I ascribe to the theory that the book you’re supposed to be reading at a given time finds you.
— Fr. Ron Rolheiser, “Sixteen Books You May Want to Read,” The Catholic Times, January 8-14, 2011, p. 5.
A couple of weeks ago I ran across this quote while reading the local Catholic diocesan newspaper. This surprised me because I didn’t realize that someone other than myself believed in such a thing. For many years now I’ve allowed the spirit to move me, so to speak, when choosing what books to read. And, in most cases, I’ve not regretted doing that. I do lament that the spirit doesn’t move me towards books that are already on my shelf more often, but I figure, in due time it will. The spirit somehow moved me to purchase those books, so one day it will move me to read them too.
This day, I picked up The Catholic Times to do a little reading and relaxing after Church. My husband and I had eaten lunch and we were waiting until it was close to 2 pm so we could go on something called a Gallery Walk at our local library. We also wanted to explore the library a bit. This would have been the first time we visited it since we moved to this area about two months ago. Thumbing through the paper, I ran across this article: “Sixteen Books You May Want to Read.” Perfect, I thought, since we’re going to the library later. I already had a list of books in my head from my “to read” list. But, maybe something on this list would pop out at me. And, one of them did: A Mercy, by Toni Morrison.
Hmm, I thought. Maybe the spirit is moving me in this direction this time. Ok, off to the library we went. We didn’t see anything resembling people gathered for a Gallery Walk, so first we stopped at the shelves to see what kind of collection they had. It isn’t a very big library. The magazine section is tiny. My husband and I like to read different things so we split up and went to different sections. He went towards History; I stayed with Fiction. Sometime while he was gone, he found the “gallery.” In the back of the library, beyond the bathrooms, there’s a small room with a table in the center and art on the walls. No one was there, per se, except a few people seated at the table talking to each other. We walked in. I felt like we were intruders. No one said “Hi!” “Welcome!” Oh well. So, we went around the room looking at the paintings (drawings) by this month’s artist (they host a different local artist each month). We were the only ones doing this, which is a shame because this particular artist is so talented! She (I think, wish I could remember) draws in such detail that you can feel the materials of what she draws. This sounds weird, I know. How can you “feel” something when you’re just looking at it? But, trust me! I was just amazed.
After our “gallery walk”, we went back to the shelves to try to find books to check out. I still remembered A Mercy, by Toni Morrison. But, no luck. Not on the shelves. Then, I figured I’d look for books by Alexander McCall Smith. I liked the couple of books that I read in the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series, so I thought I’d look for another in the series to read. Except that I couldn’t for the life of me remember the author’s name. I tried randomly looking on the shelves to see if I could find the series of books, but no luck. So that was out. Then I remembered Life of Pi was on my “to read” list. But, again, I couldn’t remember the author’s name. Then I suddenly remembered The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A friend recently recommended it to me. But, again, no luck. Not on the shelves. So, I took a break and headed over to where my husband was. He was still browsing but hadn’t found anything yet either, though he did find a couple of possibilities. So, then, I started from the section he was in and decided to browse my way back to the Fiction section. Once I got past the Poetry section, the following popped into my head: “Sidney Poitier.” A book by him was on my “to read” list, though I couldn’t remember the title but I did remember it had “Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” in it. So, I worked my way over and sure enough. There it was. Apparently this is the book that I’m supposed to be reading at this moment in time.
As of today, I’m nearly finished with the book. Why did “this” particular book find me? Certainly, I like reading autobiographies and Sidney Poitier has definitely led an interesting life! Perhaps it was meant to rekindle my love of autobiographies? Perhaps I was just meant to read something less daunting than Jane Austen and more complex than Lorena McCourtney* at this time in my life? Perhaps there is some tidbit of advice that I was supposed to pay attention to? Perhaps this quote was supposed to speak to me, as I try to deal with my own anxieties, which seem to get worse and worse as the years go on:
What I would like is to create a neutral zone in which I am totally aware of everything that’s going on around me, yet am able to control my inner flow. I would be able to sit, figuratively, in this neutral zone and just breathe, and be aware that I am breathing, and not think of anything other than what I choose to think about; think as deeply as I wish about whatever I choose, examine it from every conceivable point of view, even examine the opposite of whatever it is….
Now, what would that do to me? I think that would be just plain wonderful: to have a neutral zone in which—when the trials of life begin to wear you down, when the concerns or obligations or just the pressure of the outside world imposes itself upon you…—you would be able to control your head and your sensitive innards to a point where you could order yourself to take it easy, settle down, and just relax.
— Sidney Poitier, Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter, Harper One: New York, 2008, p. 208-209.
* Note: The last 2 books I read were Emma, by Jane Austen and Invisible, by Lorena McCourtney.