Bare trees with branches, tentacle-like, grasp. Exposed bark. Leaves cling to a few oaks, green tinged with yellow, orange, brown.
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. God has given us nature to surround us and wrap us like a garment, and I have had only a few moments of electrifying clarity in my life, always at the hands of an important book or nature. It seems no accident that mystics seek nature to sharpen their visions and their divine movements.
And perhaps there is a mystical connection with coffee.
Thanks to my parents for the blessing of their house, their little hermitage, their house tucked away in the woods that has often been a retreat over the years.
Mark Van Doren was a poet, critic, and professor born in Hope, Illinois (a couple hour drive from where I grew up). Educated at the University of Illinois and later Columbia University (where he would later become professor), he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1940. Highly influential, I first came across Van Doren’s name while reading the Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (still one of the most moving works I’ve ever read). As I post poetry on Wednesdays I am often learning about the poets alongside my blog readers. I can say, Mark Van Doren is a guy I’d like to know more about. Nevertheless, this poem struck when I came across it a few days ago, and I feel that it helps capture the essence of the creative story-teller, a vocation which knows that all is alive and life is a grand story to share. I hope it stirs your imagination as it has mine. When someone tells a good story, a “worm” is wakened “in the world’s brain” and nothing stands firms again. What great story has done this to you?
He talked, and as he talked
Wallpaper came alive;
Suddenly ghosts walked;
And four doors were five;
Calendars ran backward,
And maps had mouths;
Ships went tackward
In a great drowse;
Trains climbed trees,
And soon dripped down
Like honey of bees
On the cold brick town.
He had wakened a worm
In the world’s brain,
And nothing stood firm
Until day again.
Okay, okay. I know this is earth-shatteringly profound. But seriously, as cyclical a statement as this might seem (the way to develop a love for books is to keep reading but it’s difficult to keep reading without having a deep love of books), I’m learning how important this is. Here is my point: sometimes we challenge ourselves in what we read (as we should), but we hit a dry-spell. The gas runs out. We are weary (“even youths grow tired an weary”–Remember the Titans or The Bible, whichever you prefer). Netflix keeps looking more like a viable option to unwind. If this is you…QUICK! DON’T WASTE TIME…FIND A BOOK THAT REALLY APPEALS TO YOU OR DUST OFF AN OLD FAVORITE.
Keep pushing yourself in what you read…top shelf material. But if you’re reading game is getting a little dry then (to rip a Bible verse wildly out of context) REMEMBER YOUR FIRST LOVE! It’s okay to put something uninteresting down for just a little bit. I’m not suggesting that quitting halfway is a good, ongoing habit. I’m just saying that sometimes we need a little LTLC (Literary Tender Loving CARE…duh!).
I remember once I was reading this extremely dense philosophy book and, even though I was theoretically really interested in its contents, it was actually boring me to tears. But I felt that if I was going to read, I needed to be reading that book. The problem: I stopped reading altogether! Don’t let that be you. Plus, I can almost guarantee, if you’ll keep yourself reading in general, you’ll find a greater ease and desire to return to that top shelf material. So spice up your reading life!
Finally, here’s my personal reading template to use or toss aside: always I am reading one piece of nonfiction and one piece of fiction. Naturally I finish fiction novels much quicker than nonfiction (this may not be true for everyone), but I’m always reading both. Additionally, I mix up my fiction. This isn’t a hard, fast rule, but I usually go no more than two or three books in a row of either literary classics or contemporary fiction or even pop fiction. I want to read the canonized classics to understand why good literature is good literature (some of my all-time favorite books are more than a hundred years old). But I also want to read new literary fiction (Pulitzer type material) as well as The Hunger Games and other “pop” novels (aside: we’ll often find that “pop” novels have as much depth as “literary masterpieces;” they simply appeal on a different level).
So what story do you need to return to in order to fan that reading flame?
*This is the first post. If you aren’t familiar with the purpose of the blog, please check out the page “Mr. Caleb” to learn more.
Like nearly everything in life, reading is a discipline. It takes time and practice to develop good reading skills. But for many people I know, there’s also that book (or series of books) that really made them fall in love with reading. For me, it was The Chronicles of Narnia. There’s something powerful about tapping into our imagination… something that I hope happens this year in our classes. Personally, I think a room full of books is magical and inspiring in and of itself. So click here to read Buzzfeed’s “The 30 Best Places To Be If You Love Books.”