There I was, walking the dog and thinking about springtime and rebirth and life and death and the smallness of me and we and the vastness of god and the world and eternity, and, so, as I strolled past the happy and healthy hearths and homes of South Minneapolis, I was feeling pretty good and peaceful but also the aloneness of my yearning and restlessness, touring as I was the lives of my neighbors, whose desires I know little-to-nothing about, which I suppose is a good thing, how polite society dictates it.
Yawn. So I was somewhat heartened on the first day of spring to get to know one of my neighbors fairly intimately via her (his?) gifts to our neighborhood’s newest Little Library, the location of which I will keep secret so as to protect the innocent but which I perused, as I always do whenever I come upon the super quaint “take a book/return a book” kiosks on my walks through this boring button-down bourgeois burg.
More often than not I’m rewarded with titles that confirm I live and work amid some of the most homogeneously hardened hearts in town: how-to guides, cookbooks, group-safe book club picks, and surefire sleep aids as provided by Vince Flynn, Sidney Sheldon, Wayne Dyer, and Jesus of Nazareth.
Not this one. I undid the latch, slowly. The dog panted and tugged at his leash. I swung open the door and grabbed a hardcover with licked-by-flames jacket art – “Fire,” by Kristin Cashmore, a fantasy novel about a beautiful monster-human with sensual powers named Lady Fire that kicks off with
While I was looking the other way your fire went out
Left me with cinders to kick into dust
What a waste of the wonder you were
In my living fire I will keep your scorn and mine
In my living fire I will keep your heartache and mine
At the disgrace of a waste of a life
Swooning slightly, I put back “Fire” and grabbed Anita Shreve’s “All He Ever Wanted,” whose jacket sang, “What is a woman’s price? From the bestselling author of ‘The Last Time They Met’ comes a brilliant new novel about love, jealousy and loss. Etna Bliss has just moved to a New England town when her life is transformed. She is dining in a hotel when a fire forces her to escape to the snowy streets outside. Amid the chaos of that night, she is glimpsed by Nicholas Van Tassel, who is so overwhelmed by the sight of her that he rebuilds his life around a single goal: to marry Etna Bliss.”
Dog yanking harder, families asleep all around me, deep thoughts and great literature on the ropes, I opened Elizabeth Buchan’s “Revenge Of The Middle-Aged Woman,” which began with the oft-repeated “living well is the best revenge” (like revenge is a good thing?) and tells the story of Rose Lloyd, whose career and marriage fall apart simultaneously:
“Rose finds herself in mourning for the tenderness of a lost partnership, for a shattered domestic life, and for the lost confidence of a woman who, until now, had made her own way. Can Rose, whose anguish is barely softened by the ministrations of friends and grown children with their own problems, ever start over? Not easily. But it’s amazing what prolonged reflection, the slimming effect of a lost appetite, a new slant on independence (and a little Parisian lingerie) will do. Especially when an old flame suddenly reappears. ‘Revenge of the Middle-Age Woman’ is the coming-of-middle-age story a whole generation of women has been waiting for.”
Wow and whoa. Dog sniffing, streetlight flickering, pulse quickening, I next leafed through Cynthia Ellingsen’s “The Whole Package,” the cover photo for which is a waiter’s … torso. Inside I learned that, “As a rule, Cheryl only slept with men who were hot and dumb. The famous tennis player, the surfer who lived in Maui, the Italian who owned the winery… not to mention all the model-perfect conquests from ski trips, tropical vacations, and college… her online albums were littered with pictures of them. If it wasn’t for social networking, Cheryl wouldn’t remember any of their names, but they all remembered hers.”
Thank you, Little Library lover. Just like that, winter was over and spring had sprung. Amy Bloom’s well-thumbed “Come To Me” promised, “This stunning collection of stories takes us into the inner worlds of families, the hidden corners of marriages and affairs and friendships, and introduces us to people whose lives are shaken and changed by love. This is fiction that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page, that celebrates the flawed dignity of the human and reminds us all of the fine venture of living in grace and hope in the worlds we are born to and make.”
And so on. All in one little library, all for the taking. Eileen Goudge’s “The Replacement Wife” began with the Shakespeare quote, “But love is blind and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that they themselves commit.” Edith Wharton’s love-and-longing classic “The Age Of Innocence” leaned up against Jane Smiley’s “The Age Of Grief,” which moans, “It is not only that we know that love ends, children are stolen, parents die feeling that their lives have been meaningless. It is not only that, by this time, a lot of acquaintances and friends have died and all the others are getting ready to sooner or later. It is more that the barriers between the circumstances of oneself and of the rest of the world have broken down, after all — after all that schooling, all that care. Lord, if it be thy will, let this cup pass from me. But when you are thirty-three, or thirty-five, the cup must come around, cannot pass from you, and it is the same cup of pain that every mortal drinks from.”
Good to know. I closed the latch, let the dog off his leash, and headed on my way, all the while giving thanks to the Little Library lover for our spring fling, my glimpse into the universal soul, and for the lesson she’d bequeathed to me about not judging a book, or a neighbor, by its cover.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected].