While Chip is vacationing in Hawaii, look for posts from the rest of the MacGregor Literary staff. Not surprisingly, “Favorite Books” is the topic of choice for our crowd of book lovers. Don’t be afraid to chime in with your thoughts on these top picks.
Sandra Bishop is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary, Inc. and represents fiction and nonfiction authors in multiple genres and with varying levels of publication background. She was recently named Vice President of the agency.
When I was growing up, my grandmother always kept a copy of GONE WITH THE WIND by her chair. Always.
When she needed to put her feet up and rest from her work, she would grab it and read a passage—it rarely mattered where she’d left off. She didn’t use bookmarks. She’d just pick it up and “visit with Scarlett,” sometimes out loud.
I have a fondness and appreciation for the commercial success of Ms. Mitchell’s book, of course, but mostly my fondness is driven by how much the book reminds me of someone I loved dearly. I consider it one of my most fav-o-rite treasures, though I hesitate to leave it out in its condition. It lives on my bookshelf, its pages tattered and torn, and its cover made over with a scrap of wallpaper from Grandma’s last kitchen.
I’ve heard it said that if it were being sold today, it would never make it. Too much description. Pacing problems, etc. But that’s another blog post for another day, perhaps by someone who has read it more recently than have I.
I may not have inherited grandma’s everyday huger for tales of Tara, but I did retain her habit of reading a passage of a favorite book on occasion—just picking it up and thumbing to a random spot to read for a bit. It’s been awhile, though, since I’ve allowed myself the joy of stopping in for brief visits with Reuben, Swede, and Jeremiah Land of PEACE LIKE A RIVER by Leif Enger.
Having just pulled it from my shelf, I’ll do so now, though. In fact, I’ll just flip it open and see where it lands. I promise not to cherry pick, but to share a passage from wherever it falls open…
Remember August Shultz, in whose barley I made the most panicked job a boy ever did of shooting a wild goose?
At the bottom of a January cold snap we received a three-cent postcard from August:
Old friend Speedy came by last night. I wondered if he would and By Goodness he did. Weaselly skinny but strong, sends regards, we were glad to have him, Birdie had kielbasa, it went fast!
Aug & Birdi
PS: Best to your friend Andreeson
Agghhhhh!!! I landed on a tough patch from which to make my point about this book, and my love for reading it over and over and over. And over again.
It’s still possible, though, just by looking at the first three words of this passage. “Remember August Shultz…” Don’t you love that? It’s Reuben, the protagonist, asking if we remember, with him, a story he remembers about his father’s life long friend, a character to whom he’d actually not introduced us in person, though we’ve long by now gotten the feeling by now we know him just by sheer proximity to him having always been a part of their lives—if not in it on a regular basis.
To reinforce this, rather than just referencing August and explaining his importance to the family, he threads his own memory into the present, and brings us along with him, so we feel the weight of the moment when this important note arrives. In doing this, he warms us to his ongoing affection for this family friend, and it’s as if we’re family too. Which is perfect given the cryptic nature of the three-cent postcard which lets Reuben, Swede, and Dad know that their son and brother, Davy, is safe, and that they took a risk to love and feed him, even with someone menacing afoot. Of course they did. That’s what a lifelong friend of the family would do, right?
It seems simple, his way of asking “Remember August?” but it isn’t simple at all. It’s brilliant. Think of this: when you think of people who have always been in your life, how do you think of them? Do you see just their face? (Well, actually, perhaps in this day of Facebook you do!) Or do you usually, instead, feel their presence in relation to experiences you’ve shared? I am convinced that’s what the author was up to here. Maybe it just happened, and he used it. But, based on other “clever-but-not-feeling-clever” spots in the book, I don’t think so.
Like this one:
There’s this passage, later in the book, after Davy is long on the lam, in which Reuben and his kid sister Swede are invited to read an obit which had been tucked into a scrapbook by Roxanna, the woman who pumped gas for them after they’d miraculously driven for hours on no gas, through “wind-sacked, immobile towns with Presbyterians and Lutherans, and secure Methodists standing around their church doors.” (Not having come from the plains, I wondered, did Methodists need to be extra secure to stand outside?)
Anyway, the reading of the obit at this point in the story is, particularly to Swede, a nine year old girl who had “lost her heart to the West early on” (how much earlier could it have been, one briefly wonders, but then marvels at the charm of it) is significant because it invites her (and us) to ponder Roxanna’s theory that Butch Cassidy didn’t actually die in Bolivia, a fugitive. That he died in Kansas, Jonas Robert Work, a decade and half before, in the wind swept town of Reece. This notion is introduced to them by Roxanna, just when they need to know that that she knows the adventure, the quest, they are on to find Davy will, quite possibly not end as anyone expects, and that things are not always only as they appear, and that sometimes, even, regular stories disguise the most ambitious legends. Or is it that legends disguise the most regular of stories?
The build up to this notion is perfect, and casual, and yet I can feel Swede hanging on the edge of her seat, wide-eyed, her imagination pining at every word as it develops. The drawing out is purposeful and well placed and masterful, and feeds our own hope, as well as Swede’s and Reuben’s, just when we all need it.
This is an amazingly clever book, and yet it doesn’t feel clever, somehow. On one level, it’s just a story about a widowed Dad trying to raise his kids in the 1950’s. It’s Americana, and a fresh story about miracles. It’s a quest for justice, and a time worn tale about the power of familial love and sacrifice. It’s a story that inspires us to believe that the memories of our lives will live on, and one which reminds us that we can be just as much in the making of them, as in their telling later.
I’ll admit, I read the beginning and the end most often, just to feed my need for the story. And when I do, I am at once transported and reminiscent. I remember the before and the ahead of it. All that led there, and everywhere else we’re headed. And each time, I practically swoon—though never as hard as the first time, the time when I’d first closed the cover, tears streaming down my cheeks, and had literally clutched it to my chest, then turned immediately back to page one to start again.
But it’s been too long, actually, since I’ve allowed myself to wander in and out of this family’s quest for their Davy. I’m feeling inspired to do so again. Tonight though, my eyes are heavy. I’ll start tomorrow. For, after all, tomorrow is another day.