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Tag: books

and so we wait…

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down where the earthworms stir, there must be stirring. all the science books say so. but from here, at my kitchen window, it takes some convincing to buy into the notion that this here is springtime.

i know the calendar says so. i know sun and planet earth did their vernal doh-si-doh, as big ol’ sun inched its way north across the equator at 4:58 p.m. (chicago time) day before last, and suddenly spring had sprung. but round here, there’s not much springing to be spied. we’re in the crouch-down-low days of earliest spring, when your knees have to get in on the act if you really want to catch mama earth in her opening numbers.

the surest sign that earth is a rumbling is what’s happening up in the trees. and i don’t mean the leaves. i mean the cardinals, flitting and chasing and carrying on like red-feathered banshees. males chasing males. aerial cartwheels. rabid games of catch-me-if-you-can. male and female flirting like nobody’s business. pheromones must be filling the air. the occasional female butting in on somebody else’s romance. (oh, the vociferous protest!) it would be safe to assume baby cardinals — flocks and flocks of them — will soon offer proof of unseen ornithological joinery.

me, i’m just stationed here at my old maple table, filling my hours with words — birdsong as backdrop. my lifework seems to have settled into the sedentary task of reading and writing. my eyes and six of my fingers seem to be the only moving parts of me many a day. my brain, though, and my soul and my heart, they’re all deeply engaged. it’s just that, from the outside, you can’t see them expanding. sort of like the hard work of mama earth in springtime. sort of like what’s happening down where the earthworms wriggle. (or start to think about wriggling, anyway.)

the stacks by my side seem to grow taller and taller. occasionally teeter. if i’m not careful i’m going to turn into a hoarder. a hoarder of big ideas and snippets of poetry. not a bad affliction. this week alone i welcomed these fine friends to my flock: the late essayist and editor brian doyle (a book of uncommon prayer: 100 celebrations of the miracle & muddle of the ordinary and god is love: essays from portland magazine); historian and storyteller extraordinaire jill lepore (these truths: a history of the united states; brilliant!); diarist etty hillesum (considered the adult counterpart to anne frank, her diary and letters, written during the darkest years of nazi occupation, testify to the possibility of compassion in the face of devastation, and the combined work —  diary and letters bound in a single volume — is titled an interrupted life: the diaries, 1941-1943 and letters from westerbork); two jewish books of blessings called “benchers,” prayers and songs in hebrew and english (for a class i’m teaching). and finally, and emphatically, mary oliver’s long life: essays and other writings. in the wake of her death, i have found myself reaching back into her bookshelf, finding titles i’d not known before. long life is a beauty, one from which i scribble and scribble, taking notes like a chimney — a poetry chimney — puffing up bellows of something like holy incense.

here are just a few bits i couldn’t help but add to my Mary O. litany:

30. “What can we do about God, who makes then breaks every god-forsaken, beautiful day?” — Long Life, p. 17 

31. “I walk in the world to love it.” — Long Life, p. 40

32. “All the eighth notes Mozart didn’t have time to use before he entered the cloudburst, he gave to the wren.” — Long Life, p. 88 

and then there are these two longer passages, which i tucked into my ever-growing file, titled “book of nature notes”:

“This I knew, as I grew from simple delight toward thought and into conviction: such beauty as the earth offers must hold great meaning. So I began to consider the world as emblematic as well as real, and saw that it was—that shining word—virtuous. That it offers us, as surely as the wheat and the lilies grow, the dream of virtue.

“I think of this every day. I think of it when I meet the turtle with his patient green face, or hear the hawk’s tin-tongued skittering cry, or watch the otters at play in the pond….” (Long Life, p. 87) 

“A certain lucent correspondence has served me, all my life, in the ongoing search for my deepest thoughts and feelings. It is the relationship of my own mind to landscape, to the physical world — especially to that part of it with which, over the years, I have (and not casually) become intimate….  

“Opulent and ornate world, because at its root, and its axis, and its ocean bed, it swings through the universe quietly and certainly. … And it is the theater of the spiritual; it is the multiform utterly obedient to a mystery.

“And here I build a platform, and live upon it, and think my thoughts, and aim high. To rise, I must have a  field to rise from. To deepen, I must have a bedrock from which to descend.…  

“It is the intimate, never the general, that is teacherly. The idea of love is not love. The idea of ocean is neither salt nor sand; the face of the seal cannot rise from the idea to stare at you, to astound your heart. Time must grow thick and merry with incident, before thought can begin.

“It is one of the perils of our so-called civilized age that we do not yet acknowledge enough, or cherish enough, this connection between soul and landscape — between our own best possibilities, and the view from our own windows. We need the world as much as it needs us, and we need it in privacy, intimacy, and surety. We need the field from which the lark rises — bird that is more than itself, that is the voice of the universe: vigorous, godly joy.”  (Long Life, pp. 89-91)

and thus, my dispatch from the muck days of spring….

what’s expanding your soul this week?

when the morning news brings harper lee

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this old house will be a newspaper house as long as fish wrap is dotted with ink. every morning, seven mornings a week, the first sound that reverberates around here — save for the pre-dawn robins who rev up their vocal cords — is the THWOP! of rolled-up papers plopped onto the front stoop (three separate wads each weekday and saturday, two on sundays). twice a year, when the bill comes due, a bill that topples into the hundreds for all that fish wrap, there’s no discussion. we don’t debate the wisdom of rolling out hard-earned cash for an inflow of ink and paper. because you never know what the news will bring. and we couldn’t live without the possibility of getting lost in sentences that swoop our hearts away. or the joy of flipping through a section and discovering a story we otherwise never would have tumbled upon. or the raw eruption of hot tears spilling on the page, as some account of awfulness carries us miles and miles from where we’re reading, and into dingy corners we’d not know were it not for the newspaper’s insistence on wiping out our ignorance and insouciance.

heck, this old house and half the people in it were practically built on the backs of newsprint. were it not for one chicago tribune’s newsroom, i never would have spied — and uncannily fallen hard for — the lanky fellow who became my lifelong paladin, and the father to our children (the two we call our only “double-bylines”).

still, not every morning brings what this one did; these words from the one spooning oat-y Os into his hungry gullet: “you’re gonna go nuts over this one.” and then he shoved before my eyes the front page of the wall street journal’s friday arts-and-culture section.

“the first chapter of harper lee’s new book,” he mumbled between Os, lest i miss the red-hot scoop, the unparalleled capital-e Exclusive, the biggest leak in publishing in plenty a while, the newspaper’s literary splash four days in advance of tuesday’s worldwide release of what’s being called the reclusive ms. lee’s “new novel.”

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actually, it’s harper lee’s old novel, “go set a watchman,” her first go-around with a manuscript, submitted back in 1957, when she was all of 31, to her new york publisher, j.b. lippincott.

as the book-peddling legend goes, ms. lee’s editor back then found the story “lacking,” and advised that the would-be author instead zero in on the flashback scenes, in what would become the searing tale of scout and dill and jem and atticus finch and boo radley, and racial inequity and empathy played out in small-town maycomb, alabama: “to kill a mockingbird,” the pulitzer-prize winner that went on to be named “the 20th-century’s best novel,” according to a vote taken by the nation’s librarians.

and so, before my first sip of coffee this morning, i was riding the rails with jean louise finch, aka the “scout” of mockingbird fame, as she “watched the last of georgia’s hills recede and the red earth appear, and with it tin-roofed houses set in the middle of swept yards, and in the yards the inevitable verbena grew, surrounded by whitewashed tires.”

i admit to having been among the skeptical when news of this “long-lost discovery” first made headlines. i admit to suspicion when word leaked out that the 89-year-old ms. lee’s not-long-out-of-law-school attorney just happened to find the manuscript tucked away in a safe deposit box, shortly after ms. lee’s 103-year-old sister, lawyer and lifelong protector, alice lee, had died. i worried that the not-altogether-with-it nelle harper lee might have been duped. coerced into publishing something she’d not wanted paraded through the glaring light of day, to say nothing of the folderol and zaniness sure to come after a half-century’s literary silence.

