July 28, 2010


On Saturday, I did the unthinkable. I turned down the armload of books a friend offered me when we met for coffee. She’s a reviewer for a small newspaper so she receives a steady stream of new arrivals. I know how quickly new releases can accumulate when a person is in a position to give a book public attention. I used to volunteer as a reader for a PBS radio station that read books aloud to shut-ins and the visually impaired. Each week I had numerous titles to choose from. Most of these were midlist books that didn’t have a long shelf life; but I enjoyed many of them because they took me on adventures I might otherwise never experience.

One book was about a woman whose mother was dying of cancer and as the woman grieved, she took solace from the rhythms of the seasons and the habits of the wildlife where she lived. Another woman was a kayaker who wrote about one arduous journey which opened her to a spiritual experience that was life changing. Yet another author wrote about being struck by lightning not once but twice and believed he’d gained psyche abilities because of it.

I could go on and on about the pages through which I’ve wandered. For 5 years I read at that station until, for financial reasons, the programming ended. 

Since then, my book choices have become less varied. In one sense, that is a bad thing. I’ve never read another kayaking story, or one about a psychic, or any books describing the gut wrenching emotions of losing a loved one. I learned by reading from those earlier books. But left on my own, I tend to choose subjects that give me comfort or take me on an adventure that isn’t too scary. I mention scary because when I was young, I read “The Exorcist” and didn’t get much sleep for a week after I’d finished it. The book was a wonderful read, but now I opt for stories that won’t interfere with sleep.

Wanting a good night’s rest is a good thing, but narrowing my choices isn’t. I try to be mindful of this. After I’ve lulled myself with a genteel mystery, like one of Carola Dunne’s “Daisy Dalrymple” series, I chose a book that is informative.   Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” is one example, a work of non-fiction about governments and the free market that terrified me more than “The Exorcist.” 

Life is always a tightrope walk between wanting to feel safe and needing to stay open to new experiences. I use my books as a barometer to check on how I’m doing. I’m not as eclectic as I once was, but I am making an effort to keep a broad view.