There are times when I want a rowdy tumble with poetry – with the sly wit of Billy Collins or the seductive songs of Pablo Neruda. Today, though, I celebrate the prose books that make me breathless with delight at the sheer wizardry of their words.
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
Adler describes her book as “not a cookbook or a memoir or a story about one person or one thing.” I started this book and immediately wanted to tell everyone I know to read it. By the end of the first chapter, I was making mental lists of people I know who might receive it as a gift. It is a very straightforward, very spare and lovely book about cooking, eating and enjoying the process. It also has turns of phrase that make me want to burrow between the paragraphs and loiter there for hours.
Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
This book is a meditation: a paean to the damp and cloudy Northwest Coast and to the islands resting there. And to writing, of course, because Dillard so often writes about writing. I suppose it must technically be prose, in that it is written without the wide spaces that poetry gives you to breathe and think and take it all in. Instead, Holy the Firm pounds the reader like the surf, a constant ebb and flow of imagery. “Why are there all these apples in the world, and why so wet and transparent?” may read like nonsense here, but taps into something more profound and ringing when surrounded by hedgerows and a falling sky.
And finally: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
There is such magic in these drifting, barely connected characters; in their fairy tale existence orbiting Napolean’s march across Europe; in their daring, helpless need to play the game of love. Be warned: chickens die violently in this book, and so do soldiers. It is a tale of war, after all. Do not let this stop you from reading the story of a webbed-footed Venetian stealing back her own heart. Do not let it drive you away from Domino, the horse-taming dwarf, and Patrick, the defrocked priest with his magic eye, and Henri, Napolean’s cook, as they wade inevitably through the zero winter. “Somewhere between God and the Devil passion is and the way there is sudden and the way back is worse.” This book makes it worth the journey.
It does not escape me that I’ve told you barely anything about these books. Go read a summary if you must, but don’t count on it capturing their essence any better than I have. They are difficult to describe and very different from each other. I find them utterly enthralling. Perhaps you will, too. And of course, these are the books that move me. Feel free to comment on the ones that make you inarticulate with enjoyment. I’m always looking for the next one.