well, i’ve now read every word, every word the wall street journal rolled into print, and i’m here to tell you i’ll be among the ones in line to gobble up the next however many chapters ms. lee has lobbed our way. whoever was that long-ago lippincott editor who found the first-go lacking, i beg to differ. i’d not want to miss the chance to drink in a line like this one: “love whom you will but marry your own kind was a dictum amounting to instinct within her.”

or: “she was a person who, when confronted with an easy way out, always took the hard way. the easy way out of this would be to marry hank and let him labor for her. after a few years, when the children were waist-high, the man would come along whom she should have married in the first place. there would be searchings of hearts, fevers and frets, long looks at each other on the post office steps, and misery for everybody. the hollering and the high-mindedness over, all that would be left would be another shabby little affair a la birmingham country club set, and a self-constructed private gehenna with the latest westinghouse appliances. hank didn’t deserve that.

“no. for the present she would pursue the stony path of spinsterhood.”

dare you not to race out to add your name to the long list at the library, or order up your own copy from your nearest most beloved bookseller.

i for one will be inhaling every line, on the lookout for a passage equal to the one i just might call the greatest american paragraph ever penned, the one that makes my heart roar every time.

for the sheer joy of retyping its every word, here is one walloping passage from atticus finch’s closing argument in his defense of a black man wrongly accused of raping a white girl in the deep south of the 1930s. page 233 in my first perennial classics edition, printed in 2002:

“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal — there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.”

heck, the whole closing argument — from the bottom of page 230, clear through to the fourth to last sentence on 234 — the whole magnificent thing was enough to make me a lifelong believer in the pen of harper lee. and the wall street journal’s gift this morning — slick as it was for the newspaper owned by the same outfit as lee’s new publisher, HarperCollins, to steal first crack at the watchman — twas a mighty fine one.

and an indelible reminder of why i’ll forever be a girl with ink pumping through her veins.

what’s your favorite line, or scene, or passage, from mockingbird? 

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and, for your summer reading’s consideration, here’s how the journal lays out the launch of ms. lee’s latest, under the news headline, “scout comes home”:

“The first chapter of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ introduces Ms. Lee’s beloved character, Scout, as a sexually liberated woman in her twenties, traveling from New York to Alabama to visit her ailing father and weigh a marriage proposal from a childhood friend. It also includes a bombshell about Scout’s brother.”

i’ll let you read for yourself and discover that bombshell…..oh, the joy of a byline we thought we’d never see again, one that bears the name harper lee.

crack the books

crack the books

any minute now, i’m hoping, the red truck might pull up to the curb — or what was the curb back before the mountains of charcoal-gray polar crust accumulated there, and eclipsed the sharp edge where front yard meets street.

if all goes as planned, there will be a larger-than-life rectangle poking out from under the blankets that billow, blankets intended to keep the rectangle’s smooth white planks from getting splattered with road salt as the red truck sped down the tollway from the pig barn just this side of the state line. the pig barn is where the planks and the nails and the smooth white baseboard and trim turned into a bookcase, all at the hands of my old friend jim. jim who wields hammer and jigsaw and who for the past 15 years has been building our dreams, one nook and one cranny at a time.

that is all to say that i’m at long last due to get that bookcase today. one i ordered up months and months ago ( i might not splurge on haircuts or pairs of jeans without holes in the knees, but i will fork up the cash to buy me a wall of pressed-tight spines). it’s a bookcase that’s soon to be home to the five unpacked book boxes hauled home from veritas U., and the dozen or so tumbling towers of tomes i plonked on my office floor in those long-ago weeks (two years and counting) when i left my downtown newspaper office and made this old garage my forever writing room.

