Saturday, September 28, 2013

Deliriously in Love with Stories

When I moved into the office I am sharing with Brian this fall, there were some books on the shelves I had not seen, a book called The Most Wonderful Books: Writers on Discovering the Pleasures of Reading. It was edited by Michael Dorris and  Emilie Buchwald, and consists of fifty-something shortish essays by various writers, mostly describing how they came to be readers and/or the impact that reading has had on their writing. I've been dipping into it as time permits, and read one yesterday by Ted Kooser that cracked me up.

In it, he describes (with a precision and sense of humor my summary cannot begin to capture) coming down with pneumonia as a freshman in college and spending ten days in a hospital bed recuperating. He describes how he spent most of his time reading a book called King: A Dog of the North, which someone had left in the room. When his temperature went down, he started looking for the book, but it was nowhere to be found, and he eventually came to realize that in his delirium he had made up both the existence of the book and the very engrossing stories in it. Here's the concluding paragraph of the essay:

I've been a writer ever since. Oh, I'd written some poems before I got pneumonia, but it took pneumonia to make me serious about writing. The creation of King: A Dog of the North, a solid accomplishment of the imagination, may have given me the confidence to try my hand at letting my imagination carry me forward, toward other stories, and poems, and essays like this one. And whatever success I've had as a writer I may owe in some part to that magnificent silver-haired German shepherd who vanished into the frozen wasteland once he had finally seen me back to health. Writing late at night, sometimes I think I hear his great paws padding through the snow.

And as long as I'm at it, I thought I'd add in this poem (you can see him read it on his web site) that comes at writing from another, quite wonderful direction:


Spinning up dust and cornshucks
as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields,
it sucked up into its heart
hot work, cold work, lunch buckets,
good horses, bad horses, their names
and the names of mules that were
better or worse than the horses,
then rattled the dented tin sides
of the threshing machine, shook
the manure spreader, cranked
the tractor's crank that broke
the uncle's arm, then swept on
through the windbreak, taking
the treehouse and dirty magazines,
turning its fury on the barn
where cows kicked over buckets
and the gray cat sat for a squirt
of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed
the chicken pen, undid the hook,
plucked a warm brown egg
from the meanest hen, then turned
toward the house, where threshers
were having dinner, peeled back
the roof and the kitchen ceiling,
reached down and snatched up
uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa,
parents and children one by one,
held them like dolls, looked
long and longingly into their faces,
then set them back in their chairs
with blue and white platters of chicken
and ham and mashed potatoes
still steaming before them, with
boats of gravy and bowls of peas
and three kinds of pie, and suddenly,
with a sound like a sigh, drew up
its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel,
and there at its tip was the nib of a pen.

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