Posted by: ktzefr | November 3, 2011

Books and Autumn Sunsets: Lost and Found

“I felt myself going into a room in my head that had always been there, but that I had never before entered.” ~ Sarah Ellis (Ms. Ellis refers here to discovering Palmer Brown’s Beyond the Pawpaw Trees)

This feeling, I believe, is a distant cousin to deja vu.  I have felt it on occasion when reading a new book — especially poetry.  Sometimes when I look at a painting or happen upon an incredible natural setting I also feel myself slipping into a “room” that is both foreign and familiar. 

(Autumn sunset, looking out my front door.  Yes, it’s the city, but I’ve tilted the camera in order to soar above the rooftops. It could easily be a pic of the Kentucky woods.)

Autumn sunset

I picked up a few books on recent fall outings to the AAUW used book sale and, a few days later, to Second Story Books in DC.  Here are three of my favorite finds:

Lost Classics: Writers on Books Loved and Lost, Overlooked, Under-read, Unavailable, Stolen, Extinct, or Otherwise Out of Commission, Edited by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, and Linda Spalding

This is a thoroughly engaging and thoughtful collection of short essays by some of the world’s best writers on books that have inspired and influenced them.  Many are out of print, but others have simply slipped into oblivion.  Some writers recall childhood favorites; others cannot forget the “coming of age” book they loved when they were coming of age.  There are a good many references to quality literature, but there’s also a sprinkling of fluff.  Linda Spalding ends her essay on Maria Dermout’s The Ten Thousand Things by stating that “anything once loved is eternal, beautiful, unchanged.” 

Do you have a favorite “loved and lost” book?

Sweet Diamond Dust and Other Stories by Rosario Ferre

This wonderful collection of connected stories was originally published in Spanish under the title Maldito Amor (Cursed Love).  The author uses family history as a metaphor for the class struggles and evolution of Puerto Rican society.  It’s all about sugar and how the politics and economics associated with the local mill raise issues of race, religion, freedom, and class.  The De La Valle family’s secrets and passions are spilled in stories told by various relatives, friends, and servants over the years.  Sweet Diamond Dust is a wonderfully entertaining way to learn about Puerto Rico’s colorful history while getting a glimpse into the island’s soul. 

Puerto Rico is one of my favorite places to visit, but I’ve also read historical fiction set in places I’ve never been.  Have you ever read a novel that made you yearn to see a place?

Days of Obligation: An Argument with My Mexican Father by Richard Rodriguez

Sitting down to read a work by Richard Rodriguez is like sitting down to tea with an old friend.  Several of the essays in this book were published in a variety of magazines.   I had been meaning to buy the book for a long time but never got around to it.  Then it leaped off the shelf at Second Story Books and landed at my feet.  The author goes back and forth across the Rio Grande, making comparisons, offering searing images, looking at once through both Mexican and American eyes.  “In order to show you America I would have to take you out,” he says, describing how one might go to a restaurant, any cafe along a freeway, and “in one swipe of the rag” the counter would be cleaned (the past obliterated) and you could order anything you wanted.  “If I were to show you Mexico,” he counters, “I would take you home…where family snapshots crowd the mantel.”  In Mexico the past is firmly held onto.  Perhaps not so much in the California where Rodriguez grew up.  The book was published almost twenty years ago, but so many of the images and the feelings expressed still describe the American soul. 

Richard Rodriguez has long been considered one of America’s best essayists.  Who’s your favorite?



  1. Favorite forgotten books: Vance Bourjaily, Now Playing at the Bijou; Earl Thompson, Garden of Sands; Theodore Zeldin, The French, and of course the eminently unreadable Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.

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