Northbrook Public Library

Linda Vering
  • Library Employee
A photo of Sarah Brimer, a voracious reader and patron of the Northbrook Public Library

A Life Filled with Great Books: The Winner of Our Winter Reading Program Shares Her Secret

Sarah Brimer, winner of the library’s Winter Reading grand prize drawing for an iPad, can finish a book in two days.

Sarah, who moved to Northbrook from New York three years ago to live with her daughter, is 102 years old. She quips that for someone her age, reading is about the only hobby she can indulge in.

“First of all, I’m an old lady. What else can I do? I can’t run around the block!”

But her self-deprecating humor belies her fanatical interest in consuming mystery and thriller genres. 

Whenever her daughter Arlene stops by to check out books for her mother, she always brings along Sarah’s special spreadsheet, a list of all of the mystery books she’s read with a column of her general reviews (“good“, “bad,” “just okay”, “eh good”). 

As of this writing, the spreadsheet has a tally of 1,450 book titles. 

“This is all possible because of her,” said Sarah, pointing to Arlene, who diligently keeps up with her mother’s reading needs. 

Back in New York when Sarah was in her early nineties, she began keeping a handwritten list of all the books she read. Later, her library, Jericho Public Library, began offering homebound services for patrons in which the library mails books to patrons. 

“She was such a voracious reader that I had to keep a running spreadsheet which we all kept up to date in the office,” said Aviva Kane, the reference librarian who started the homebound service at the library. She is now the assistant director of New York’s Franklin Square Public Library.

“We created spreadsheets for other homebound patrons, but Sarah’s was detailed because she read so much more than everybody else so we wanted to make sure not to have 
duplication, and I wanted it organized to make sure she got what she wanted.” 

Sarah’s appreciation for libraries goes back nearly a century. She remembers receiving a New York Public Library card when she was six. She learned to enjoy reading from school, where she learned English. 

“My parents couldn’t read to me,” said Sarah. “They came from Poland and only spoke Yiddish.” 

From early on, Sarah remembers the small yet profound ways the library changed her life. Once when she was young, she wanted to learn how to make kosher pickles. She went to the library to ask for help and a librarian brought her a 19th-century book that taught her exactly how to do so. 

“Don’t use a regular knife and put the pickles in a glass jar, not metal,” she said, recalling what the book taught her. 

The secret to longevity 

Arlene visits the library regularly to replenish her mother’s endless joy of reading. Sarah says Arlene brings her eight books at a time. A few of her favorite mystery authors include David Baldacci, Stuart Woods, J.A. Jance, and Catherine Coulter.

It’s not uncommon for Sarah to be asked about her longevity. Aside from her love of reading, she says the secret to reaching her age is “raw onions,” which she especially enjoys with her bagels and lox.