Saturday, February 12, 2011

May I recommend to you...

In my home, there is a library. It is a wide, dark paneled room in the center of which is an impressive, stone fireplace. Two of the four walls are covered floor to high-beamed ceiling, in Brazilian wood bookshelves. These, of course, are covered in…books. Historical novels, short stories, books of poetry, anthologies, all resting amicably together. The third,west-facing wall is a bank of tall, slanted windows that frames the setting sun at the end of the day. Two leather chairs, equal parts strong and soft, face the aforementioned fireplace…

Oh, who am I kidding?

I have a living room that I call the “library.” There is no fireplace, stone or otherwise. No leather seating, no Brazilian wood. But, on one perfect wall rests floor to ceiling bookshelves. And yes, these are covered in all my favorite books, with room for pictures of my kids, and two antique typewriters (one of which I wrote about finding here:

The books you’ll find in my library are there for a reason. They are books that touched me in one way or another. They are books I would recommend to you.

I would recommend, for instance, that you read To Kill a Mockingbird, and Water For Elephants, so that you come to know men such as Atticus Finch and Jacob Jankowski, and know, equally, the absolute goodness that can exist within people, fiction or not.
I would recommend that you read Monica Wood’s, Any Bitter Thing, to remind you that in this world, we have been conditioned by the media, by certain true events and by not so true people, and that sometimes our preconceptions are wrong.

I would recommend that you read Velva Jean Learns To Drive (and Velva Jean Learns to Fly...and Becoming Clementine) for the hope and determination on every page, and let it inspire you to find these things in yourself and to create your own happy ending.

And I truly hope that you will take the time to read Little Bee. It is, as of 9:44 this morning when I finished reading it, and wiping my eyes, my favorite story. Chris Cleave is now on my short list (not that he should care, who am I, after all?) with Graham Greene and Andre Dubus among a few others. The first page of Little Bee might not make you cry. But it did, me. Because he does so well what it is that I can only dream of doing. And that is putting truth into precise, beautiful, simple language.

I’m no expert, but I can tell you that I know a really great book within the first page. And sometimes, in the case of truly outstanding books, I know after the first line. Was this the case in reading Little Bee? I’ll tell you:
“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl.“
Absolutely, yes.
It is a brilliant piece of writing and Chris Cleave makes it looks so terribly easy. I, in turn, am terribly jealous. But I will keep reading. Maybe some of it will rub off on this wide-eyed writer.

What book would you most recommend to me?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm No Fool...

Last night I was helping my son with some homework. He was working on an essay about The Giver (Lois Lowry). In the essay, Connor wrote about how people are unique. About how it is precisely this uniqueness in each of us that makes the world a better, more intestesting place. In case you are not familiar with the book, it is set in a future, “utopian” society. Individuality has been taken away from the members of this society. There are no colors, there is no personal freedom, and there is no love. In this world-view, personal freedom means mistakes. In this “utopia,” there are no mistakes. My son’s argument was that while mistakes can be bad, they are also what help us to learn. And it is how we handle these mistakes, these difficult times, that shape us into the people we are to become. He is so right.

I have made many mistakes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make me any smarter than the average bear. Sure, I’ve learned from many of them, but I wonder: when will I learn to stop making them! Isn’t once enough – per topic, at least?

I’ve always told my kids to listen to their conscience. Remember Jiminy Cricket? Seriously, we all have that inner voice that helps us make decisions, tells us right from wrong. Why is it that sometimes the voice is so hard to hear? Maybe it’s because life isn’t black or white. There are so many shades of gray…so many possible choices, sets of consequences, good and bad outcomes, and everything in between. How then, do we know we are making the “right” decision every time a situation presents itself?

Maybe I can still use Jiminy Cricket’s famous song from Pinocchio with my 5 year-old:

I'm no fool, no sirree!

I'm gonna live to be 103

I play safe for you and me

'Cause I'm no fool!

Not so much for my tween and teenage boys.

I think as we get older, the voice becomes clearer – louder. Our heart chimes in, our mind speaks up, and maybe, just maybe, we listen. As a teen, I was still trying to figure out who I was, and I disregarded that voice like a stranger calling out for a taxi. Who cares? Not my concern. Even in my twenties and early thirties, that voice was difficult to hear over the “Mom!” and “What’s for dinner?” calls from various rooms in our expanding household.

Here in my late 30s, I am realizing that the voice in my head is my own. It is the voice of an intelligent, grown woman who has learned from her mistakes, who understands right from wrong and who believes in herself and her abilities.

I'd like to think I have no more excuses. But I guess it's important for even me to realize that I haven't made my last mistake...not yet. I am wiser, yes. But, as long as I'm alive, I'm still learning.

Now, how’s about that Root Beer Float for lunch…?