there’s hope that i’ll be home alone for a good chunk of this weekend, and my fingers are itching to get at those books, to pull each one from the depths and the dark of its shipping box. to flip through the pages and sink back in time, back to the couch in cambridge where i looked over rooftops and scrawled in the margins. made notes. thought with my pen, in ink. where, for one sumptuous year, i tumbled and soared over the landscape of learning — learning of poetry and slave-trading, jim-crow atrocities, abolitionists and everyday saints, as well as the art and craft of narrative writing.

all those books — all those old friends: the poet donald hall; frederick douglas; virginia woolf; zora neale hurston; the list goes on and on — are tucked inside, and pulling them, one-by-one, from the shadow, hoisting them up to a shelf, will be an exercise in remembering, in discovering all over again just why as a civilization we believe in the sealing of words to the page.

it’s testament, all of it, to the power of being shaken to tears, the delight of traipsing upon a brand-new accumulation of letters whirred into a word we’d never imagined, the riveting thought that stirred me to pulling the tip of my pen clear beneath the words, as if to memorize, to absorb, to never forget the electrical force of that particular idea.

i boxed the books by semester, so with each tearing back of the seam, i’ll enter a particular epoch in the year that unlocked channels in my mind and deepened my heart and my soul. you can’t open a book, can’t draw your eyes across line after line and not emerge with new layers of knowing, of wondering, of hungering. not if the book’s worth the ink soaked into the page.

and that’s why it matters that those books emerge from their boxes and their vertical teetering stacks. a book belongs at arm’s reach. a book begs to be pulled from the shelf, to be shared, to be slipped in the hand of someone who might want to know, to discover. or to be sprawled once again across your very own lap, so you can read and repeat and recite. memorize a particular collection of words, and the wisdom for which it’s the key.

they’re overdue, all those tomes, to rise from the floor and climb up the walls. soon as the red truck rolls along, they’ll get on with their reason for being: to offer, over and over, the very words that lead us into the heart of truth, beauty and wisdom.

best done when perched on a shelf, ready for dispatch with determined tug of the spine.

some days writing is sheer exercise. you rumble your fingers in hopes of keeping them limber, and the brain cells to which they’re connected. this was one of those days — with 85 distractions, here, there and everywhere. 

because i can’t bear to leave you with such thin offerings, i am turning to one of the books from another shelf in this old house: abraham joshua heschel’s “i asked for wonder: a spiritual anthology.” the editor, samuel h. dresner, culled heschel’s writings for those passages — “so compelling are his sentences that a paragraph literally chokes from wealth,” dresner writes — that are the heart of the matter.

here’s one titled, “degrees”:

…Awareness of God does not come by degrees from timidity to intellectual temerity; it is not a decision reached at the crossroads of doubt. It comes when, drifting in the wilderness, having gone astray, we suddenly behold the immutable polar star. Out of endless anxiety, out of denial and despair, the soul bursts out in speechless crying.

and so i leave you with heschel, and keep my own eye trained out the window. searching and hoping for a sighting of the shiny red truck and the rectangle certain to put my life back in order. or at least some fraction of it, perhaps.

what books do you pull most often from your best-loved shelf?

this is what it looks like when a dream comes true….

book deadline

for as long as i’ve been holding pencils, folding clean white paper crisply in half, etching so-called “illustrations,” i’ve dreamed of this day.

the hours ticking down toward the deadline when the book — with signed contract — was due to the editor and publisher.

so this is what it looks like on that day. i type and type and type till my fingerpads are sore. i dream of words and sentences, and ideas plop into my head and shake me from my not-so slumber.

i was hurling toward the end, when suddenly, in that way that these things happen, a bit more was ordered up. so i am typing again. and frantically. and full of hope.

i am getting a bit teary, as i hear the rocky theme playing through my head, in that stadium between my eardrums. as i muster all the power of my thighs and calves to climb the stairs to heaven, and make good on long-held dream: to write a book, my book, a book stitched with all the heart and soul that i can muster.

