Monasteries of the Heart

Live in the Books You Love

View all posts in Heart of the Matter

I’ve kept a list of all the books I’ve read for the last 37 years. Just in case you’re interested, I’ve read 1157 books in that time, approximately 31 a year. My record year is 1995 when I read 52 books, although I will probably surpass it this year because, thanks to a Kindle Christmas gift, I am at number 45 and have three months to go.

Yes, I love to read and resonated with the poem, “Open the Book,” submitted by Kathleen in response to my last blog. It’s always a surprise, though, to leaf through the list and discover that I don’t remember much of what I’ve read. Most of the books are a blur as to plot and characters or, in the case of nonfiction, purpose. But now and then there is a gem, a book that meets this lofty advice from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Live for awhile in the books you love. Learn from them what is worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be returned to you a thousand times over. Whatever your life may become, these books—of this I am certain—will weave through the web of your unfolding. They will be among the strongest of all threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys.”

For example, I was asked to complete a survey recently and one of the questions was: “What is your favorite book?” Of all 1157 books, I can still answer, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Remarque. Why? Because, as Rilke noted, this book “wove itself through my unfolding.”

Prior to this book, I did not question war and thought all enemies of my country were evil. Then I met Paul, the protagonist of “All Quiet,” a young German soldier fighting against my country during World War I. Surprisingly, with each turning page I found myself caring for Paul more deeply. The “enemy” had friends, a family, wanted to be a writer, loved to read…the “enemy” was just like me. Paul and I even shared the same favorite food—potato pancakes. When he went home on a brief furlough and his mother crawled out of her sickbed to prepare potato pancakes for her son, I thought of how my mother did the same for my brother when he came home from Vietnam. I sobbed through that scene.

After meeting Paul, the word enemy lost its meaning and I began to devote my life to ending war, to weaving peace and nonviolence into my life.

How about you? What book do you love? What book has “weaved through the web of your unfolding?”