Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The right book at the right time

"A book is like a key that fits into the tumbler of the soul. The two parts have to match in order for each to unlock. Then - click - a world opens." Brad Kessler Goat Song

To say that I devoured this book is not exactly correct. I read it avidly over a period of the 22 hours since I got it from the library, with breaks for gardening and meals and sleep. And, happily, it is still available for me to read again. so I didn't consume it so much as it consumed me.

But I did devour the goat cheese from Vermont, made in the same valley and manner described in this book, that I bought at the Tomkins Square Farmer's Market in NYC in April. It wasn't until the last chapter that I realized that I had actually tasted the cheese he describes making, step by careful step. So now I have another sense memory to a book that goes up there with my all time favorites.

I have for the last few years been fascinated with sheep and goats and yarn (and knitting and weaving and dyeing). This has led to an interest in the behavior of these animals, who often act very differently but are nonetheless herd animals. Which has led to long ruminations (forgive me) on the nature of prey animals and predator animals. Herd animals gather together so that if a predator attacks, only the weakest on the edges will be picked off leaving the central core to survive. Kind of like 8th graders if I remember right.

Kessler takes my minimal knowledge and musings to an amazing level. Did you know that Swedish women used to sing to their herds in the mountains - secret songs that they would not share with men? Have you ever considered the connection between spiritual awakening and shepherding? (Moses, Muhammad, Krishna.) That shepherds and goat herds have traditionally been bards, creating poetry and songs that became the foundation of world literature?

And the writing. Oh, Brad, you can write. Each sentence is beautiful. Descriptions so natural but powerful that you are there on the mountain with the goats as the Carthusian Monastery in the next valley rings the bells for prayer.

I do not expect everyone to go pick up a copy of Goat Song just because I loved it so much. It is rare that this kind of connection between book and reader is made. I always want to love my books, to disappear into them the way I did when I was a kid, sitting on the kitchen stool over the hot air register, reading amidst the chaos of the family so intently that I often had to be called three or four times to bring me up out of my book trance.

Nowadays finding a book that does that for me is unexpected. You wander into the library and look at the books with those yellow "New" stickers and wonder what might catch your fancy. Sometimes you find a book that opens the door to your soul. And you never know when it will happen. I read Geraldine Brooks' March almost halfway through before I became entranced by it. Every time I pick up The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed I am carried away by her writing and I learn some new insight about slavery times. I am barely more than halfway through. It is too rich to eat/read in large amounts.

I don't read only literature or high quality nonfiction. Sometimes I read junk, a stupid mystery or a romance novel (always with an interesting setting or historical era) or a airport bookstore thriller. That's because if Kessler is right, sometimes I don't want to go into my soul and deliberately avoid books that might take me there. Or maybe I can't find the key that day, so compromise with passing the time.

"Reading good books ruins you for reading bad books" says Julia Ashton in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. (I listened to this one as an audio book and thoroughly enjoyed it.) Sadly, this is true. I have been known to throw a book across the room in rage at the bad writing. Where are the editors? Do they just publish whatever a writer sends them? I'm working myself up here, and will now calm down.

I'm sad to finish Goat Song this morning, but surely there is another gem in the pile of books that are my planned summer reading. But it has to be the right book for the right moment. The key has to fit before I can disappear into the book. This, my friends, is my excuse for keeping too many books around. You never know when one might be just right for this moment.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding me of this. I am going to get a copy of Goat Song. I seem to remember hearing an interview w/ the author on NPR a while back and being into woolie creatures, well. Enough said. I would recommend Ivan Doig's Dancing at the Rascal Fair as a great listen.