When Books Breed Compassion

DetailsWhile stopped at a traffic light yesterday, I noticed a puttering station wagon next to me with a little old lady in a floppy gardening hat behind the wheel. I could just make out her profile as she peered out her windshield patiently waiting for the light to change.

My obstructed view was not due to her petite stature or an advanced stage of osteoporosis, mind you,  but rather from the climbing stacks of old newspapers, rotting stuffed animals, cardboard boxes, blankets, and foils in differing states of decomposition; overall, a stockpile that threatened to bust out the windows and swallow her whole.

Fiction often intersects with my reality, and it was at this moment of observation that I was tossed back into the Fifth Avenue home of the Collyer brothers.  Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow’s jaw-dropping tale, was my first real insight into the pathos of hoarding and the uncontrollable obsession with accumulation.

Based on this fiction, my mind soared with the endless possibilities of what might await on the residential end of this little lady’s drive. However, instead of being horrified by this mobile compost and thoughts of her potentially toxic home, Doctorow’s Homer & Langley offered me the possibility to translate this scenario into one of knowledge, creativity, compassion, and empathy.

And isn’t that, after all, the true gift of a book?

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

Non-fiction: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Mark Athitakis Beneath the (Expanding) Surface

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