Wednesday, April 14, 2010
BOOKS THAT CALL MY NAME
When I was young, I was always on the search for a good story, and I never thought a memoir was it. In grade school, I opened the covers of a book, and if the narrator was an “I”, I snapped the covers closed and moved on. Somewhere along the way to now, memoir became one of my favorite genres. I guess I grew into some kind if a voyeur since I love peeking into real people’s real lives, gleaning tips on how to handle my own.
As an avid reader even in childhood, I always checked out my Gran’s book shelves. She read a lot of Perry Mason, some romances, subscribed to Reader Digest Condensed Books, and kept a few memoirs around. On her special shelf, I found a journal by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In my youthful innocence, I asked her why she read such a boring book. When Gran died, she still had in her possession a bio about the Lennon sisters and a couple of books by Anne Morrow Lindbergh that I brought home and put away. A few years later, I started reading a copy of Gift of the Sea that I had picked up causally in a book store. Wait a minute, wasn’t this the same author Gran read? I dug her books out and started reading Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead; I was fascinated by the writing, by Lindbergh’s story. I started reading everything by Lindbergh I could find, amazed that I had not heard her calling me to her pages sooner.
Years ago, I was at the library with kids in tow and loaded up on a stack of books. Once I was home, I opened A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle and immediately wondered what I had been thinking when I pulled it off the shelf. Probably distracted by a yelping toddler while reaching for another title was my guess. I tried to push through the paragraphs, but the book made my mind wander; I gave up and put it in the return pile. Years later, I came across the book again as I meandered through the biography stacks. I pulled it, opened the covers, and read a snippet before I recognized the title. It was wonderful! Talked right to me, being a busy mother and wanting to be a writer! I took it home and read like a starving man eats, with both hands. I went back and started a love affair with Madeleine L’Engle works, especially her first person books and memoirs. I have now read Circle of Quiet at least three times over the years and will read it again in the future.
I don’t remember reading anything by Phyllis Theroux, but her new book that came out in March, The Journal Keeper, A Memoir, has a nice cover and inviting subjects. I saw it on book lists, displayed in stores, fingered it a few times, and thought, “Nice, maybe for someday”. Then, while meandering through the Watermark on Easter weekend, the book appeared again shouting at me like a petulant child that would not be ignored. I read the flap and decided to take it home.
Theroux writes on her life with her unique mother (who sees spirits), financial worries, the angst of aging, on the struggles of living a writing life. While many of her comments honestly speak of her depression and worries, each dark thought is countered by a bright comment begging us to value each minute, to live in the now, to experience joy everyday.
Many of Theroux’s lines resonated with me as a writer and as a woman:
“One of the strongest illusions in life is that another person’s love will liberate us.”
“Poetry excavates, blasts, cuts through the flab.”
Writing...“is like drilling for oil, having the faith it is down there.”
Quoting Bill Moyers, “I don’t believe life has meaning. I believe we give life meaning.”
“Unless you are able to let go, to reinvent yourself and endure the pain of feeling your ego collapse…getting older is not a gift.”
“Writing…a rope one weaves with words than can either lower you below or hoist you above the surface of your life.”
Theroux’s book definitely called my name, and I am so glad I heard the summons. If you think it might call yours too, check out Theroux’s book and writing life with comments and a nice video at www.journal-keeper.com .