Sunday 24 March 2019

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader edited by Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick (Enchanted Lion Books) HB RRP $34.95 ISBN 9781529702282

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a big solid book of over 260 pages with a letter (121 of them) on each page addressed to a child and with an illustration on the opposite page. It was an impressive task compiling all the letters from many famous writers, scientists, philosophers, artists and inspiring people. But one wonders what appeal the book will have to young readers given its title, size and content. 

Having said that, the book offers some wonderful insights and advice from people such as Jane Goodall, Ursula K Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline Woodson, Lena Dunham, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor and Italy’s first woman in space. Artists include Marina Abramovic, Oliver Jeffers, Tomi Ungerer, Jon Klassen, and Australians Shaun Tan and Elise Hurst.

The writers share their experience of reading books, often their first books as children. Diane Acknerman, for instance, tells about a bookmobile which offered her ‘other worlds between covers’; Claudia Guadalupe Martinez says, ‘all readers have power’; David L Ulin says, ‘reading taught me everything I know about the world’, and physicist Lisa Randall claims ‘books make the one life we live that much richer.’ Dozens of others tell, too, of their reading experiences. ‘Words can provide you with the greatest adventure of all time, if you let your imagination run free,’ writes entrepreneur Richard Branson.

The book’s illustrations, all in matte finish, range from three colour and black and white prints to cartoon strips, brilliantly painted pictures, abstracts and more. Books, of course, are a vital way of showing artwork, often for the first time, to young people.
In her introduction to the book, compiler Maria Popova quotes David Bowe whose idea of happiness was summed up in one word: ‘Reading.’ She says that all the proceeds from the project will be donated to her New York public library system, ‘because libraries are bastions of democracy and oxygen for the life of the mind’.

The book opens with beautiful pink, yellow, blue and white marbling, and, after Popova’s introduction, presents the Contents pages showing writers and artists as they appear in sequence. It is easy to see from their names that the creators are from all over the world. At the foot of every letter there is a blurb about the writer, and at the end of the book a blurb about every contributing artist.

This is an impressive, comprehensive work which will afford many hours of reading and looking.

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