Monday, March 20, 2017

other people's books

The books toward which my hands are drawn in libraries and bookstores are all variations on the fairytale structure: overt retellings, nineteenth-century comedies of manners, high fantasy, so-called chick-lit. While there's nothing wrong with this generally, these categories all tend to feature romance and end as do comedies, with weddings filling the stage. And since my life is decidedly lacking in romance lately, reading only these sorts of books is less than great for my mental health.

I still don't like mysteries, westerns, or horror, so those genres are not a respite for me.

I do like reading books of essays. Some of the most prized books on my shelf are beautifully bound Henry Van Dyke volumes in which the short stories read like essays on profound things. I can still remember buying them one at a time from the antique shop as a teenager. I rather suspect that after the second one, the owner started keeping an eye out for more of them to feed my habit.

Unfortunately, the book of essays is not a very popular form these days. There is no section in bookstores dedicated to essays. Occasionally, a book of essays will make the best-seller list, like Eat, Pray, Love. Even more rarely, one like The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes pops up in a yarn shop.

The place I've had the most luck finding books of essays is in the religious life section. Not theology, not religious history, but the section of books about living life with faith. It's tough to choose off this shelf, though. Some of these veer over the edge into the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad, blow-by-blow memoir of life from birth through conversion like Augustine's Confessions. I don't like throwing books across the room, but sometimes there is no other choice. Others of these books veer over a different edge into preachy, how-to, self-help books. Those I throw into the donation box.

So I find myself relying on the recommendations of friends. Last spring, I read An Altar in the World, because Kathleen put it in my hands and said, "This. Now." In the autumn, I read Love Warrior, because Taylor found it to be profound. At Christmas, I reread Girl Meets God because decade-ago me thought it was amazing. This week I'm reading What Falls from the Sky because Erin sent it to me with the message that it sounded like I needed a new book. (Full disclosure: I do this, too. I gave Erin Girl Meets God for Christmas,  and I *just* handed Kathleen Chalice and Marriage and Other Acts of Charity randomly on a Wednesday with the words, "This. Now.")

While I've enjoyed each of these books and recognized the value of the wisdom they have to offer, I haven't felt like they speak to my soul the way they spoke to the soul of each of the women who recommended them.

These are other people's books.

I'm still looking for my books.



4 comments:

  1. Related: I think it's so fun how much you can tell about a person by the kind of books they love. Like if someone could see how many times I've ​reread Kathleen Norris's Quotidian Mysteries, they could rightly infer that I am an overthinker with a complicated relationship with both God and housework.
    I might also be the kind of person who narrates my life to myself as though I were writing my own religious life book.

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    1. Seriously. I will admit that I had a moment of hesitation before putting your names next to your book title recommendations out of concern for how much they might reveal, but in reality each of these books could speak to a soul in a variety of ways.

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    2. "I might also be the kind of person who narrates my life to myself as though I were writing my own religious life book."

      Because you are.

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    3. Well then. Toni Morrison — 'If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.' ;-)

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