Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have you gotten lost in a book today?

Last week I asked you about dancing in your kitchen: if you let yourself fly free from restraints, if you turned the music up too loud and bumped into tables and chairs as your feet found their rhythm. And how much joy we found together! I can just see all of you with your smiles and laughing eyes not even glancing out the window at the gawking neighbors.

And today, I want to share another delicious joyful question: have you gotten lost in a book today? 

I woke up in the leisurely hour of 8am. I stretched like a cat, my arms creaking and feet wriggling. The bright sky streamed through my windows and I felt the cool air waft through my window fan. A bit later, as our dog nestled into the space between our two couches, and I lounged on the bright blue and green cushions... I fell into a story.

It's called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer, and it is the most delightful collection of letters I've read in such a long time. In the past few weeks, I've gone whaling with Captain Ahab, I've defended Tom with Atticus, and I've even traversed the strange swamps of Muchinkinland with Elphaba. But this morning I fell into the small island breezes of Guernsey, hidden between Great Britain and France (two of my beloved friends)... fell right into the narrator's life.

Her name is Juliet, she's an authoress writing in 1946 right after the war, and by some delightful series of events, Dawsey Adams writes to her about Charles Lamb and books, and the story is all the adventures and learning that follows.

I was so captivated by the stories she was collecting that I forgot where I was and who I was and I lived on the edge of each page. My eyes strained at the margins, and I could see everything with her eyes: the vivid colors of sky and easterly winds, the mail boat arriving in the port, the fields and the shattered remains of Occupied territory.

So I ask you: have you gotten lost in a book today? Have you wandered the caverns of a story, imagined things almost faster than the author splotched them onto paper? Have you felt your heart leap when the heroine finally realized that she was being foolish, and asked the bold brave question? Have you laughed out loud to a silent living room when your favorite character said what you'd been thinking all along? Have you let a book lay claim to your entire mind for a few hours?

Because if we let them, literature and stories will litter our lives with their wisdom and beauty. You will find yourself on a run down Wethersfield St looking out at the vast expanse of Mansfield Park. You will pick up a box of coffee at the grocery store and suddenly wonder if The Real Inspector Hound shouldn't have somehow involved a stain carpet with the undiscovered body. You will be calmly alphabetizing, cataloguing, vacuuming... whatever other verbs - and the story will creep up on you and illuminate. To read, to curl up around words and let them scatter seeds in the wind? What better way to sow joy into life? 

So, your assignment in the project of opening ourselves wide to joy. Pick up a book. Feel its spine, the strength of its pages, how they might be leathery and worn, or crisp and clean. Smell the book itself - its secret love notes, its dreams, the person who read it last hidden between dog eared pages. And then find yourself the most sunny corner of your house, preferably filled with tulips or roses, and read the book. Let it illuminate. Let it whisper and shout its wonder into your life. Because of course stories are about the Story: the Story of who loves us, the Story of who we are becoming, the Story about this vast inescapable expanse of muddy paths through forests and foxes spotted between trees and the call of morning doves and the broken fences and the feeling of being alive and the smell of lilacs (yes, especially that). Read the story.
(mandie sodoma, sindisiwe photography)

And if you're hankering to know what I would pick up?

1. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows)
3. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery - in French, L'élégance du hérisson)
4. The Complete Short Stories (Flannery O'Connor)
5. In The Time of the Butterflies (Julia Alvarez)
6. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
7. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
8. Watership Down (Richard Adams)

Love, from my joyful reading heart,


  1. Thanks for adding Gatsby. Is this list in order of your own preferences?

  2. I think you inspired me to give The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society another shot. I tried it as an audiobook last year and found it just couldn't hold my attention, but I've heard enough raving about it lately that I think I'd better try and pick it up in hard copy. I don't get lost in books nearly as much as I'd like these days, but its a loss I've lamented and am trying to make room for, somewhere! Thanks for the post!

  3. Robinson's Home, following Gilead?

    And Gatsby-related suggestion, Fitzgerald's The Crack Up, short stories along with priceless fragments from his notebooks.


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