Once a week during the summer, my mother drove the four of us in her little Ford Falcon to the City of Downey library. All the way there, she admonished us to keep in mind our five-book check-out limit and carefully select which books would come home to live with us that week. All the way home, she reminded us not to spend the rest of that afternoon and evening reading them all, because she didn’t want to hear the next day that “we had nothing to read.” Of course, each week that’s exactly what we did, and the next day that’s exactly what we said. For my mother and for us, the rest of the week passed slooowly as we re-read that which we sped-read, looking forward to our return to the book wonderland.
Coming through six months of chemo, friends ask me for my book recommendations, figuring that surely I’ve read something new. You would have thought I would have plowed through a lot of best sellers, but once the achiness, headaches, and general brain fog kick in, I can’t absorb, retain, and enjoy anything new. Instead I find myself reaching for the familiar friends on my bookshelves, just to dip in and reconnect.
So if I were Prospero shipwrecked on an island as in The Tempest, here’s what I hope would be in the crate of books washed ashore with me, in no particular order:
1. The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words by Ronald C. White, Jr.: a wonderful analysis of the development of Lincoln’s rhetoric.
2. A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski: my urban planning hero, who created New York’s Central Park and one of our country’s first regional plans.
3. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Alexander, Ishikawa, et al.: changed the way I look at the built, and unbuilt, environment.
4. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: because the Count covers everything.
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: just because, and until we figure out Mr. Darcy.
6. The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston: more appealing to me that Thoreau’s Walden, it captures why I love the beach and brings back powerfully happy memories of reading this during our Cape Cod vacation.
7. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin: my favorite childhood book.
8. The Year I Ate My Yard by Tony Kienitz: written by a fellow Pasadenean who gives laugh-out-loud inspiration for growing what you eat.
9. Speaking of eating, the culinary writing of M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, Julia Child. . .
10. The poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings.
And last but not least, the Gospel of Matthew, Luke Chapter 24, and Alma Chapter 32.
For yesterday’s five-hour infusion, I packed along a variety of things to read while hooked up to the IV. But I know better now to think that I’m going to get very far before the pre-meds – heavy-duty Tylenol, Claritin, and the steroids – bring on drowsiness. I switched out de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life for this month’s Ensign pretty quickly. Today I’m back in the now-familiar routine of tackling projects around the house as I feel the systems slowing down. Time for more Tylenol, another chapter of de Certeau, and a nap.