Light. Candle. Mirror.
And my shifting experience of a single book.
Hello, dear BookLoves.
My daytimer includes a quote at the top of every weekly page and recently it was:
There are two ways to be the light: the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
I copied this in my journal. I wrote it at the top of a page where I listed several topics that I want to explore with you here.
Then I had trouble even finding a smidgen of light. Life presented challenges (as it does) that had me questioning my path, my worth, my abilities. You know those times?
Could I adequately, convincingly hold up a candle bright enough to illuminate what I see as the brilliance of global literature, to advocate for it not only as entertainment and education, but as a way to see our shared humanity, to highlight reading as a path of contemplation, illumination, personal and global transformation?
A mirror is more my style, yet could I really share what was honestly going on? That I’ve been struggling to read? Have been challenged by every book I try to read?
Caught up in my own well-worn story loops, it seemed best to sit quietly in the penumbra for a while. As the stories settled, I was called once again to hold up a wee flame, a shard of mirror, in the hopes that one or two or many of you might see something new or recognize your own reflection…
We’re reading Defenestrate, by Renée Branum, in Wayfarers Book Club this month. I read it first last fall and was re-reading portions to write the Armchair Guide to accompany it. Falling is the theme of this debut novel: the desire to fall, being pushed, falling from a great height, falling for the stories we’re told.
This time around, every page was torture: circuitous, pessimistic, painful.
It was too much like life.
And the torture multiplied because the Wayfarers might be feeling tortured by this read too!
Ah, but there’s another story that sometimes loops in my head: that my experience of a book is universal. It is not. (Duh.) After more than two years, I have witnessed how every single book in both of my groups is perceived differently by every person, every time.
That’s the beauty and the power of books: they are open to our interpretation, based on our lived experience and our current circumstances.
As I began to edge back into the light of springtime, I could see that Defenestrate is also about landing and the grace that arises when we find our feet under us again... A whole different perspective.
So, I can hear you asking, was this a “good” book?
Only you can judge, if you decide to read it.
That’s the candle portion of today’s meandering reflection:
There is no one single arbiter or criteria for a book to be labelled “good” or “bad” – no matter what the establishment might want you to believe. There is only your experience of it. And your experience may well change over time.
That’s just life, and that’s part of its beauty, wouldn’t you agree?
P.S. Our next Afternoon Delight is coming up on Saturday, April 23 at 1 pm ET, on the theme of Creativity. An email with the link to attend will be sent in advance!
Lisa Carter is Founder and Creative Director of Intralingo, helping authors and translators write and readers explore stories. Lisa brings two decades of professional literary experience, including nine books and multiple other pieces published in translation, and nearly as many years of contemplative and compassion practices to her work. Her inclusive, engaged, caring presence inspires people to share their stories, create new ones and feel truly heard.
Welcome to new BookLove Letter subscribers! My thanks go to every single one of you here, whether you’ve been accompanying me on this journey for days or years.
I’m so excited about the move to Substack, the platform I’m using now. It allows for more interaction, something I missed greatly when I moved from writing a blog to a newsletter.
At the top or bottom of this post, you can click on the heart to like it or on the comment bubble to share your reflections. You can also always reply to me directly. All interactions are heartily welcomed!
Speaking of light and mirrors and grace… I want to include a special shoutout to two fine writers this week.
Nancy Julien Kopp – I met Nancy seventeen years ago on a blog tour, and she became a dear writing critique sister, mentor and friend. Nancy has offered an essay, poem, reflection, writing tip, book review or other gem on her blog almost EVERY DAY for YEARS. Recently, she kindly hosted my review of Walking the Bowl: A True Story of Murder and Survival Among the Street Children of Lusaka, by Chris Lockhart and Daniel Mulilo Chama. (It’s a slightly expanded version from the one I posted here.)
elinap – Creator, author and illustrator of the Mira(cle) Doodles, every Monday morning Elina pops a delightful, insightful doodle featuring her character Mira into my inbox. When I take a moment with it, it can shift the whole tone for my week. I recently helped Elina complete her non-fiction book proposal so Mira can come to us all in book form! Cross your fingers. (And get on her mailing list now.) 😊