliver and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Both of these books remind us of the beauty of nature and its ability to create calm and appreciation. Mary Oliver writes:
“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones - inkberry, lamb’s quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones - rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school… Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, it sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.
Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
On behalf of the staff of R.J. Julia, we wish you all a holiday season of connection and meaning, and kindness and beauty.
See you in the store,
Roxanne J. Coady