FRIENDS OF THE LIBRARY
Koehler Books (2019)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (09/19)
“Friends of the Library” by Susan Cushman is an amazing group of short stories gathered from her journeys to various libraries across the state of Mississippi. Each visit provides valuable vignettes of life—from hopes and fears, to revival and healing. There are moments both tender and heart-wrenching in the characters’ lives, covering complex themes of substance abuse, trauma, sexual and mental abuse, adoption, and abduction among others.
The protagonist, Adele Covington becomes an author in her sixties and goes on book tours courtesy of the Friends of the Library, a non-profit advocacy group aimed at supporting public libraries through fundraising and promotion, Adele adapts her program to the group and, depending on their interests, discusses either her novel, which deals with a sexually abused graffiti artist, or her memoir, which details her experiences with her mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.
As an avid reader, I am very grateful to Friends of the Library for the opportunity to hear and talk to authors who have a wide range of experiences and knowledge. Each library has many unique differences in the people who visit. Cushman does an excellent job of showing readers how each author and group play an important role regardless of how large or small the group. Often as in this story, the authors adjust their talks to the participants of each group.
Adele befriends an eclectic group of people and decides to tell their stories through this heartwarming supportive read. She strikes up a conversation, suggests a cup of coffee or lunch, and listens as the person unburdens their problems to her. In Oxford, she meets Avery, a part-time library employee and full-time aspiring writer. He’s written a fantasy novel about a dystopian society where newborn babies are taken away from their parents and prominent families get to take their pick. The rest of the children grow up in warehouse orphanages. Over coffee at Square Books, Adele listens to how closely Avery’s background and novel intersect and encourages him to enroll in a creative writing workshop, where he forms an immediate connection with a creative writing professor 20 years his senior.
Another story that touched my heart is about weeping icons which many believe have healing powers. In this story we meet Nora Richardson, the hostess of the group whose daughter has a seven-year-old daughter who has a rare form of leukemia and is not expected to live. Nora asks if Adele knows any place close that has weeping icons. With the help of Adele’s pastor they are able to rub tears from a weeping icon in the hospital and the daughter is cured. I loved how Cushman weaves religious, spiritual themes throughout the short stories, but it doesn’t overwhelm readers.
Well written, informative and supportive at the same time Susan Cushman gives one hope and faith in individuals whom they might have never met. I loved the short story theme as many do not have time or patience to read a lengthy storyline. “Friends of the Library” is a cozy, warm read that will keep the interest of all readers of all ages. I highly recommend it for any beach read, rainy day or when one wants to read something uplifting.