Saturday, February 18, 2012

“We were raised to believe in books, music, and nature.” - Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

There's no one else I would rather hang out with in Chicago, Knoxville, Louisville, Seattle, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Prague, Salzburg, or Lucerne. Happy birthday, dear friend.

Because this might be the most random video on Youtube and because C and I may have spent more than one evening drinking and dancing to Dolly Parton. ...

Because you should know what a good writer my best friend happens to be...
Centrepiece, Summer 2009
Gift of reading lasts a lifetime
By Caroline Kraft ’02

As a little girl, I had lots of books. Books wrapped in indicative packaging and given to me as gifts, books covered in crinkly cellophane wrap from the library, books I picked out myself from our local, family-owned bookstore. I loved the smell of the shop. I loved walking slowly along the rows and rows of books, looking for Beverly Cleary’s name and hoping that they would have the new Ramona book I wanted.

I cannot say that I remember even the very basics of a number of those stories. However, I remember the feelings they left with me. Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji, with its haunting game of animals come to life and eerie sketch illustrations, still frightens me to think about. If I see a copy of Roald Dahl’s The Witches or Matilda, I can still picture the back of my dad’s head as he sat with his back resting against my bed, reading to me each night. I was not allowed to read ahead on my own; he may have liked Roald Dahl even more than me.

But as I grew up, it became clear that English was not exactly “my” subject. Almost to my chagrin, math was. And when the time came to choose a major, Centre offered so many opportunities, it was hard to decide which way to go. Maybe I was pushed by my history.

For despite my penchant for numbers, I chose to pursue a degree in English. Readers can always carry on a conversation. Readers have interesting and informed topics to discuss. Readers know how to tell stories. Readers can relate. Readers know something about everything.

I wanted to be a Reader.

I decided to become a Bachelor of Words. Dr. Rasmussen helped me realize the richness of reading Shakespeare. Dean Ward made the challenge of memorizing publication dates and recognizing quotes an energizing triumph. Dr. Lucas taught us all to love Faulkner. And after working for a publishing house for a few years after graduation, I decided to become a Master of Books (actually Writing, Publishing, and Literature).

By interning and working at Boston-based publishing houses such as Candlewick Press, Da Capo, and Houghton Mifflin, I had the opportunity to get to know some of the most brilliant storytellers. I got to spend my days with Readers. Not only that, I got to help nurture and support the careers of Writers! I spent a day-long conference with Chris Van Allsburg, and in his free time we talked about his books and the magic they brought to my childhood (namely the fear-invoking Jumanji). I traveled to New York to go from one Barnes and Nobel to another with a first-time young adult novelist while she signed copies of books. I picked her brain about what it was like to write, to dream up an imaginary world, to get that first bound copy of her book in the mail. To spend my professional life surrounded by beautiful words and stories and pictures—and the people who love these things with the fervor that I do—was simply amazing.

And although I (full disclosure) did leave the publishing industry, this year I am finding myself going back to my childhood roots. I spent many cold winter evenings in Chicago on the couch, reading my mother’s copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. It has her notes in it—the thoughts it stirred in her, the feelings it evoked. This book, a collection of thoughts on faith told in both a reverent and irreverent tone that is solely the author’s, was my friend. The author’s voice, my mother’s thoughts, all tucked into sheets of paper and held in my hands—I felt as though I was part of a community.

Years down the road, I may not remember many of Anne Lamott’s anecdotes from Traveling Mercies. But I know that I will remember the feeling of togetherness and fulfillment. And for those feelings—be they fright or fun or family—I choose to be a Reader.

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