i thought by now i’d be able to tell you it’s official name. the folks who decide these things spent all day yesterday pondering. but i’m still in the dark. it’s a bit like waiting to see your newborn babe. after all those months of imagining a button nose, there he slides, into your arms, and you drink in a face far more beautiful than you ever could have dreamed.

so i don’t know the title, and i don’t know what will grace the cover.

but i do know that my little typing desk is cluttered. with stacks. and dictionaries. and endless cups of coffee.

and some day soon, i’ll click the little button that says “send,” but it might as well say, “launch.” as in let your dreams go sailing toward the moon and stars.

folks around this little house are getting by on whatever scraps i can scrounge and spoon on plates. i’m trying to keep a foot in both worlds, but as the tempo builds, and deadline looms, it’s getting harder and harder to drown out the pounding in my heart, and the typing that keeps time. that propels me toward the finish line, the one i thought i’d never ever cross.

dreams come true. in storybooks and life. most especially, if someone you love keeps whispering in your ear: “i believe, i believe.”

to all of those who do, the deepest thank you.

this is short and sweet — and on deadline. apologies for breathlessness. soon as i find out the name of this endeavor, i’ll be sure to let you know. the chairs, after all, birthed all of this….

which of your dreams is the one that’s come true? and what propelled you up the final flight of stairs? 

editing cookbooks

not for a minute did i realize it was a move in pure self-preservation. nope, i thought at the time, it was merely, er, cute.

yes, a word we avoid here (since we verge so close to the treacly anyway, now and again), it was–linguistic misgivings aside–that very thing, c-u-t-e.

cozy, might be apt. clever, another way of saying much the same thing. the arch of a doorway, the place from one room to the next, carved out for books. a book nook, floor to ceiling, instead of a plain old pass-through from one place to another.

and not just any books. the books we drool over, yes, we do. the ones we splatter, and don’t ever mind. proudly, we point to the tomato paste puddle on page 256. flipping along, we stumble upon the chocolate smudge, the thumbprint of a 5-year-old at the time, pulled up close to the counter, making a tollhouse pie for his papa. oh, yes, the once-lickable souvenirs now caked, dried and pressed to the pages.

yes, up the walls of the archway that spills from our cooking room into the lying-on-the-floor-watching-the-cubs room, climb two vertical libraries for what amounts to my culinary history.

there are the standards from back in the ’70s, when my cooking awakened: molly katzen’s “enchanted broccoli forest,” and frances moore lappe’s “diet for a small planet,” from back when i dabbled in all things lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and hoped to personally wipe out world hunger.

there’s a whole shelf of molly o’neill, once the new york times’ food writer, and the only such times writer i ever mustered the courage to write. (she wrote me back, pithy, punchy, managed to escape bursting my bubble by scribbling a few sweet short sentences.)

there is a whole shelf for baking–something i don’t often do, though i do like to think someday i will. and one for children’s cookery books, from back in the day when my wee ones stirred by my side (complete with eensy-weensy rolling pin and cookie cutters used, oh, maybe, twice a year, tops).

there is a grilling shelf, and mostly it belongs to my mate who’s afraid to light up the flames. and a literary shelf, because of course some of the droolingest writing in the world is on the subject of what’s for lunch, or midnight supper, or trekking through france in search of the perfect langoustine.

but each of these disparate shelves has one thing in common: the 11.25 inches from one end to the other.

and therein lies my salvation, or my penance, depending as always on inclination and perspective.

let’s start with salvation. were it not for the end of the shelf, i do believe i might string cookbooks from now till the dining room, which is around the corner and 20 some feet away.

i would forever cling to irma rombauer who’s insisted since 1931 that there’s joy in all cooking. and i might shove her up against the silver palate twins, sheila and julee (who despite their defections of each other, forever are paired between covers, at least on my shelf).

heck, i might integrate the neighborhood with the settlement cookbook spine-to-spine with beatrix potter’s country cookery book. who knew that gefilte fish balls could so seamlessly swim with fried minnows?

ah, but shelves are not endless. they come to an abrupt and unflinching end. it is known as the wall.

