03/12/12 — Joy of reading

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Joy of reading

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on March 12, 2012 1:46 PM

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Gail Askins, left, listens as Agnes Harris talks about her record of every book she reads as part of the Book Buddies program. Mrs. Askins brings Mrs. Harris books from the library as a part of the program, which brings reading material to those who cannot leave their homes.

Agnes Farfour Harris is not happy unless she has a book in her hands. She has always loved to read, even when she was a child.

But now that the 80-year-old has rheumatoid arthritis and neuropathy in her feet, she is not able to get out and get books. So she relies on the Book Buddies program.

The Wayne County Public Library started the program a few years ago, but it dwindled down to only a couple participants. Now the library is getting Book Buddies back up and running, and currently has five clients.

"Our mission at the library is to serve Wayne County, and there are so many people here, that for one reason or another, just can't get to the library," said Gail Askins, program coordinator and volunteer.

"Book Buddies is for anyone who can't get to the library, no matter what their age. We don't have a lot of people in it now and most of them are older, but we will take books to anyone."

Here's how the program works: A volunteer goes to the library, picks out some books and delivers them to the recipient. While there, the volunteer picks up the books that the recipient has already read and takes them back to the library. Because it's part of the library's outreach program, recipients are allowed to keep the books for 35 days.

"It's a wonderful thing," Mrs. Harris said. "I love reading books by James Patterson, Danielle Steele for the romance, David Baldacci and Patricia Cornwell. I believe I've read every book by Nicholas Sparks. I love his books -- and he's not bad looking either."

Mrs. Harris usually reads the big thick books, going through one or two a week.

"Reading keeps my mind off how I'm feeling," she said. "And when I'm not feeling too good, even though sometimes I might fall asleep while reading, it keeps my mind off the pain and makes me feel a lot better."

Mrs. Harris said she has always been a reader, frequenting the library as a student.

And her late husband would go to the library often and get her books. "All of the girls knew him at the library," she said. "He used to get books for me all the time."

After he died, not wanting to stop reading, Mrs. Harris would drive her car to the library and one of the library staff would bring books out to her.

Now Mrs. Askins is her book buddy.

"Agnes is an eclectic reader," she said. "She reads everything. She likes romance, suspense, the latest thrillers. She's fun to find books for."

To make sure she doesn't get a book that she's already read and just forgotten about, Mrs. Harris keeps a three-ring notebook beside her recliner with the names of authors and which of his or her books she's read.

But not only does Mrs. Harris get reading material through Book Buddies, she gets a visit from a friend.

"When Gail brings me books, we just sit and talk, too," Mrs. Harris said. "One time when I was sitting on the porch and Gail came, we just sat there talking for awhile."

Mrs. Askins said they talk about what each is reading and what's been happening in their lives since the last visit.

Mrs. Askins also takes books to another woman who can't walk because of osteoporosis and an elderly man who doesn't get out of the house.

"So I've got three new friends," Mrs. Askins said, "and that truly is the biggest blessing for me."

Nina Joyner is another Book Buddies participant. She's been getting books from the library for 70 years.

She used to get them through the Bookmobile, but now has her own book buddy, Susan Swedenburg.

The 91-year-old said she's read all her life.

Mrs. Joyner reads inspirational romance novels these days.

Her book buddy knows that all too well.

"I've tried to sneak in a couple of mysteries," Mrs. Swedenburg said, "and she'll tell me, 'I don't like those.'"

Mrs. Swedenburg became a book buddy five years ago when one of the librarians gave a presentation about the program to the women at her church.

"She said there was a need for volunteers to take books to people who weren't able to come to the library themselves," Mrs. Swedenburg said. "I thought that was something I would like to do."

The Book Buddy volunteer takes anywhere from 16 to 18 big novels to Mrs. Joyner about once a month.

"When I first started taking her books, we would talk about our families," Mrs. Swedenburg said. "We struck up a quick friendship. It's always been easy to talk to her.

"She's fun to listen to. She's very bright. She's a woman of great faith. We've developed a good friendship along the way. It's like going to visit a family member now. She tells me stories of days gone by. I even got invited to her 90th birthday party."

The program is free.

Volunteers must be adult with their own transportation.

To participate in Book Buddies or become a volunteer with the program, call Mrs. Askins at 735-1824.