Words and spirit were the stuff of my favorite books this year,beginning with Jen Bryant’s and Melissa Sweet’s already award-winning and multiply-starred picture book THE RIGHT WORD – ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS (Eerdmans Books, 2014).
This story of how Dr. Peter Roget came to create a Thesaurus has been lauded for its lyrical text and brilliantly-detailed reader-friendly illustrations. I laud it for its celebration and love of words, its accessible story-telling of a one-of-a-kind long-ago individual hell bent on listing each and every one, its brilliant use of synonyms and downright gorgeousness. Just as every writer needs a Roget’s Thesaurus by his side, those of us who love words and good storytelling need THE RIGHT WORD on our bookshelf.
Peter Roget remarks in the story “how wonderful it was to find just the right word!”
My very sentiments.
Mark Repo’s THE BOOK OF AWAKENING (Conari Press, 2011) sits on my bedside table for daily reading.I love its subtitle: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.
A philosopher-poet and author, Repo wrote this book when “freshly on the other side of cancer.”
He chose to exchange his life of words, he wrote, for a life of spirit.
Each day’s entry offers a parable or a tradition, a quote or an insight, a poem or verse, followed by Repo’s beautifully-written comments and a related meditative exercise.
Admittedly I don’t always do the exercises but instead journal about the eye-opening, heart-opening truths.
Today’s December 15 entry opens with the truth, “The sun doesn’t stop shining because people are blind.”
Repo then offers examples from the lives of Goya and Melville and closes with these words:
“No one can really know what you are called to or what you are capable of but you. Even if no one sees or understands, you are irreplaceable.”
Ariel Sabar’s MY FATHER’S PARADISE is a book of words and spirit.Subtitled A SON’S SEARCH FOR HIS FAMILY’S PAST, journalist Sabar tells the story of his father Yona, a distinguished professor and author of the only dictionary of the language of Jesus, Aramaic. Aramaic was the language Yona's Jewish family spoke in the remote Kurdish village of Zakho in northeast Iraq. Mostly illiterate, Yona’s people lived harmoniously with their Muslim and Christian neighbors, considering themselves descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Part memoir, part history, part linguistic primer, part geography, at its core is the author’s story of reconnecting with a father he’d disparaged for his differentness. As the book’s cover states, it is “a son’s epic journey back to his father’s lost homeland.”
The writing is superb, as in National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Autobiography, allowing me to live inside this so unfamiliar story, no matter the locale, no matter the time period.
“I am the keeper of my family’s stories," Sabar wrote. "I am the guardian of its honor. I am the defender of its traditions. As the first-born son of a Kurdish father, these, they tell me, are my duties. And yet even before my birth I resisted.”
Sabar’s page-turning telling had the writer in me breathless, not to mention, envious.
Finally, I consider Jacqueline Woodson’s BROWN GIRL DREAMING (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, 2014) a book of words and spirit too.the novel in verse tells the story of Woodson’s childhood in the Jim Crow 60’s and 70’s and her longing to become a writer.
I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting, then promptly returned to the first page and began again.
Just the way Beverly Cleary took me back to West Philadelphia at age 9 with the mention of Ramona’s pink plastic raincoat, Jacqueline Woodson pierced my little girl’s longing to be a writer.
"You’re a writer, Ms. Vivo says,
her gray eyes bright behind
thin wire frames. Her smile bigger than anything
so I smile back, happy to hear these words
from a teacher’s mouth."
May theabove books gift you as they’ve gifted me this year.
Merry! Happy! Cheers for the New Year!