Embarrassment of Riches

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

As I’ve said before, sometimes people ask me how I choose what I’m reading. The easiest answer is to mention my book groups, which choose about eighteen titles a year for me. (One group meets every month, and one every other month.)

I’ve now read Ann Patchett’s essay collection These Precious Days three times. One book group chose it a few months ago. The other selected it for this month, and I finished rereading today. The first time was when it came out in 2021, because I read everything Ann Patchett produces as soon as I can. It’s a testament to her writing that These Precious Days gets better with each rereading.

My “It’s a testament” sentence above reminds me of “To the Doghouse,” an essay concerning Ann’s love for Snoopy and “Peanuts.” Once, she writes, a “smart, zealous, young copy editor” at the Atlantic told Ann to cut out the “it” at the beginning of a sentence, which Ann defines as a “syntactic expletive that has no meaning.” The “it” is a place filler, in other words.

Ann wonders if the editor would have counseled Dickens to find another opening sentence for A Tale of Two Cities (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”). The editor concedes that he would. And, she asks, would Snoopy have been allowed to write, “It was a dark and stormy night”?

“Not if he was writing for the Atlantic,” the young man replies.

The book is full of wisdom and grief and insight, but is also replete with amusing and witty passages like this.

After finishing These Precious Days, I stopped at the library to collect the books I have requested, some of which, I should say, I might not finish reading. I came home with a stack of five, recalling, as I always do, leaving the North Canton library as a kid with my sister and mom, happily weighed down with books.

Here’s how I chose the titles. Ann Patchett writes a whole essay recommending Kate DiCamillo, a children’s writer. I have heretofore read only Because of Winn-Dixie. Now I have Raymie Nightingale and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to look forward to.

I believe a YouTuber–either the Minimal Mom or Joshua Becker–recommended The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma, a self-helpy kind of book that may or may not help my self develop the habit of rising earlier in the morning.

Reader and friend Fran suggested I read Why Fish Don’t Exist, by Lulu Miller, an NPR science reporter. This memoir, subtitled A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, sounds like it’s in my, ahem, wheelhouse.

The last volume is called Shortcomings, a graphic novel by Adrian Tomine. I don’t read graphic novels as a rule. As I checked this book out, I struggled to remember why I had reserved it. I often have this problem, especially if I’ve waited a long time for the book to arrive at my neighborhood branch.

With a little online sleuthing at home, I figured it out. I recently saw a Newshour interview with Randall Park (to Northeast Ohioans, by the way, the name of a very large, now defunct shopping mall), who starred in the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat and, by the way, had a brief but funny role on The Office as a temporary replacement for Jim. Park has now directed the film Shortcomings, based on the graphic novel. That PBS interview inspired me to request the book.

Now I have five books to read, to add to those already waiting for me. Just as when I was a child, I sat in the library parking lot for a while, opening each book to look at the authors’ pictures and read the opening paragraphs.

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3 Responses to Embarrassment of Riches

  1. Kathy says:

    Sarah–So interesting! I love the clever title “Fixing My Gaze.”

  2. Sarah Becker says:

    One book I do remember why I chose it:
    Fixing my gaze, by Susan R. Barry.
    Turns out that Sue, a member of my walking group, is a neurobiologist and as a child had no stereovision: she could see only in 2-D. The book is her journey to relearning to see, and finally achieving stereovision. Memorable scene of the first thing she saw in 3-D: her steering wheel!
    Oliver Sacks wrote an essay about her, called Stereo Sue.
    She also wrote Coming to our senses: a boy who learned to see, a girl who learned to hear, and how we all discover the world. Looking forward to reading this one too!

  3. Jewel says:

    I chuckled at “wheelhouse.”

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