Books Are Good Medicine


Anne Michael

My mother-in-law, Phyllis, is a tiny woman with lots of spunk and attitude. No matter what life has thrown in her direction, she has handled it with the grace, skill and determination. At 86, she still lives a busy life and opines on just about everything. She never wastes a thing, and has donated a lot of time to service organizations throughout her life.  

I have been married to her son for the past twelve years. It has been something of an adventure getting to know her. She would likely tell you the same thing about me.  There are many times when we confound one another. Occasionally, each of us feels sorry for the man we have in common, that he must put up with the other.  Yet we have, over the years, become friends. We share a similar belief system, and understand that life isn’t always kind. It makes us sisters in that sense as well as all else we are to each another.

One of the passions we share is reading. Her coffee table always has a short stack of books on it waiting to be consumed. I believe it is one of the things that keeps her mentally sharp and interested in the world. I am certain reading will do the same for me in my later years.  

Mom is often at the public library, perusing shelves or chatting up the librarians for their recommendations. Occasionally she can be found scouring the shelves at the Dollar store for something interesting to read that her fixed budget will allow. She never hesitates to recommend books to me. It is such fun to get her advice about a book she enjoyed and believes I will like too. No book she has enjoys goes unshared with people she knows. And I return the favor.

Unfortunately, the past few years have not been kind to her body. She’s required numerous hospitalizations that have had her there so many times the nurses recognize her. They often ask about her family or her life since her “last visit.” Her little overnight bag always has a book and a book mark in it since mom does not believe in folding the pages to mark her place.

During her last hospitalization, I stopped one night after work to see her. It usually takes me about an hour to get to the hospital because of backed-up traffic, not miles. Have you ever gotten halfway to somewhere and realized you have to go to the bathroom? Well, that was one of those nights. I was so laser-sighted on getting to my destination and the facilities that I forgot to stop at the store to pick up a gift.

Fortunately, the hospital gift shop was still open. I went in with the hopes of finding a magazine or two in lieu of the book I usually give her, but to my delight I discovered, tucked away in the back corner, a small bookshelf with used novels. Paperbacks were a quarter, hardbacks a dollar. What a find! I was thrilled that I could keep our small tradition going.

And Mom was delighted with all the books I brought to her that day. They may have been inexpensive, but they were welcomed. They helped her relax in this busy place with odd sounds, and she was able to sleep more easily.

Sometimes, when the pain in her bones gets bad the only help is to escape into a book and take her mind to places she’s never been. When the hours stretch long before her and the loneliness of her sick room feels unbearable, she can pick up a book, meet interesting new people and share their loves and adventures. For her, books are a source of hope and pleasure and comfort. For her, books are good medicine.  

So the next time you find yourself with a pile of books you no longer want, please don’t throw them away. There are many people in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers whose days and nights can be made brighter by books. By donating your old books, you can make a big difference in a small way.  

At age 10, Anne realized she was never going to get to be Miss America since reading a book was not an acceptable talent. So she went on to get a job and raise a family. Along the way, she fixed meals, picked up toys, helped with homework, and collected a drawer full of rejection slips for her “great American novel.” It was not all bad, however, since she ended up wallpapering a closet with them. She currently designs and creates greeting cards for her tiny company, The Frog Prints, LLC, and also works full-time as a Training Specialist. Anne is currently tethered to reality by a loving spouse, two dogs, one cat and the occasional hurricane that blows through Florida, although falling headlong and happily into a book is still her favorite “talent.” She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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