and so, i am saved.

yes, frankly, and structurally.

my house might cave in, what with my delight in plucking a fine cooking book off a quaint little shop’s shelf. why sometimes i have no intention at all, not a one, of stopping and browsing, but then in the winds of some shop, startled by the look of a cover, or maybe merely a title, i hear my name called, in whispers and taunting.

and thus, due to my occasional giving in to the sin of temptation, i am required to partake of the puritan art of decision. yes, i edit. i cull and i toss.

when one new cookery tome somehow makes its way under my transom, i weigh and i think. i meander my way through the books of my life and i make a ruling. if alice waters is to move in, someone else must pack up and leave.

and so it is that the other morning i found myself deciding which pages of my past i would expunge, to make way for the ones that had been piled high on the coffee table since, oh, my january birthday, and perhaps, truth be told, the christmas or two before that.

after much mulling, and pulling, i at last ditched a mere four. their titles don’t matter so much,
(though because maybe you’re nosey–no, i mean insatiably curious–the expired were these: healthy ways with poultry, healthy ways with vegetables, two from my skinny-obsessed days. two from which i’ve not once made a single anything ever, healthy or otherwise.

i waved goodbye, too, to a grilling book that once came, i think, with my first weber grill. i’ve not once followed a grilling recipe, and i don’t think the folks who make grills ought to stray from the bending of metal. luau ribs that call for a can of chopped pineapple, and a splash of cooking sherry just hasn’t lured me since i got the book back in the twentieth century.

last to go was the collection of recipes from my firstborn’s laboratory school, where the global pot of professors’ kids made for a rumbly tummy if ever there was one. asparagus in cream, for instance, followed by porc aux pruneaux, which i take it translates to pork with prunes, though pruneaux does have a classier ring to it than that shriveled fruit my grandpa downed every morn to “keep regular,” as my grandma so instructed while steeping said lumps in lemon and water.)

ahem, as i was saying, it doesn’t much matter which titles are now in a pile to give to the library, the point is that–at least for me, who’s been so, um, ensnared with food for such a very long time–fingering my way through my cookbook shelves is very much a long winding road through my psycho-gustatory past.

and were it not for the need to make room on the shelves, i might never be forced to face, and get rid of, the pages i’ve no room deep inside to any longer remember.

once upon a time all my cooking guides were strict marms who played into my peculiarities–not a scant drop of fat and gallons of vegetables, many a page tucked with my scribblings as i counted and calculated my way to safe moorings.

now, at long last, i push aside such strictures to make way for ms. waters, she who celebrates all that comes from the earth, and our blessings to taste it and wholly partake of it.

at long last what lurks on my cookbook shelves is not tucked away for no one to see. but rather, it’s proud enough, and whole enough, to make for a wide-open arch that anyone can pass through.

it’s taken some time, but at last, the last of my odd cooking tomes is scratched of my name.

it is the deep secret of growing older: we learn to edit the chapters that once held us back, to make room for the pages that, now, finally, lay out the recipe for being deeply, delectably alive.

does your cookbook collection tell a story of you? are there chapters you too would prefer to expunge? are there ones that bring you right back to someone you once learned to cook with?

the essential shelf

once upon a time, it seemed the end of the week might be a fine time to pull up a chair and ponder the almighty word. relax. get comfy. kick off your workday shoes, plunk your naked toes on table’s edge.

consider the word.

in any form. alone. strung together into something akin to thinking aloud. broken, roughly, into stanza. pressed between the covers of a blessed book. a book you’d grab first thing, should you ever need to dial 9-1-1.

by now, whether you are a regular or a once-in-a-while puller-up of chair, it might have rumbled through your head that, save for clicking on a button, the only real price of admission here is a simple, unadulterated passion for what the linguists call the morpheme. again, standing all alone, a single uttered sound; or strung together, syllable on syllable, root on one of the –fix fraternal twins, pre-fix or suf-fix; or bearing apostrophe or hyphen, the cement of linguists’ possessive and compounding tools.

