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A flood destroyed all of Sarah's books, but a gift from a librarian changed her life

In his letter to Sarah Feldman, Bill Carver said that he hoped this copy of <em>The Medieval Book </em>would help her shape her new library collection after all her books were destroyed in a flood.
Sarah Feldman
In his letter to Sarah Feldman, Bill Carver said that he hoped this copy of The Medieval Book would help her shape her new library collection after all her books were destroyed in a flood.

In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston. More than 70,000 houses were flooded, including the home of Sarah Feldman and her family.

At the time, they were in Connecticut on vacation, so they didn't know what kind of damage they were going to face when they got home to Texas. But then Feldman's grandparents called with bad news: all of her books had been destroyed in the flooding. Feldman was 14 at the time and loved reading.

To cheer her up, Feldman's father took her to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. When they arrived, she struck up a conversation with Bill Carver, a man who worked at the library.

"I asked him a bunch of questions like, 'How do you keep all these rare books? What's the oldest book you have?'" Feldman remembers.

Carver answered all of Feldman's questions. When she told him about her books being destroyed, he told her that he would send her a book in the mail, so she could restart her collection.

The letter Feldman received from Bill Carver along with a copy of <em>The Medieval Book</em> by Barbara A. Shailor.
/ Sarah Feldman
/
Sarah Feldman
The letter Feldman received from Bill Carver along with a copy of The Medieval Book by Barbara A. Shailor.

After returning to Houston, she received his gift, titled "The Medieval Book" by Barbara A. Shailor. Carver included a note that read:

Dear Sarah, I have often thought of you and your family, and that terrible flood... As promised, enclosed is a rather scholarly book, which may be slightly mature for your age, but I thought it might help you shape your new library collection. And as the years progress, this book may grow in stature and value to you. Have a happy holiday season. Wish you and loved ones all the best. Cordially, Bill Carver.

A lot has changed since receiving that book. Feldman is in her 30s now. She's married and has a dog. But Carver's gift has made a lifelong impact.

"I'm obsessed with medieval art," Feldman said. "My partner and I like to visit cathedrals in Europe and go to the Cloisters Museum in New York City from time to time."

Feldman has tried to find Carver, with no success. If she could speak to him today, she would like to tell him how much that small gesture meant to her.

"I actually sent the library a letter during the pandemic, but I never heard back," she said. "I'm not sure if he's alive still, because he seemed old to me when I was 14 at the time, but I just would love to tell Bill Carver that he changed my life."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brigid McCarthy
Autumn Barnes