1) Can You Forgive Her?
|2) The Mayor of Casterbridge||Hardy, Thomas|
|3) Under the Greenwood Tree||Hardy, Thomas|
|4) The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West||McCullough, David|
|5) A Backward Glance||Wharton, Edith|
|6) Unleavened Bread||Grant, Robert|
|7) A Guilty Thing Surprised (Inspector Wexford, #5)||Rendell, Ruth|
|8) Mason’s Retreat||Tilghman,Christopher|
|9) The Hills Beyond||Wolfe, Thomas|
|10) The Pioneers: James Fenimore Cooper||Cooper,JamesFenimore|
|11) Excellent Women||Pym, Barbara|
|12) When We Were Orphans||Ishiguro, Kazuo|
|13) The Genuine Article (The Sheriff Chick Charleston Mysteries Book 2)||Guthrie Jr., A.B.|
|14) Mandela’s Way: Lessons for an Uncertain Age||Stengel, Richard|
|15) Dombey and Son||Dickens, Charles|
|16) A New England boyhood||Hale, Edward Everett|
|17) The Big Bad City (87th Precinct, #49)||McBain, Ed|
|18) No Second Wind||Guthrie Jr., A.B.|
|19) A High Wind in Jamaica||Hughes, Richard|
|20) The Vicar of Wakefield||Goldsmith, Oliver|
|21) Nocturne (87th Precinct, #48)||McBain, Ed|
|22) Murders at Moon Dance||Guthrie Jr., A.B.|
|23) Coming Up for Air||Orwell, George|
|24) Keep the Aspidistra Flying||Orwell, George|
|25) Burmese Days||Orwell, George|
|26) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life||Isaacson, Walter|
|27) Twice Shy||Francis, Dick|
|28) The Eustace Diamonds||Trollope, Anthony|
|29) The Woodlanders||Hardy, Thomas|
|30) The Belton Estate||Trollope, Anthony|
|31) Miller’s Valley||Quindlen, Anna|
|32) Phineas Redux, Vol. 1||Trollope, Anthony|
|33) Phineas Redux, Volume 2||Trollope, Anthony|
|34) The American Senator||Trollope, Anthony|
|35) The Turn of the Screw||James, Henry|
I’m sure there is such a thing as fulfilling lives, without books. I’m equally sure I’d want no part of any of them. Various narratives I’ve read over the years see learning from books (“book learning” being the often said with distain expression) as some kind of sheltered, limiting, life, as if the mighty band of bookworms worldwide spend their lives incarcerated (without mercy) in reading chairs, no doubt in a windowless rooms.
A voice inside my head cries out, “That’s a lot of hooey!”
I could not live without books in my life may not be a literal truth for me, but it comes damned close.
Let me make one thing clear on the front end of this piece: why someone writes is their business. No artist of any kind is under any obligation to explain why he or she creates. Responding with, I’m sorry, but that’s none of your business, is a just response. It is no one’s business.
As far as I’m concerned, whatever it takes a writer to put words on a page is fine with me. First off, the page can be a hard place to get to and, once there, the necessary experience of being fully present in the moment can be heavy lifting at times. Its the words, the writing that I care most about. An actor who hopes to win an Oscar is no more betraying the craft of acting than a writer who hopes to win a Pulitzer is betraying the craft of writing. Wanting or hoping for an accolade is not a betrayal of creative purity. To think it is is misguided in the best light, and rubbish in any other light.
I have no problem explaining, to some extent, why I write. For some years now my short answer has been pretty much the same: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to. I suppose I could polish that sentence into finer stuff, but I’m leaving it as it is because it was born that way.
It is the sanctuary of language itself that brings me to the page, writing or reading. As far back as I can remember, books and writing have provided sanctuaries I could depend on. Even when I was homeless they were they. I am not by nature a thief, but, when I was on the street, I had no problem at all pinching paperback books off those always-squeaky! book racks in drugstores.
Language is a living thing for me. Words are living beings; they have shape, movement, sound; they each have their own pulse; they can be moody. I short, words have personality, every damn one of them.
And then, of course, there is this: language is great company. I am never alone when I write or read. Like I said: Sometimes I write because I want to, always I write because I have to.