a word, no matter how you cut it, slice it, tape it back together.

here at the table, words are pretty much our salt and pepper, the very spice, the essence of who we are.

words, it would be safe to say, are the surgeon’s tools with which we poke around deep beneath the skin, pulling back, retracting, examining the places often hidden from ordinary view. words, too, as we’ve suggested in the past, are jungle gym and slide and, yes, the swing set upon which we pump our little legs and point tootsies toward the sky.

i come by love of words quite naturally. words, as much as irish eyes and soulful soul, come to me genetically. from both sides, my papa who typed them for a living, my mama who as often as i can recall was holed away in secluded places, barricaded behind pages of a book that made her laugh out loud, or, sometimes, cry. she claims, though none of us has ever seen, to have a lifelong stash of poetry. free verse. so free it’s captive, under lock and key.

not sated, i married into words. the man to whom i wed my life—son of newspaper editor who, to this day, reads six or seven papers, front page to obituaries, stacks so high i fear the house might soon cave in, and teacher mother who, for 52 years and counting, has championed children struggling to decode long parades of alphabet, turning squiggles into sense, triumphantly ingesting every written line—word by word, we fell in love.

in olden days, before the days of email, we sent surreptitious blurbs of words back and forth across a newsroom. he took my breath away through certain verbs (and, no, not racy ones), left me heart-thumped at the way he furled a sentence. he went on, my wordmate for life, to take home what our 5-year-old at the time called the polish surprise, for the way he cobbled words into thought. thought that at times has left me in tears, the power of its message, the pure poetry of his rock-solid prose.

my life, it seems, is strung together by the syllable.

and some times, oops, i get carried away on winds of words, and ramble on and on, dizzied by the pure delight of watching strings of letters turn to words turn to joy, or, sometimes, crumble into sorrow, right here upon my screen.

my wordly destination today, the place i intended to meander to this morning, is really rather risky. before i even mention where, i must issue a disclaimer: this is fairly off the cuff. you cannot hold me unshakingly to my claims. not forever anyway.

i am proposing that as a gaggle at the table we put forth what we consider the most essential bookshelf. ten authors, ten books, your choice. mix it up. if you only care to offer one or two, that’s fine. we will all set forth with list in hand, and check out the nearest library. we might read and then concur. or we might strongly shout in protest.

i’ll go first. sort of like being the one dared, and dreading, leaping off the dock, into icy waters of the spring-fed lake just before the dawn.

in utterly no order—all right, let’s go with alphabetical—i would stack my shelf with these: dillard, annie; fisher, m.f.k.; heschel, abraham joshua; lamott, annie; maclachlan, patricia; merton, thomas; thoreau, henry david; webster, daniel; and certainly not least, the whites, e.b. and katharine.

dillard for “pilgrim at tinker creek,” and a sentence such as this: “a schedule defends from chaos and whim. it is a net for catching days. it is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.”

fisher, for making food writing the most essential recipe for life.

heschel for being my guide into the deep rich soul of judaism, and expanding the envelope of what it means to be filled with spirit in any religion.

lamott for making me laugh out loud, laugh ’til my side hurts, and then taking away my breath with a profound irreverent sense of god alive in the darkest hours of our struggling, nearly-broken soul.

maclachlan for “what you know first,” the purest child’s poem–a “grapes of wrath” for tender hearts–that i have ever known.

merton for taking me to the mountaintop, for laying out the poetry of what a catholic soul can sound like, even and especially from inside the silent confines of a monastery named gethsemani.

thoreau, for taking me into the woods like no one else, and for all i’ve yet to learn at the foot of this great teacher.

webster, for being my dearest comrade in the aim to get it right, and for the pure delight of traipsing through his lingual play yard.

the whites, he for charlotte and stuart and just about any canvas to which he brought his richly colored pens; katharine for her views of the garden, for her new england (and new yorker) wit and wisdom, and for being the one who stole the heart of elwyn brooks.

your turn, who’s jumping next?