Friday, December 4, 2009
Don’t Forget Your Mittens Today!
We had snow yesterday, but the day wasn’t all that cold. Today is something different. Try doing anything outdoors with bare hands, and the frigid wind will teach you a lesson fast. If I were as young and agile as Sarah and as given as she is to running instead of walking, I suppose I wouldn’t feel the cold as much. As it is, my exposed fingers nearly froze while I was cutting rose hips to add to my Christmas tree at the bookstore.
An early start to the morning, though, gave me time to warm up again with a cup of coffee at Barb’s Bakery, where the odors and colors and lights are an oasis this time of year. Besides tempting sweets, Barb has gorgeous rugs, shawls and colorful, inexpensive jewelry she brought back from her winter home in Turkey. (It’s our own little Up North souk!) She also has several decorated trees and lots of strings of lights. The little dough boys are my favorites.
On to Dog Ears Books on Waukazoo Street! Have I announced the recent arrival of Jim Harrison’s new novel, The Farmer’s Daughter? There are still signed copies left, too, of Isadore’s Secret and Good Harbor Bay and Destination Leelanau for those who missed the authors when they were here to sign. Another reminder: selected new books--some travel, some dog-related, some political—have been marked down for holiday sale.
My book highlight today, however, is Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book: Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life, edited by Anita Silvey. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this book, but I need to say more about it. Surely anyone who loves books would have loved books as a child. So what book-lover wouldn’t love this book? The title is corny, a little sappy, I admit. (Sorry! That’s my opinion!) Don’t let that stop you. Open it, take five minutes to browse its delightful, engaging pages, and you’ll be sold.
A diverse group of over 100 contributors (including Sherman Alexie, Kathy Bates, Roger Ebert, Steven Pinker, Jack Prelutsky, Maurice Sendak, Anne Tyler and Andrew Wyeth, to name only a few) wrote essays for this volume. Each of them chose a memorable book from their childhoods and said why it was important to them. Steven Pinker, for example, chose The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, writing of it, “It forced me to think about nested sets, infinitesimals, Zeno’s paradox, and other concepts in mathematics.” (Did you get that out of it? I don't think I did, but who knows?) Lesley Stahl learned that “You can remake your world by using your imagination,” and she learned this lesson from Pink Ice Cream, by Launa Latham, an obscure children’s book that is probably unknown to most of us. One of my childhood favorites (how would I ever choose just one?), J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, was singled out by Gail Carson Levine, who drew this exclamation of a lesson: “How precious is our term on earth.”
Each two facing pages presents only one book, though occasionally more than one person has chosen the same book. On the left there is a generous, page-length excerpt, usually illustrated if the book chosen had illustrations. A narrow column on the left-hand side of the right page shows the cover of the book and tells something of its history and the author, leaving the remaining two-thirds of the right-hand page for the contributor’s personal essay (of which, in my examples, I have only given the headlines).
This is not the first book I’ve seen in which contributors choose a book important to them and explain why. It is, however, the most attractive, the easiest to understand, and the most evocative of the pleasures of reading, especially when begun in childhood. I recommend it for readers from 12 to 95 years of age. It's a book to savor and to enjoy again and again.