In times of upheaval, noise, and fear, like those we’re going through now with the Trump administration’s penchant for dishonesty, disregard for equal rights, and seeming dislike for democracy itself, finding healthy places of refuge are important. I can’t tell you what the healthiest places are for you, I can tell you what they are for me.
Books, music, dance, nature, love, are all sanctuaries for me. In his essay, “Nature”, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Here is a sanctity which shames our religions, and reality which discredits our heroes. Here we find nature to be the circumstances which dwarfs every other circumstance, and judges like a god all men that come to her.” I agree with Emerson, far beyond the reach of any mastery of words I might have in my possession.
For me, the sanctuary found in nature’s embrace protects the soul while the sanctuary in a loved one’s embrace protects the heart. We are all connected.
And yes, of course, music. Classical, jazz, international, Springsteen, the Beatles, and so on. The right music can take the blues away and allow an already happy day to strut its stuff in the clouds. Nature and music aside, it is safe to say books are my primary refuge. They have been for nearly as long as I have memory.
Of all the gifts my parents gave me, I rank my love of reading at the top. I read thirty to forty-something books a year on average. I am baffled by those who go through life without them. No doubt they are aware of other sanctuaries life offers that are utterly lost on me. I hope so. We all need them, and, more importantly, we all deserve them. From my days of homelessness to now, being connected to a book makes the shifting currents of life easier to manage.
Through good times and bad, if you’ll permit me the use of an all too worn phrase, I’ve been part of the infinite number of worlds found in the pages of books. Along the way I spent time with Dickens and Steinbeck, Edith Wharton, Jon Dos Passos, Whitman, Updike, Anna Quindlen, James Salter, and on and on and on. My mind has traveled the sentences their minds created! And, along the way, I’ve hung out with Pip, and listened to Steinbeck’s Charley bark like crazy at the bears in a canyon out west. I spent time with Lincoln and his cabinet in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s, “Team of Rivals.”
Your refuge can be a rich resource of knowledge. I gobbled up Shelby three-volume, “Civil War: A Narrative,” a collection of work so extraordinary I almost believed I was living in the 1860s and nowhere else.
Taking healthy care of yourself is not an act of disloyalty to anyone else. Moreover, remembering to take care of yourself, a retreat into a loved sanctuary, a conversation with a friend, say, will make you far more effective when you turn your focus to the benefit of others. Something we all need to do in today’s climate.
As those of you who’ve been following this blog over its 10-year life span know, I have the admittedly self-indulgent habit of publishing the list of books I read in a given year. I would give all the gold in the world to see the list of books my parents and grandparents read. When I read a book I know someone in my family read, I know I am hiking on a trail of words they hiked before me. It’s a nice feeling. I miss them all, beyond the reach of any words ever written.
- The English Major, by Jim Harrison
- Greenwich, by Howard Fast
- The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford
- Point Counter Point, Aldous Huxley
- Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual, by Nicholas Murray
- The Big Seven, by Jim Harrison
- Appointment in Samarra, by John O’Hara
- The Great Leader, by Jim Harrison
- The Summer He Didn’t Die, by Jim Harrison
- The African Queen, by C.S. Forester
- The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot, #2), by Agatha Christie
- Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
- Break In (Kit Fielding, #1), by Dick Francis
- The River Swimmer: Novellas, by Jim Harrison
- The Ancient Minstrel: Novellas, by Jim Harrison
- Letting Go, by Philip Roth
- The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
- The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley
- Everybody’s Fool, by Richard Russo
- A Question of Upbringing (A Dance to the Music of Time, #1), by Anthony Powell
- Dangerous Davies, the Last Detective, by Leslie Thomas
- The A.B.C. Murders (Hercule Poirot, #13), by Agatha Christie
- A Buyer’s Market (A Dance to the Music of Time #2), by Anthony Powell
- Dangerous In Love, by Leslie Thomas
- The Acceptance World (A Dance to the Music of Time, #3), by Anthony Powell
- Can You Forgive Her?, Volume I, by Anthony Trollope
- At Lady Molly’s (A Dance to the Music of Time, #4), by Anthony Powell
- Dangerous By Moonlight, by Leslie Davies
- Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant (A Dance to the Music of Time, #5), by Anthony Powell
- What’s Become of Waring, by Anthony Powell