“Mama, have you seen Marcus Aurelius and did we find Rumi?”
“No, but I know they’re in a pile in the office with Emily Dickinson and Thoreau.”
Montaigne, Walt Whitman, Seneca, Mary Oliver, Ursula Le Guin, Emerson, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, Homer, Rebecca Solnit, Richard Dawkins, Oliver Sacks, Livy, Viktor Frankl, Marcus Aurelius, Mary Beard, Shakespeare.
These are some of the names that line our book shelf. We have books on philosophy, history, neuroscience, productivity, art history, poetry, classic literature, politics, business, women’s studies, evolutionary biology, organizational behaviour, biographies, education, plants and trees, and many of the kids’ favourite fiction.
Over the years, these people have been my closest companions. Lately, I watch as my kids build their own relationship with them. I never forced them to read any of it. I have read passages aloud because I found them beautiful. Since they were little, there have always been books on the coffee table.
In a place where mold and moisture are enemies to the written word, we took a risk and brought most of our library with us to the jungle. It was non-negotiable for my family especially because we have no internet.
When there was no option to buy new books during lockdown, we could rediscover old ones. Here is a list of some that I re-read:
Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for presence.
David Haskell’s The Song of Trees to maintain my wonder and awe at the beauty of nature.
David Epstein’s Range for encouragement.
Cal Newport’s Deep Work for research.
John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath for perspective.
Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lao Tzu and The Tao Te Ching for equanimity.
Anne Lamott’s Grace (Eventually),of course, because it’s Anne Lamott.
Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems for hope.
I do this all for me. I never had an agenda to push this onto my kids.
But one day, one tells me that she wants to learn more about the Transcendentalists. Another one copies down the Stoic quotes by Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius daily. Another one decides she wants to get to know Virginia Woolf better. When she finishes To The Lighthouse , she says, “How can something be so beautiful and so sad?” Another one doesn’t really want to read but when we are all reading, decides to grab one of his favourite graphic novels that I have read to him a hundred times and starts reading it on his own.
Another one hates washing dishes. As she slowly walked to the sink, I heard her talking to herself:
“Is the soul solid like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl? Who has it, and who doesn’t? I keep looking around me…”
I wanted to remark, “I am glad that Mary Oliver can get you to do the dishes.” But I bit my tongue and appreciated the moment.
Books offer us a world beyond our reality and help us envision a new one. Looking back, I see how this all started with Chris and our love of learning;our love of seeking and asking over and over again the same sages but a different stages of our life. Each time I open Rumi, he has something new to give – a tiny parcel of a piece of me I had forgotten.
A child just called me from their bedroom to say, “Mom! I just found this quote that I never noticed before in A Wrinkle in Time! I have read this book five times and never saw it!”
She flips to the page and it’s at the very end where Madeleine L’Engle’s Newberry Medal acceptance speech is added. She reads to me the quote that has made her heart leap:
A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.