It’s Sunday morning, 8:00 AM. I just made my first cup of coffee. The radio plays my morning news program. The sky is gray again. I have no major plans for the day, just to relax after a very full week.
I brought books to sell at the New York State Writers Institute for the appearances of Margot Livesey (latest novel: Banishing Verona, 0312425201)* and Amy Hempel (latest book: Collected Stories, 0743289463). The crowd was light but friendly, the writers were stellar. The event took place in the Recital Hall at the University at Albany (SUNY), a smaller auditorium with a cozy feel. The table was set up in the passage space that surrounds the recital hall but the doors are kept closed during the speaking due to the echoes that are amplified by this curious set of buildings. With the doors closed I could just barely hear the speakers until a group of screeching students passed by the public space outside the auditorium. So, what happened was this: I heard the stunning introductions to the two authors and I managed to hear the beginnings of each of their readings then the noise levels increased and I was alone with a stack of books, including the newest edition of Mary Oliver’s poetry, (Thirst , 0807068969) and my notepad.
Now, there was a term I learned in grad school years ago: kairos. Theologian Paul Tillich speaks of it as a “moment at which history has matured to the point of being able to receive the breakthrough of the manifestation of God.” I am using the the concept loosely to apply to the experience of my plate getting so full that I thought I would be overwhelmed. But what happened was quite the opposite.
When Wednesday came and I was facing a 13 hour work day, plagued by allergies, tired from lack of sleep, thinking of all the things that needed to get done. I just knew it would not end well. But at the book table, hearing pieces of short stories, I began to write. As the words flowed onto the paper a lightness flowed into me. And by the time I got to my car a little after 10 PM all the pressure of the week was lifted. The coming crisis dissipated, whatever it was. I was spared. I could breathe. I wasn’t tired.
What happened? Well, a series of moments came together that night. People, books, words, prayers, even a cat named Nigel all converged in that time and space and became expansive. What originally felt like something crushing turned into insight and freedom. I can’t possibly recount all the steps that led to this point. I can only hope to stay open to the moment and not resist it.
Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now, 1577314808) seems to be haunting me lately. I feel like I might want to take a look at it, though I’m thinking I might just get the audio and give a listen on the old iPod.
Let me tell you about a few books I’ve sold this week that inspire me or make me smile or just keep me curious.
There are a some children’s books by Joan Steiner that I’ve been in love with since I discovered them:
1. Look-Alikes Jr.: The More You Look, the More You See! (0316713473)
2. Look-Alikes Christmas: The More You Look, the More You See! (0316811874)
3. Look-Alikes: The More Your Look, the More You See! (0316713481)
Steiner constructs scenes from a variety of objects. You think you’re seeing a train but closer examination shows a pencil, bottle caps, a film cartridge, a knitting needle and an endless collection of things that come together to make an image of a train. Descriptions don’t serve this book as much as seeing it yourself. Come and see. Looking at her books has made me look at the objects in my house with new eyes. My brain thinks about new uses for clothes pins, faucets, discarded lids.
The Christmas book is especially rich and delicious. By the way, Steiner is a resident of the Hudson Valley and I just may have to make a field trip to meet her and see how she does what she does. You can bet I’ll give you a full report.
Zadie Smith’s book On Beauty (0143037749) recently came out in paperback. I don’t think this book is “high” literature but neither is it “fluff.” It is full of interesting characters who surprised me as I got to know them. It’s certainly worthy of your attention. Give it a try.
Stanley’s book philosophy of the moment: If a book has even one great chapter, one well-crafted paragraph, one sublime sentence I will recommend it.
I like a well turned phrase. I read a book that’s long out of print: River Road by C.F. Borgman. It’s not an exceptionally great piece of fiction but there is one passage in that book that continues to haunt me. The main character has a watershed moment of discovering his abusive mother as a human being for the very first time. Brilliant.
Oh, did I mention we started doing Out Of Print searches now?
It’s raining now. A good day to stay inside and read. Gotta go.
[* note: those numbers you see after the titles show the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) which are 10 digits (soon to become a 13 digit system) that uniquely identify the specific edition of a book.]