We couldn't have been more honored to be invited to tea with Wilhelmina by her daughter, Magdalena Wosinska. As the hours passed and the teacups emptied, she regaled us with stories of her work, her life, and her singular ability to absorb knowledge through exploring literature. After having a stroke five years ago that limited her mobility, Wilhelmina reads and devours books at a rate that makes it difficult for her daughters to recommend her anything she hasn't already read. Sounds like a true challenge — one that GALs particularly love.
Photos by Magdalena Wosinska
GAL: Would you say you have a first book you fell in love with, one that turned you into a life long reader?
WW: Freud's psychology books were the first books that actually stimulated me in reading around the time I was 18. Prior to that when I lived home with my parents, I was not able to read books before I went to bed because my mom told me to keep the lights off in my room due to the electricity bill being too expensive and in the day I was busy studying.
GAL: To you, what is the power of story? Describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
WW: I would often identify myself with the main female character and would like to be like her, but of course it was impossible. The power of story is getting an insight of other peoples lives, how they resolve problems, how they get to a better place, how they fulfill their desires. This is something you don't learn at school nor do your parents teach you about it.
GAL: How often do you read? Please estimate.
WW: Every day from morning to evening and at night. A total of 1,000 pages a week on average because after my stroke its difficult to do regular things. That is why I sit on my butt and read. But I do enjoy it and am passionate about it.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
WW: Trilogy of the 20th Century by Ken Follett.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
WW: Once I like the author, I get more books from the library by that person. And I find books via recommendations.
GAL: Who is your favorite author? If you would like to, please describe why.
WW: Ken Follett. He taught me a history of Europe which I was not taught at school in Poland, especially the Communist October Revolution in the Soviet Union. He also portrays women in a very special way. He makes them smart and strong while still very sexy. The flow of action is very fluent and harmonious.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
WW: The Third Twin by Ken Follett.
GAL: Do you a preference between non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
WW: The combination of both. It allows you to learn about the world through non-fiction and fiction. This way you learn history and about personal life of people who may become your role models.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
WW: Popular history, because it enhances my knowledge of the world.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
WW: Yes, it is important to hold physical books because all my life I have been reading in this traditional form. So I got too used to it.
GAL: What have you read that has “opened your eye” to the world, so to speak?
WW: I can’t recall having an emotion like this from a book, for it to affect me in such a way.
GAL: Throughout your life, has what you read changed? Do you feel connected to similar types of stories now, as you had in the past?
WW: Yes, my reading has changed because literature has changed. The types of things I like reading now were not available at the time of my youth.
GAL: Being in the field of psychology do you have a favorite psychologist, one that you find to be most interesting or influential?
WW: Yes, Robert Cialdini – he writes about psychology principle in the way that allows you to feel real people.
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
WW: I wrote a memoir called Childhood Written In Red. Red was the color of communism.
GAL: And we ask everyone to please name a few books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
WW: Ken Follett’s Trilogy of The 20th Century, to learn about history and independence of women.
Barbara Tylor’s Women In His Life because it portrays the depth of an individual.
Kenneth C. Davis’ Don’t Know Much About The Bible because it clarifies religious episodes I learned at school but did not fully understand.
Finally, Ken Follett’s The Third Twin, because the main character is a woman who is able to stand for what she believes despite that she may be punished for doing so.