Among Athena Shapiro’s happiest childhood memories is borrowing books from St. Agnes Library on the Upper West Side. Every night, she, her sister, and her mother took turns reading aloud together.
“I especially liked Little Women and a book called Momo by Michael Ende, about a girl who had a gift for listening,” says Shapiro. “Kids usually talk non-stop, but the importance of listening to people made a big impression on me even as a kid.”
In honor of the 100th birthday of The New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Shapiro dedicated Momo to the memory of her mother, who died on 9/11. Her dedication is now part of the NYPL Friends Bookshelf — an online list of favorite books, each designated by a donor to the Library.
Much has happened over the last 100 years at The New York Public Library, but we still stand behind the philosophy that one book can change a life. Since NYPL’s Bookshelf campaign launched in April 2011, hundreds of book lovers have visited the Library’s Centennial website to make a contribution and dedicate books that are seminal to their lives.
A single tome can lead to anything from a choice of profession and a lifelong passion for reading to a change in worldview.
“I entered Long Island University as a math major,” writes Raphael Samuel, who dedicated Leo Pfeffer’s This Honorable Court: A History of the United States Supreme Court. “I ended up in Pfeffer’s course on constitutional law and got hooked.”
As a starry-eyed senior, Samuel remembers the thrill of piling into a tiny car with five other students and driving to Washington, D.C. to watch Pfeffer argue (and win) a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. A retired Associate General Counsel of a city agency, Samuel credits Pfeffer for leading him into the career that captured his imagination for 32 years.
Arlene Bessenoff dedicated Iris Noble’s Nellie Bly, First Woman Reporter, which she borrowed from Brooklyn Public Library as a ten-year-old. A reporter for the New York World, Bly was best known for disguising herself as a deranged waif in order to expose inhumane conditions in a Brooklyn mental asylum in the late 19th century.
“Nellie Bly inspired my love of language,” says Bessenoff. “I became an English major because of that book. After college, I taught Language Arts in a high school in Brooklyn, and eventually I became a technical writer and an editor.”
Poetry inspires artist Sandy Jackman every day. “For my 16th birthday, my mother gave me a copy of A Treasury of Modern Poetry, which she had annotated herself,” says Jackman. “I still return to those poems as a jumping off point for my work.”
To Kill a Mockingbird, Time and Again, The Velveteen Rabbit, the Bible, and Angle of Repose are the top five books cited on the Friends Bookshelf, in order of popularity.
Many NYPL Friends cite their trips to The New York Public Library as the genesis of a lifelong love of reading, which enriches their lives on a daily basis.
On her 16th birthday, Alannah Leonini was at first bitterly disappointed by the “big surprise” her grandparents promised — a trip to the local Monticello, N.Y., library. Leonini borrowed Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery and became completely engrossed.
“That book rescued my summer and turned my duty visit to my grandparents into something magical,” says Leonini. “It truly was the gift that kept on giving, and my 16th birthday was one of the most memorable of my life.”
Wuthering Heights is another classic that endures. “It was my first actual book that I was allowed to take from my Library on Amsterdam Avenue between 81st and 82nd Street,” writes Barbara Barr, in her dedication. “I’m still re-reading it.”
Do you have a book that made a big impression on you or changed your life in some way?
To dedicate your book, simply visit nypl.org and make a gift of any amount to The New York Public Library. Or contact Brian Curry-Hartmann in the Friends Office at (212) 930-0778 or firstname.lastname@example.org.