To celebrate today's World Book Night and the Women Writers Reading Group, I'd like to introduce you to The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta.
Did you ever read a book that made you desperately wish you are a part of a fictional world, that you are sharing your joys and sorrows with all of its characters? The Piper's Son is one of those books for me. It's exquisitely written, tender, laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are flawed and their lives are messy but that's exactly what makes this book so heartbreaking, in the best possible way.
The Piper's Son is a companion novel to Saving Francesca but you don't have to have read the latter to enjoy this book. It is about 21-year old Thomas MacKee, how he had hit rock bottom two years after his beloved uncle Joe was tragically killed overseas, and how he tried to hold together pieces of his life when everything else has already fallen apart. It is about letting people down and being let down by the people you love the most. It is about love, family, and relationships worth living and fighting for.
I keep coming back to the characters because well, they are truly special. Melina Marchetta has this magical gift of portraying such well-developed characters that by the end of the book you will feel as if you already know all of their flaws and strengths and still want to continue getting to know them. And Thomas, is it possible to love this boy even more? Sure, he made a lot of terrible mistakes but he is such a decent person and he really has a good heart. And how can you not fall for a boy who knows his poetry, can play a mean guitar, and who's also smart and snarky as hell? His secret heartache for Tara and how he tried to win her back with his rambling emails is so sweet that you just can't help but root for him.
“Maybe she'd always been there. Maybe strangers enter your heart first and then you spent the rest of your life searching for them.”
Bottom line: Read it and prepare to have your heart stolen.
At the flower shop, I was immediately drawn to a bunch of peonies and said, "Oh how beautiful!" Then I saw the price tag of $16 and my face fell. I spent the next couple of minutes looking at other kinds of flowers but I kept glancing longingly at the peonies.
Some time later, the shopkeeper came up to me excitedly. "It's yours! He just paid for them," she said while pointing to the guy at the counter. I was so overwhelmed all I could say was thank you over and over again.
"My pleasure," he smiled. "You seem to love them so much it will be a shame to let you walk out of here without them."
And so it was on a Friday afternoon, April 19th, an hour after I heard the news that the second suspect was already captured in Boston, that I was nearly brought to tears by the kindness of a stranger. It had been such a difficult week but in that moment I was reminded that yes, there is still beauty and goodness in this world.
Here is a photo of the peonies.
Photo above was taken by me, on a ferry ride to Oakland.
Last Friday night, I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Natalie Goldberg at the Book Passage in Corte Madera. Natalie's book, Writing Down the Bones, has been such an inspiration to me all these years so I was naturally very excited to meet her in person.
She started her talk by telling us to sit and be quiet for a couple minutes, to close our eyes and just be. Then she called a friend who sang a lovely song about a wallflower who wants to dance, and I don't know how it happened but I suddenly felt so alive, so present.
"Sometimes I'm shy, sometimes I'm slow/ I fall out of step, I step on your toe/ I'm wanting to waltz more than you know/ Teach me to waltz."
Of course the feeling doesn't last long because after 5 minutes or so, I started to feel self-conscious and couldn't help but open my eyes to see what the others around me were doing. Why is it so hard to sit and just be, without the mind wandering elsewhere, without feeling the need to do something? I think it's even harder to do this now with the abundance of social media tools and our need to over document everything.
Natalie shared an anecdote about how she decided to start a writing practice by showing up at the same cafe at noon for 7 days and write everything that she sees in front of her without bringing herself in. Do you know how difficult that is, she said. I can only imagine. Speaking from my own experience, the old adage of showing instead of telling is definitely easier said than done. This also reminded of what the poet Ezra Pound said, that the role of the artist is to present the luminous detail but not to comment.
To pay attention, to simply notice. This is my hope for all of us in this month of poetry.