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April 7, 2007 / GO Brooklyn / Perspective / Books / Checkin’ in with...

Masha Hamilton

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Do you love your favorite book enough to, well, let it go? Masha Hamilton hopes so. The author and Crown Heights resident has been working to bring literacy, and plenty of books, to the Kenyan bush through the newly-launched Camel Book drive and her latest book “The Camel Bookmobile” (HarperCollins). The tale, based on a real life traveling camel library in Africa, tells of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a New York librarian striving to bring books, education and hope to the remote villages. She checked in with GO Brooklyn’s Sarah McCormick this week.

Q: How did the inspiration to write the story come about?

A: I was driving my kids to the library when one of them told me about the real camel bookmobile she read about in Time for Kids. She told me they have rules and if someone — since they’re semi-nomadic — doesn’t return a book, the bookmobile stops going to that community. That’s the part that triggered for me. I thought: “Wow what a library fine!”

Q: The camel library and book drive are such wonderful ideas. So why do some Africans have a negative response to the camel library?

A: Some of them hate it, [but] some of them love it. One character hates it, but is using it to have an affair. Everyone had his own stories going on! In the novel, this issue is explored through the fear of loss of the old way of life and the old values. However, the reality is that this is a very proud and very wise culture that doesn’t want to be seen as ignorant just because they’re illiterate. Their wisdom comes from many years of living in the bush and from an oral tradition that is pretty fantastic.

Q: I was buying bookends recently and the cashier didn’t know what they were! When I explained, he almost scoffed at me: “No one reads books anymore! It’s all on the computer!” What was it like to bring these books that so many people take for granted to a place where they are truly appreciated?

A: In this country, we hear reading is dying; the book is dead. In that way, we’re almost two societies: Those who read books and those who don’t. My time in Kenya was an experience where you saw again the value of books that sprung from somewhere deep inside and the value of learning and being connected.

Q: So, how is the book drive going so far?

A: We’re a little over 160 names of donors including Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Ames, along with Amy Tan, publishers, librarians, agents and booklovers. They all want to donate — it’s just an idea people warmed to.

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