In the pandemic at 75 and counting, housebound has been an adverb with increasing frequency in my life. One of the places I find peace and engagement is in reading quality literature.
Reading has transcended the everyday. It has taken me to places I have never been. When the writing has been particularly top notch, my encounter has been amplified.
In the summer of 1963, between high school and college, I read voluminously. I even went so far as to read a 930 page tome called An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser published in 1925. It was a best seller at the time and is debatably a classic. I found it to be powerful prose. The summer of reading fed my soul. It probably was a factor when my score on a freshman composition test precluded me from an otherwise required composition course. Missing that mundane course was a gift.
Then jump if you will to almost 60 years later, to my almost seven years of retirement. In that period I’ve read much more widely than in that summer of ’63. Two books in particular were memorable.
I enjoyed The Color of Water. It was a memoir by the acclaimed composer, instrumentalist, memoirist and fiction writer, James McBride. He alternated chapters with the story of his mother (born an Orthodox Jew, but a convert to Christianity), with memoirs of his own life. His mother’s staggering ability to raise her twelve, half Jewish and half African American brood, essentially alone, was reason enough to relish the book. She was the widow of two, kindly, African Americans, both of whom died young. All of her offspring became quite successful.
As a boy, James McBride asked his mother what color God was and she said, “…the color of water.” But the mother-son story’s majesty was even exceeded by the author’s enormous creative gifts as a writer.
The finest fiction I read, and have ever read, was John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Steinbeck, who won the Pulitzer and Nobel, considered it his finest work. It is a brilliant mix of engrossing character studies with a profound story of good and evil. He also wrote beautiful descriptions of California, the state I’ve called home for almost forty three years. He clearly had the same love for this part of the world that I do.
May your day, by the grace of God, include the richness of a book you truly love.