Some Good News

USA Book News selected Samuel Shem's THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE (which I reviewed here) as the best book of 2008 in the general fiction category. Hooray! It's great to see a book get the attention it deserves. I'm also selfishly glad about this, because I loved the book, too, and it's nice to have one's passions confirmed. It is the sort of thing that makes crazy love seem not so crazy after all.

Sometimes I think publishing just is passion.


Another book on the list, First Snow in the Woods, which took first place in children's books, is on its way to my house as I type. At least from the marketing material, the book seems to fits with some (still vague and ill-formed) ideas I've had lately, about kids and nature, and overparenting as a form of neglect.

This has something to do with the development of a capacity to be "at home" while "away," to be at home in the world; and also, just as crucially, especially at mid-life, the capacity to feel like home can still be excitingly undiscovered territory. (This is harder than it sounds.)

The poet and animal trainer Vicki Hearne talks about the necessary and reciprocal and mutually enriching relationship that can obtain between "home" and "away," the quest and the hearth. It seems to me that one could make a good case for hothouse kids as one symptom of a larger, related poverty, a poverty of epic, in our ideas of the good life. More specifically, I mean a lack of resources that would help to make sense of perfectly ordinary but underappreciated qualities that one often finds in "unruly" or difficult-to-domesticate personalities, which is to say in people with affinities for epic, like sincere enthusiasm and largeness of heart and vulnerability to being impassioned.

Shem's novel has much to say about this as well, but in an more complicated way -- how sometimes leaving home can (alas) be pretty much the same as not leaving, and how sometimes coming back can precipitate a greater revolution of consciousness than going away.