Posted in Book Stuff, Writing Life

*Grateful for Books

What reason do you have to be grateful for books?

There are so many reasons, where do I begin? As a young kid, fairy tales were my first literary love, a metaphor for experiences I couldn’t name but could feel: the trial of good and evil, of helplessness, loneliness, abandonment, wandering in the dark, concealed identity, offering hope in the magic and power granted to the smallest and youngest of heroes, ending happily. And in essence that is still what I love most in fiction: truth expressed, darkness faced, light found.

Then there is the world of non-fiction, everything I could want to find out in words and pictures. Really it’s a miracle. All I have to do is go to the library and the world is there before me. And there is challenge: ideas, thoughts asking me to grow and reconsider and integrate new information. In practical terms: I learned to knit from a kid’s book on knitting. What else can do all that while I’m still in my pj’s?

Is there any author for whose existence you are especially grateful?

There are too many to list, but I’ll start with I.L. Peretz who wrote “Bontsha the Silent” and thereby taught me the piercing power of irony and the use of magical realism when I was eleven and didn’t quite get it but read the story over and over. Stephen Levine introduced me to Buddhist concepts with Healing into Life and Death, especially the section on inviting one’s demons in for tea and seeing them transform into suffering children. I’ve written here about Up Front by Bill Mauldin. And of course I can’t leave out L.M. Montgomery or Louisa May Alcott who were my companions in childhood with their heroines who wanted to be writers and succeeded.

What positive aspect does reading have in your day?

Reading connects me to others and when I choose wisely it connects me in the best way. Fiction brings me into a community of writers, even if I don’t know them personally, who are all engaged in the same work of making art, speaking truth, enlarging understanding, bringing love and light into the world. The same is true of blogs, with the added benefit of keeping me current in the many areas that interest me: literature, science, psychology, feminism, art, the environment and more.

What good things has reading taught you?

Again too many to list, but I would say the most important thing is that we are not alone in this world, and the meaning of that on many levels.

Is there any particular book that’s special to you?

I was looking around my bookshelves to answer this and realized I hadn’t mentioned poetry. I was reminded of this by The Norton Anthology of Poetry, which I’ve been dragging around since I was in university, and that reminded me of Mary Oliver who is my favourite poet overall though I love this line by May Sarton: “Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!” It’s from a poem that encapsulates everything I could say about writing:

Now I Become Myself

by May Sarton

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“Hurry, you will be dead before–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poem is, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

What are you most happy to have read recently?

Everything! Every book that I finish is a gift. I try to keep up with blogging about them, but often I feel so full hearted with what I’ve just read, it seems like too much work to translate the thought, emotion, and plain gratitude into words, at least for a while, until it all sinks in and settles. But I love this opportunity to think and write about my love of books. So thank you Litlove for starting this meme. In browsing my shelves, I just came across The Second Virago Book of Fairy Tales (edited by the inimitable Angela Carter who taught me about nerve), which I’ll start reading aloud to my eight year old.


Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

13 thoughts on “*Grateful for Books

  1. I am grateful for books because sometimes they allow us to connect with truths about human experience in a way that seems more real than many social interactions.

    For that reason and all of the reasons you mention, I sometimes think I could spend the rest of my life in a library and be content. As long as it had food and tea, of course. 😉

    1. Fannie, oh yes with food and tea. Coffee too–we get the best beans from a local store, free trade organic and delicious. It’s one luxury we bend to in our house. I like your point that books can get at truths that are concealed in social situations. It’s a privilege to be allowed inside another’s heart and mind, and through books we can visit with many that we wouldn’t otherwise meet in our daily lives.

  2. I love your idea of books providing meaning and community. It’s good to know we are not alone. I also drag the Norton Anthology of poetry around with me. I’ve had it for 20 years, and now my daughter has stolen it and comes to read William Blake to me while I’m in the bath.

    1. Charlotte, the other day I recited the first verse of “tiger tiger burning bright” and when I got to the word “symmetry” (shouted out), my children leaped onto my bed–tigers both.

  3. These are lovely answers, Lilian! I must read May Sarton, who has been on my list for an age, and devote myself to more Angela Carter too. Her use of language is extraordinary.

    1. Litlove, thank you. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Angela Carter and still there are scenes that are vivid in my mind. I’d like to re-read her, too. That’s another wonderful thing about this meme. It returns me to books I haven’t thought about for a while.

  4. This was lovely. I need to check out May Sarton, if the rest of her poetry is like the poem you provided, I will enjoy her work immensely. I love the community aspect of reading, which seems so contradictory since reading is such a fundamentally solitary activaty. I love that it has both sides.

    1. Verbivore, I haven’t read May Sarton for a while. Re-reading that poem made me want to get a book of hers as well. Aside from poetry, she also wrote memoirs and novels, but it’s the poetry I’d like to have another look at. Fortunately today is library day!

  5. Oh, the Norton Anthology. I can see mine from where I sit; it’s been a while between poems, I must pull it out and have us reacquainted. A lovely meme, Lilian, and a truly great line by May Sarton! I know just what she means!

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