Tribute to Charlotte Sagoff – A Reading Life

Tribute to Charlotte Sagoff from Anju PatelCharlotte Sagoff, who passed away on April 23 at the age of 92, was well known in Acton as an environmental activist and community organizer. She was also a great reader, and it was as “her librarian” that I first met Charlotte. As those who knew her were aware, Charlotte was interested in just about everything, and from every perspective. She read widely, which is not to say that she read indiscriminately–she knew how to skim a book and set it aside if she found it not worth her time so that she could move quickly on to one that was. I’m guessing there were very few days in the past ninety years when there was not a large stack of library books near Charlotte’s side. Reading was a passion and an addiction, and if circumstances saw her to bed at the end of the day without her daily dose of reading—that was a bad day; she’d fall to sleep feeling cheated.

It is both fortunate and tragic that even in a long life there is not a enough time for all of the books one wants to read. Charlotte was acutely aware that there were wonderful books written and others still to be written that she would never get to. She got to as many as she could in the time allotted her, and up until the week she died she quizzed acquaintances for recommendations and shared her own. Of “Outwitting History” by Aaron Lansky, she wrote a friend: “the book is witty and amusing and nostalgic;” of “The Botany of Desire” by Michael Pollan: “a beautiful informative book, like poetry but not meant as such;” of “War with the Newts” by the Czech writer Karel Capek: “an ironical novel about human ways;” of the short story “Homeland” by Barbara Kingsolver: “what amazing sensitivity and understanding of the characters;” of “Complications” by surgeon Atul Gawande: “it is all about problems and excitement, wonderfully written.” Always she asked: “if you read a book that your like, could you please recommend it to me?”. Books charmed, moved, thrilled and sustained her all her 90+ years. One fall day in 2002 she wrote: I am eating my cherry cake and drinking my vanilla flavored kefir and just getting ready to get into bed to read. What could be more heavenly?”

If there is a heaven, surely Charlotte is there with her stack of books and vanilla kefir. If not, then just as surely Charlotte knew, in books, heaven here on Earth.


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