A question is making social media rounds: If you could keep only three of the following, which would it be -- art, beer, books, cats, chocolate, cinema, coffee, dogs, Facebook, music, tea or wine?
I chose books, cats, coffee, music and chocolate. I know, I know, that's more than three. But my first hour each morning is spent reading my current book, cat on lap, coffee in hand, while listening to KDFC. And give up chocolate? No way!
Anika Aeka, a freshman at Amador Valley High School, has taken her respect for books to another level. She is committed to donating them to the East Bay Children's Book Project, which puts them into the hands of kids who have little or no access to them. So far she has provided 6,449.
"In the fifth grade at Vintage Hills Elementary, for extra credit I created a community service project," Anika recalled. "I worked with the librarian and would take old books from the school library and kept asking if there was any place I could donate them."
She located the San Francisco Children's Book Project but later switched to the more convenient one in Oakland, as she continues contacting elementary schools to ask for surplus volumes.
"Also lots of people donate to me directly," Anika said. "Sometimes people go out and buy books, or give old books from their family. I have put out donation bins in places like Raley's."
She said she is delighted when she is delivering the books to sometimes meet the children receiving them.
"I love the look on their faces," she said.
Anika said reading is a big part of who she is, and she has read from an early age.
"And when my younger brother was born, I used to read to him," she remembered.
Her favorite book as a child was "The Rainbow Fish" by Marcus Pfister, which is illustrated with glittery foil stamping.
"It's about a fish who was different from all his friends," Anika said. "I remember reading that one to my brother and showing him the shiny scales."
Her brother, Ritwik Aeka, is 13 now, and he helps with the sorting and packaging of the books. Her mom Rajani Suryanarayan and dad Satabhish Aeka also help, plus they drive her and the big boxes of books to Oakland.
Although Anika hopes to pursue a career in medicine, perhaps becoming a pediatrician, she plans to always help children find books to read.
"Reading is important for cognitive development, to develop critical-thinking skills, which is another reason why I kept doing this project," she said.
Anika is in the biotech club at school and in Model UN plus she does taekwondo. She also performs Indian classical dance, which she began at age 3, appearing in venues through the Bay Area.
Friends have helped with her book collection but the last year it has been mostly her family, Anika said, and she has upped her efforts. During the pandemic, she has collected 4,207 books. That effort has undoubtedly helped launch a lot of youngsters along the path to a lifetime of reading.
I can't stop thinking about those lifestyle choices. Maybe I could let chocolate go. And perhaps coffee could be replaced by another beverage. And I guess I could read without music in the background.
So I'm down to cats and books. Possibly I could adjust to a world without cats, although it would be hard. Which leaves books. I am keeping books.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.