book of the week – 4.28.21

This week’s book is being read by all four members of our household. Well, sort of. I just finished it, Jason’s nearing the end, and I decided to go through a few of the essays with the boys for school (homeschool for a year means the boys are getting an earful from me on all things poetry and essays and anaphora and aurality — it’s ok, they’ll be ok). Anyway, this book hit all the spots for me.

One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder by Brian Doyle.

One Long River of Song

I first discovered Brian Doyle in 2018 when I started my MFA program. We read his essays Leap (which is in the book) and Let It Go (which isn’t) for a workshop and afterwards I went in search of his other writing. I found several more essays at The Sun but was astonished and surprisingly bereft to learn that Brian Doyle passed away in 2017 from a brain tumor.

I saw this book when I was standing in line to buy a couple of books at Paper Boat Booksellers — our new book store in West Seattle. It was on an endcap and the foreward caught my eye first. Anything endorsed by one of my favorite writers was going to be a given for me. Then I saw that the writer being endorsed by my favorite was another favorite. Done deal.

This is such a lovely read. The essays are short, which makes the book easy to pick up and put down in short intervals if needed. The sentences are (often) long and winding, which is a Brian Doyle signature. And both essays and sentences alike invoke exactly what the subtitle suggest: wonder. And awe and nostalgia and reverence.

My favorites: Chessay, The Typewriter in the Basement, Hoop, Hearchitecture, The Creature Beyond the Mountain and A Prayer for You and Yours.

It would be impossible to select a favorite quote so I will share two of my favorites from the last of my favorite essays — A Prayer for You and Yours.

Speaking of his prayers as a parent, after being told by a doctor that he and his wife would not be able to have children:

“My first prayers as a parent, those tears.

Then we prayed for a long time in all sorts of ways. I prayed in churches and chapels and groves and copses and hilltops and on the rocky beaches of the island where we lived at that time. I would have prayed to all the gods who ever were or ever would be except I know somehow deep in my heart that there is one Breath, one Imagination, one Coherent Mercy, as a friend of mine says, and that everything that is came from and returns to That which we cannot explain or understand, but can only try to perceive the spoor, clues, evidence, effect, the music in and through and under all things.”

And later, at the end of the essay, after they were “blessed with children, three of them, three long wild prayers;”

“When I am in my last hour, when I am very near death, when I am so soon to change form and travel in unaccountable ways and places, I hope I will be of sound enough mind to murmur this, to our three children, and perhaps, if the Mercy has been especially ridiculously generous, our grandchildren: it was for you that I was here, and for you I prayed every day of your life, and for you I will pray in whatever form I am next to take. Lift the rock and I am there; cleave the wood and I am there; call for me and I will listen, for I hope to be a prayer for you and yours long after I am dust and ash.”


To see last week’s book, click here

And the week before that, here

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