Books Fall 2021
September 21, 2021

Finding Comfort in a Good Book

by Jock Mackenzie

Comfort? Curling up with a good book. Discomfort? Not being able to see the print in your book. Solution? Large-print books!

About a year ago, I began a quest to see if large-print books were available in local seniors’ homes. (On my journey, I discovered it’s a province-wide concern.) In many cases, books with oversized print were lacking. Some facilities had a few, but they were nearly as old as the residents. The public library did have a program where they would bring a batch of large-print books and exchange them after a few months. With COVID-19, this program was suspended.

The beauty of being a retired teacher — and being one who still lives where he taught for thirty-one years — is that former students often hold responsible positions in the community. In this instance, a former student alerted me to a program offered by his employer, and after a bit of paperwork, voila! — I received a $2,500 grant.

Prior to receiving the grant, I had to find an official organization to be aligned with. Red Deer’s Bridges Community Living was happy to oblige. (Bridges oversees eleven subsidized senior living facilities.)

Where to find the books? Our local senior resource centre had no large-print books, but put out the call to see if any seniors had some to offer. Our terrific second-hand bookstore had a few titles — but hardly enough. The mainstream bookstores had a limited supply on hand, but there were many, many more online. But expensive! Hmmm? What to do?

A little bird (can’t remember who) told me that a book vendor serving school libraries had both a spring and a fall sale, where books normally selling for $40 were going for less than half price. Bonanza! And then another bird told me about an online book outlet that takes books back from stores, adds an almost imperceptible mark with a felt pen to indicate it was a “return,” and then sells them at a deep discount. Double bonanza!!

The money was in hand, books at reasonable prices were available, and the next step was deciding what titles to order. The eclectic approach seemed best — a bit of everything — so that’s what I did. With amazing speed, the books were ordered and soon arrived. I had stickers made up to thank the grant provider for their kind donation and then started delivering the books. Wow! The reaction was immediate and heartwarming. I am not sure that I’ve ever done anything that was so appreciated.

A few seniors stepped up and became unofficial “librarians.” They took neglected book collections and began sorting, rearranging, and culling. Often, when I arrived with a load of large-print books, I drove away with boxes of regular-sized print books that there wasn’t room for or were not being read.

And then came the fine-tuning. Could I get more westerns? How about some Elizabethan romance? And then, “Oh, while you’re here, do some of the other sites have jigsaw puzzles they’d like to share?” The sharing idea had already occurred to me as I was taking books from one site and sharing them with others. So why not jigsaw puzzles?

One of my star seniors was an 84-year-young resident who I dubbed my “Executive Director.” She took the whole large-print book idea to a new level. She worked tirelessly at her own site but also sought a representative at each of the other Bridges buildings. “But what about the rest of the city?” she asked. And so the word went out to the other seniors’ residences. At the moment, it’s a work in progress.

Besides getting other seniors’ residences on board, we’ve also learned that “books” mean more than just “reading” books. Some seniors find any kind of reading to be beyond them, but picture books would be much appreciated. Other seniors enjoy crosswords and word searches, so large-print versions of those are now on the list. And what about a large-print Scrabble dictionary?

As the song says, “And the beat goes on.” Next on the scene is something for those who have e-readers or can learn about them. Technology is available to enlarge print, and a new program is teaching seniors to teach other seniors how to see how they can be used. Pun intended.

Jock Mackenzie finds comfort in reading and is looking forward to reading Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes, a book — along with others in the series — that happens to be available in large print.