This morning I was doing some housecleaning. Perhaps you felt the shift in the cosmos? I wouldn’t have been doing anything so drastic if it weren’t for the fact that I’m inheriting a new dining room table from some friends, and it’s much bigger than my old one. Rearranging is in order and that means digging out.
The first task in cleaning any room in my house, after gathering hundreds of papers into piles to do deal with later, is books. They accumulate around me like treasures in an archaeological site; when unearthed, they provide clues to how life was once lived in vaguely chronological layers.
Dusk mask in place and dust rag in hand, I offer a few fun finds you might like:
My New Favorite Author
The Shadow of the Wind, which I recently finished, was on top of the mound. Not only did this book expose me to my new favorite “undiscovered author” (who seems to be known by everyone else on the planet), Carlos Ruiz Zafon, it also opened a new world of book lovers to me.
A few months back, I queried my “friends” (or so I supposed) on Goodreads for recommendations of good novels in which I could completely lose myself. Much to my surprise, I got recommendations from total strangers all around the country!
Zafon’s book was recommended by a guy named Steve, I think in Seattle, with whom I’m now friends. I’m mining his reading list.
Sifting Through Spiritual Stories
This spring I co-led a spiritual practices group at my church, so I had hauled out many books in that vein and left them lying around.
Holy Silence is a quiet little Quaker book that I rediscovered when we studied meditative silent prayer in our group. I’m fond of J. Brent Bill’s books. They simply say “Quaker” — small, unassuming things with black and white drawings on the covers. The books contain nuggets like, “Quakers call the presence of the Holy Spirit working within us a ‘sifting silence.’ It separates the worthwhile from the worthless.”
I think we could all use a little more of this sifting silence in our lives.
In the same stack of spiritually themed books, I found one of my absolute favorites. It’s the first one I read by Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. I love, love, love this guy. I had lent my signed copy of Everything Belongs to a friend years ago and only just got it back.
I know everyone’s journey is different, but for me, this is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.
Rohr talks about “spiritual capitalism,” trying to acquire new things and knowledge to attain spiritual growth. “In reality,” he says, “our growth is hidden. It is accomplished by the release of our current defense postures, by the letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Thus, we grow by subtraction much more than by addition. It’s not a matter of more and better information…Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself.”
Another spiritual book that I just got a few weeks ago but which was already being buried under the detritus of my life is Anne Lamott’s new one, Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. I never regret spending time with Anne; she always makes me laugh out loud. This one’s a very short book, so I’m waiting until the proper time to savor it. Maybe I’ll read it all in one sitting later in the summer when I have some time alone.
Me Giving Writing Advice to Anne Lamott
The Goddess and Mona LisaMy Friend Joe B.
My Friend Joe B.
A friend of mine passed away last winter and his wife did a wonderful thing. She held a big party for all his friends and family at which she laid out his things and said, “Have at it. He would want you to have his stuff.”
Clothes, musical instruments, tools, houseplants….and books. Tons of books. I helped her shelve them in preparation for the party, so I got first pick. A couple I particularly liked were As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway, and Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwartz. I enjoyed thinking about Joe reading and reacting to them as I made my way through the stories.
I fear that I’m in danger of becoming one of those writers who spends so much time reading about writing that she never gets down to actually writing. I have a ton of books on writing, and I enjoy reading journals by writers about the writing life. I’m currently reading May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude, which I find eerie because she’s living and writing in a little white house in New Hampshire, like me, and her days are so similar to mine. Taciturn neighbors coming to hay the fields, same flowers blooming, black flies biting, raccoons gadding about in the trash.
I have several volumes of Gail Godwin’s journals on writing. I find her writing inconsistent, so she’s not one of my favorite authors, but some is quite good, and I like her “voice.” So I think I’ll enjoy the journals when I get around to them.
I was especially glad to find a Natalie Goldberg that’s been MIA for a long time. It’s my go-to writing book, called Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. It has great writing prompts and is far better than most of those types of books.
One of her prompts led to a moving experience for me, writing about a bicycle I had when was eleven – it was olive green.
“Why would I get a green bike,” I wondered, “since I don’t like green?” I came to realize through my writing that in fact I had stopped liking green as an adolescent because it was my father’s favorite color and I was angry at him for his drinking. A simple but profound realization that is helping me redeem my relationship with my late father and also with the glorious color green.
Near the bottom of the piles was a book that I’m truly looking forward to falling into. For now I’m leaving it out of my boxing-up project so that I don’t lose track of it again. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel is not the type of book I usually read. At almost 400 pages, it’s a dense tome of nonfiction. But ever since I first flipped through it in the used book store, I feel excited at the prospect of tackling it.
As Manguel writes, “We come to feel that the books we own are the books we know…to glance at the spines of the books we call ours, obediently standing guard along the walls of our room, willing to speak to us and us alone at the mere flick of a page, allows us to say, ‘All this is mine,’ as if their presence alone fills us with their wisdom, without our actually having to labour through their contents.”
This challenging read has been standing guard long enough – it’s time for me to labor through its contents!
I hope you get to enjoy some good reading this summer.
Any suggestions for me?