On Oct. 26, Dr. Francois G. Amar, University of Maine Honors College Dean and Professor of Chemistry, spoke about his experiences growing up as an avid reader. The event was titled “Books in My Life: Reading that Transforms with Dr. Francois G. Amar.”
At the event, nestled into the Folger Library Classroom, were some students, professors and plenty of librarians, who were all interested in learning about what others liked to read, especially growing up.
“I’m flattered to see all these folks here,” Amar said, after joking about worries of low turnout. Sure enough, turnout was modest, with a very interested audience, allowing the atmosphere to be relaxed but engaging.
The Folger Library is currently working on becoming a more active part of the community, with workshops, family nights and student book groups. The most recent workshop, which was discussing the basics of coding, had an astonishing number of attendees. This upcoming Wednesday, Nov. 2, the student book group will be discussing graphic novels.
Perhaps the most interesting part about the new Folger Library Reading Series is the ability to see into an intimate part of another’s life — and then see how their interests have changed with time. “[Reading] is such a quiet activity. Only those close to us really know what we’re reading… yet it engages us,” Mel Johnson, who works in the Folger Library’s References Department, said.
As Amar discussed his interests in books, he emphasized his interest in the relationships between art and science, science fiction, the testing of social norms and science in general. He rattled off a long list of names and often discussed at length what books were formative reading in his youth. Interestingly, Amar may have liked plenty of books and authors, but there were some writers, like Charles Dickens, who he found quite repetitive and droning.
Among some of the books Amar mentioned were authors such as Ursula Le Guin, Theodore Kroger, Becky Sharp, John Dos Passos and Louis Pasteur. Despite talking largely of utopian science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, Amar also emphasized how his love of reading helped guide him into chemistry and science through texts such as “The Development of Chemical Principles” — and how a large part of his interests were due to his father’s scientific career path. He also briefly mentioned his love of poetry, discussing how at times he still tries to write it himself.
Being exposed to books at a young age seemed to be a common theme amongst attendants, as Mel Johnson also stated that he was raised in a house full of books.
“As a child, I loved ‘Homing with the Birds’ by Gene Stratton-Porter,” he said.
“One of the things that was so interesting was Amar’s love of books and the career [sic] and how the are so intertwined,” Linda Silka, a Senior Fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, said. “The books that read my heart were those about psychology and that explains how I wound up in social psychology.” Silka also mentioned that she has books everywhere in her home, even across the floors.
Librarians have a tough job keeping people engaged and fascinated with books, especially with resources such as online databases at students’ fingertips. Amber Gray, a librarian who attended the event, said that what drove her to working in libraries was “a love of books and enjoyment of helping people find the books they want or need,” showing just how much interest and hard work goes into working at a library.