Volume XVIII, Issue Two | June 2020
My Five Books
Recently, the editor of the alumni magazine at my alma mater, the University of Denver, asked several of us to list the five books we’d take if we were stranded on a desert island—or in this case, home-bound due to coronavirus.
My first thought was the Bible. What’s more comforting than that? Besides, there are Old Testament chapters that I’ve never even tried to read. But I figured everybody else would list the Bible and I ought to come up with something different. So these are the books I listed:
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. You know if you’ve read any of my book suggestions in Piecework that I love Lamott’s books on faith. They’re all good but Traveling Mercies, her first one, is my favorite. She writes for people who don’t know what they believe, which is particularly apt in these difficult times when we’re trying to figure out God’s purpose. Her favorite prayers are “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” I find that pretty much covers it. I almost listed her Bird by Bird, which is every writer’s favorite book on writing, but these days, I need answers to bigger questions than how to write a book.
One Hundred and One Famous Poems. This 1928 volume belonged to my dad. When I was growing up, families had only a few books, and I read this one so often that it was tattered. I claimed it after Dad died and had it rebound. I liked to memorize poetry when I was little and loved the cadence of such poems as “The Highwayman.” At Christmas a couple of years ago, I recited Eugene Field’s “Jest ‘For Christmas” from memory. I first read William Shakespeare and Edna St. Vincent Millay in that book. And although poets such as James Whitcomb Riley are forgotten today, I still get emotional when I read his “Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.” These poems take me back to my childhood.
The Tenmile Range by Belle Turnbull. I was surprised that I picked two books of poetry, because I don’t even like poetry that much. But I love Belle’s book because it evokes the Breckenridge I knew when I moved there as a bride in 1963. The poems were about the mining town people who stayed on after the gold played out. Some of those folks were still there in the 1960s. When I wrote Prayers For Sale and The Last Midwife, I drew heavily on Belle’s poems as well as the novels of her roommate, Helen Rich. The two lived in a log cabin when I knew them and took their whiskey neat. Helen encouraged me to write about Summit County, and I did, although it took me many years to do so.