Notes From My (Book) Shelf: Holiday 2015


The irascible E.B. White -- one of my favorite writers and a fellow Mainer -- once said, "If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy; if the world were merely challenging that would be no problem; but I wake up each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."

Wouldn't it be great if we could figure this out? Most of us muddle through the dilemma, trying to get it right and every once in a while there is a beautiful day when it works. I find myself yearning for those moments since everything feels so high-speed, creating demands and the need to always be rushing.

In reading about Oliver Sacks, who the world lost this year, I found a model and source of inspiration to create a path for more of those exquisitely balanced days. Whether you are reading one of the 14 books he published or watching one of the 17 plays, documentaries or movies made about him or his books, you are struck by the singular sense of curiosity, compassion and joy he brought to us all.

As he said, "I love to discover potential in people who aren't thought to have any." He discovered and shared this about people with brain injuries (The Mind's Eye), autistic savants (An Anthropologist on Mars), the deaf (Seeing Voices), and of course his bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Reading these books rearranges our brains, expands how we view the world and how we think about those that are different, and we come away enriched.

And here we come full circle. Weeks before he passed away, he wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times titled Sabbath. He concluded in that piece, "and now weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worth-while life -- achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one's life as well, when one can feel that one's work is done, and one may in good conscience rest."

What a prescription for both saving and savoring the world. I was inspired and knew this was what I wanted to share with you -- and then a lovely surprise occurred. In looking up the titles of all his books, I discovered that a collection of his recent essays was posthumously put together in a slim volume called Gratitude. This is really what reading his books brings us -- an enthusiasm for all life can offer -- even if we have challenges and struggles and illness.

Right now the world is certainly messy and complicated and even frightening, but tucked into a pocket of the day is the opportunity for gratitude. In our little corner of the planet -- we at R.J. Julia come to the end of our 25th year appreciative, jubilant and honored that we have had the opportunity to be part of this community, to put the right book in your hands in the store, online or via our personalized subscription service Just The Right Book, to be touched by your stories and provide a place to rest, to restore, to learn and to come together.

Wishing you the grace to both savor and save the world,