Engaging the Mind: A Good Book

Faye Snider @ Newton Public Library Stacks

Faye Snider @ Newton Free Library Stacks

It’s been a long time since I’ve settled into a long read with a book that compels me. Valentine’s weekend, anticipating the forecasted dip into an artic freeze, I climbed the winding stairs to the Newton Free Library’s second floor lined with shelves of books.

The impulse to roam and cull the library stacks began in adolescence—the beginning of my separation from my close and loving mother and a sheltered home life. The freedom to discover and dip into stories, to savor and sample the details of stranger’s lives, was intoxicating. I did not know then that to choose a title such as Madam Curie: A Biography, would propel me into the life of a female physicist/chemist in France, her struggle as a woman in science, her happenstance discovery of radium metal in pitchblende, earning the honor as the first woman awarded the Nobel Prize.

I am grateful for the memory of curling up in a wing chair, eager to enter Madam Curie’s world. She was unlike any woman I had ever known— a mother, dedicated to her professional work—brave, engaged, compelling and oh, so smart in her mindful attention to detail. As I researched for this blog post, recalling the challenges and trajectory of her life, I realized that of course, she died as a result of exposure to the radiation emitting from the test tubes of radium she unwittingly carried in her pocket.

I prefer a true-to-life experience in the works I choose. In the stacks last week, I began my search with the name of an author suggested by a friend. The author did not appeal to me and in an instant, I entered an exploratory mode, methodically attending to other titles and reading first pages until I landed on The Gathering by Anne Enright.

I cannot tell you exactly why I chose Enright’s book. The fact that it was awarded the Man Booker Prize in 2007 caught my attention. It takes place in Ireland, which conjured the memory of a bucolic-green landscape, stone-walls shielding a rural two-lane road, people of wit and warmth, with poetic sensibility.

Enright is masterful in her ability to move between the past and present, the imagined and real. In all spheres, she is aware of relationships and their effect from multiple perspectives. She is, above all, mindful. In the very beginning, on page four, I note how she pays particular attention to her protagonist’s perspective of her childhood home—The house knows me. Always smaller than it should be; the walls run closer and more complicated than the ones you remember. The place is always too small.

I read The Gathering slowly. Enright’s lyrical, mystical writing demands it. Akin to listening to slow music, the rhythm dictates attentiveness. The varied beat of her language, the languor of her imagery lulls me to drift along, while the surprise as characters emerge and fade bolts me wide-awake. I am grateful for the ease of turning each page, the engagement of The Gathering.


8 thoughts on “Engaging the Mind: A Good Book

  1. Beverly Bader

    i was taken along on a visit to the Newton Public Library with you, and the joy and freedom of choosing a book! You painted the canvas with all the jewel colors that excite me when I discover a book that I love reading. Books have been my close and dearest friends since I was six years of age. I weekly visited the Washington Street Library in the Bronx to take my cherished friends home with me. I remember the excitement of wonderment! While reading, I could travel to many countries and taste the different family cultures.

    In your essay I found myself in a boat, rocking back and forth with the waves, as you described the author’s writing style, and included an excerpt from her book.

    Thank you Faye for renewing my deep gratitude for reading books. I never want to take this pleasure for granted. I wish to be mindful of how many days and nights my dearest friends kept me company during darkened twists and turns in the road.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Bev, we do have much in common. I’m so pleased that my essay evoked such essential and pleasurable memories.

      1. Beverly Bader

        Faye, I meant to tell you that I enjoyed seeing the lovely photo of you looking at a book in the library stacks.

        1. fayewriter Post author

          Thanks again, Bev. Marv & I had a fun photo shoot on Saturday. The lighting was especially good in the late afternoon.

  2. Hy Kempler

    You capture a truth about a good book.
    I’m reading boys in the boat and it takes me to places that I’ve never been particularly in the inside of an eight oar shell and its construction and racing. Also the description of some of the characters and their suffering as children and hard work helps me to redefine both of these.

    1. fayewriter Post author

      Thanks for your reflective comment, Hy. I heard many positive comments about “Boys in the Boat.”

Comments are closed.