I have some of the most thoughtful, kind friends. You know those kind that make you want to be more thoughtful and kind? I keep those kind close. I know they make my spirit rest. My friend Molly is the type of friend to whom I look for wisdom. I’m often humbled by how insightful she is, how she holds the life knowledge of someone years our senior. Molly lives in Atlanta, so when I received a little letter in the mailbox in her handwriting, I knew there would be something to treasure inside. I saved it until I had a moment to myself, cup of coffee in hand, to read. True to her character, Molly did not disappoint. One quote she had written in her letter (she said it reminded her of me. Thanks, Molls!) has stuck with me, so I’ll share it here.
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
I mean, wow. I don’t think I have anything to add to that, so I’ll leave you with Lamott.
I was getting spoken to and speaking, some of the women, old friends, neighbors, leaning over to give me a hug, but all the time I was listening. “Sold!” “Sold!” Every time I heard it, I knew that, piece by piece, the things we’d all of us gathered there so many years would be scattered and gone. All that had been used to make it a dwelling place, by my folks on back, by Grover and me, by just me with Coulter and Wilma to help me, all the memories of all the lives that had made it and held it together, all would come apart and be gone as if it never was. – “Sold” by Wendell Berry
I read this story this morning. I like reading Wendell Berry during the changing of seasons, when you can’t ignore the living nature of the earth itself. Things grow. Things pass away. A thick dusting of pollen brings forth the promise of spring buds. A sudden chill reminds us that even the greenest leaves turn brown. Everything moves at twitter-speed these days. There’s an immediacy that sometimes is tiring, exhausting. It makes us feel like we are powerful: the entire world at our fingertips. And yet actual living happens in very small spaces: the kitchen, the walk to work, the bedroom, the garden. Reading Wendell Berry is slow, sometimes painstakingly slow. The lives he writes are agrarian, simple, full of life’s boring details. I’m afraid of what we lose when we don’t pay attention to those details. What will happen when all the Wendell Berrys, who really knew a slower life, aren’t around to tell these stories?
yesterday, m and i were talking of new year’s resolutions and how we hadn’t made any. then he said something like ‘i want to make 2011 the year where i say yes to more things. let’s not allow ideas to stay ideas. let’s do them.’ i love that.
so, i’d like to read more. as you know, i love books. and i love the idea of reading more (a lot more). so i’m joining the leagues of 52 in 52 and attempting to read 52 books in 2011. i’m also resolving to read more nonfiction because i tend to always gravitate towards the literature section of any bookstore and, i’ve heard, nonfiction does good things for the brain.
anyone care to join me?
here’s a start to my list. many are taken from the new york times best books or from pulitzer prize winners or national book award winners. some are recommendations or standard classics. some are about marriage (it’s the year of the wedding after all). and some come from this website where other people write about their 52 in 52.
1. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
2. Desiring God by John Piper
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (again)
5. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
6. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (started this twice… need to finish)
8. The Artist, The Philosopher, and The Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern
9. When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… and Yourself by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
10. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
11. The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy by Cathy Porter
12. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (from Natalie‘s list!)
13. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler
15. Tinkers by Paul Harding
16. The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
17. Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
18. A Maze of Grace by Trish Ryan
19. The Mystery of Marriage by Mike Mason
20. I Married You by Walter Trobisch
21. The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace
22. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
23. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
24. A Christmas Carol & Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens
do you have recommendations? i’d love to hear them!
i love books. i was recently asked what defined relaxation for me. the answer was automatic: books. to recharge after a long week, i love curling up with a blanket and a great story. i know kindle is all the rage right now, but i’m not sure i’ll ever be a believer. there is just something so timeless and romantic about holding pages of the printed word. ah, and the smell of an old book – they should make a candle of that scent. i would have one in every room.
i’m usually reading a couple of books at once, but sometimes a great piece of literature will captivate me wholeheartedly. so when my nana, an avid reader and a woman whose opinion i respect perhaps above all others, recommended Crossing to Safety as one of her favorite books, i suspected it might prove to be one of those few books, set apart.
and nana, you were right. published in 1987, this story begins in the 1920′s, following two young couples throughout their married lives. the plot is simple: life. unabashed and honest. its moments of joy, its mundane tragedies. in just a few hundred pages, the story covers over 40 years and yet the book moves at the sweet, slow pace of normal, everyday life. this is character study at its best.
perhaps what i love most about it is how, as a reader, you are able to see the characters come of age, define themselves, make choices, redefine themselves, be defined by circumstance, and then be redefined through the eyes of their grown children. it made me think of my own parents. i wonder how narrow my own view of them is. what were they like as young marrieds? how has life changed them?
if you aren’t currently reading, might i suggest this gem?