Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Ah, books.

A day of serendipity snuck up and grabbed me this week. Don't you love how God knows to pin-point precision what will set your particular soul to soaring? It was two days after a late night return from the Dallas conference, and I hied me out to a coffee shop in search of a stilled brain and a bit of soulish food. I took music for the car, more notebooks than any one person could possibly need, and my coupon for a free mocha cappuccino at a favorite cafe.

First, I wrote. I was high on words. I sat at a big corner table, spread my papers all out before me, one notebook for story, one for journal, one for study, and went through them in rounds until I had an essay, three paragraphs of fiction, and a few scraps of poetry scratched out on various pages. Then, I read. I opened to an essay by Orhan Pamuk on the essential inner world of novelists. And then, when the last dregs of mocha had been drained and my pen had run dry, I shopped... for books.

Cooking, long dappled-day walks, and used-book shopping are my particular brands of catharsis. I started with Goodwill. One glance at their shelves convinced me that some blessedly oblivious soul had recently dumped a treasure of a children's library. I know I must seem an incorrigible book worm, but finding books like this fills me brimful with a Pollyannish joy. The beauty of the pictures, the stories to spark a soul to life right in those glossy, compact covers, and the thought of all the people I hope to share these stories with. I can't help myself. The books themselves...

Five hard-to-find works of children's literature from the Dial Children's Classics collection. If you don't collect these, you should. I do. Leather bound, acid-free paper, big, easy font, unabridged editions of the children's classics, with glossy page illustrations by mostly golden-age artists. This is my for-all-time, to be read by great-grandchildren set of classics.

Richard Scarry's word books, and Eloise Wilkin's bedtime story: I grew up on these! When my family lived in Austria, we had the darling Richard Scarry books with German and English side by side, and as a child, I spent hours poring over the pictures of bunnies, cats, bears, pigs, all going about their business in the small town of the book. And Wilkin's book- hers is the picture on the left. It's no wonder I got this strange idea that reading aloud is good.

A Michael Hague prayer book for kids. Do you all know Michael Hague? He is one of my favorite illustrators... ever. There is this fairy-tale, yet earthy tang to his drawings, and every picture is chock full of detail and interest. To look at them still gives me that sense of being taken to a land entirely strange.

And then... Charlotte's Web, and The Penderwicks, and an illustrated treasury of children's stories. Plus, a leatherbound, specially illustrated edition of my second-favorite Dickens: David Copperfield. Two pictures books new to me, but mesmerizing, one in its humor, For I Will Consider My Cat, Jeoffrey, and one for its luminous illustrations and poignant story, Waiting for the Evening Star.

And that summed up my spate of serendipity. Thanks for humoring this book euphoria, I'm just assuming you want to rejoice with me. But its so lovely to have your soul filled up with joy. These books represent beauty, mystery, deep souls, all of them. Finding them, writing, thinking, were the jolt of grace I needed to re-enter home life after a weekend of exhaustion. I dreamed the whole half hour home in five o'clock traffic down the busiest street in the city of the library I'll someday have. Of the books I want to write and add to this lovely number. Of the people I want to share these books with, the kids who might just find a bookish surprise in the mail.

Ah. I hope a day of serendipity strikes you with unexpected force this week. If it does, you should definitely let me know what delights it brought you. And if you stumble upon book treasures as I have... do share.