August 22, 2012

my library: gift from the sea

I take my library very seriously. Since I do not yet have space for an entire room dedicated to books, they live with us in every room in our home. As much as I look forward to that someday-library, I do love the way that our books surround us as we live. Lined up neatly on shelves (always organized) or in stacks that have spilled over for this reason or that (not so organized): I feel the power of all these books, waiting to be read and re-read, offering so much perspective, experience and wonder. I have shared some of my recent reads as they inspire me in my creative journey. But I thought it would be fun to share some of my all-time favorite titles from my library with you. These have stood out among the rest, for a great variety of reasons and relevance, and if you have not already read them, I would encourage you to check them out next time you are at your local bookstore!
I often refer to Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, as my "life-book." This is the only way I can think to describe its prominence and importance in my life. This book has spoken to me deeply, to my very core, and its wisdom and wonder have endured from my first reading through countless more: always fresh, always inspiring, always challenging. I originally read Gift from the Sea after returning from my first visit to Hawaii. Unexpectedly, I had fallen absolutely in love with the island of Oahu and missed it dearly from the moment we left to return home. Once back, I shared my passion for the island with my friend Berni, who worked with me at the time. Knowing that I was also very passionate about reading, Berni brought her well-worn paperback copy of the book to work the very next time she saw me, encouraging me to read it. I began reading soon after, and within the first half hour, as I furiously copied Lindbergh's lovely prose into my journal, I knew I needed to pick up my own copy. From my years spent working in bookstores, the book had often crossed my path. The beautiful 50th Anniversary Edition had caught my eye, with its unique, delicate embossing and hazy aqua textured dust jacket. But I had never opened the book, never done more than to caress the book's cover as I straightened a table of books or alphabetized a shelf as I went. When I decided I must have my own copy, I knew just which edition I wanted. It had simply not been my right time until now.
As I read, my obsession and wonder grew stronger; my pen underlined word after word. I began to read more slowly, to savor this first experience with the prose even as I knew these would become the first of many such moments. Over the years, I have returned again and again to the pages of this book. I have a tradition of reading through it entirely each time we are able to return to the beaches of Hawaii (and bits of sand have made their way in between its pages). New thoughts stand out with each reading, and more words are underlined. The margins have begun to fill as well, with all sorts of enthusiastic markings to help me find my way back to the wisdom I hope to never let go. 

My loved ones know my passion for this book, and many have shared in this passion by reading it in their own turn and timing. I am superstitious as I share it with those dear to me: I believe that the time for them to read it will come about on a journey all their own. I am excited to see where it might lead them, too. Ryan read the book early in my obsession (I gave him his own copy, so he would not be distracted by my spastic markings, and because I still kept my own copy close at hand), and he has always nurtured my passion. One holiday, he researched and ordered every edition of the book he could find published over the many years since its release. It was one of the most special gifts he has ever given me! 

Gift from the Sea, in case you are not familiar, is a collection of thoughts on what really matters in life - love, age, parenting, peace, to name just a few themes - gathered and recorded during the author's retreat to the sea. Each chapter is named for a particular shell, and each shell moves through a different aspect or phase of life experience. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's prose is poetic and lyrical, honest and personal, and yet still so universally applicable. She does not paint life as simple or easy, yet washes her honest and sometimes painful truths in a golden glow which absolutely captivates me. Another curious superstition I carry about this book is a belief that those who love it might connect deeply with one "shell" in particular. My shell is the "moon shell." Here is one of my many favorite passages from this chapter: 
She must consciously encourage those pursuits which oppose the centrifugal forces of today. Quiet time alone, contemplation, prayer, music, a centering line of thought or reading, of study or work. It can be physical or intellectual or artistic, any creative life proceeding from oneself. It need not be an enormous project or a great work. But it should be something of one's own. Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day- like writing a poem, or say a prayer. What matters is that one be for a time inwardly attentive. Solitude, says the moon shell. (pp. 48, 50)
Ryan commissioned an artist to make this beautiful necklace for me as a gift on our wedding day. (He really is the best husband ever.) We found some other ways to incorporate my "life-book" into our wedding day as well, using the shells and artwork from the book to mark our reception tables. 
Berni, the same friend who originally shared Gift from the Sea with me, had made me a little pocket-token of my moon shell. Our friend Mandy took up soldering temporarily in order to add a little clasp so that I could attach the token to my wedding bouquet. I loved carrying my symbol with me throughout our amazing day!!
And our incredible mom, Kim, found a way to share Gift from the Sea with each of our wedding guests, including this charming keepsake mini-book as a favor.
My gifts from the sea are never-ending, from the sea itself in every moment spent by the ocean, and in the pages of this book that reveals new truth, comfort and inspiration with every reading. 

Do you have a "life-book"? I would love to hear about it! And I am looking forward to sharing many more titles from my library with you as I go...


  1. Hinds' feet on high places by Hannah Hurnard.

    1. Heather! This book has been mentioned to me a few times in past, but I have never read it myself. It is now officially on my list! Thank you for sharing and I am so happy you have experienced the gift of a "life-book," too! Thanks so much for reading!! xo

  2. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
    Loved it as a child and I still do. It inspired me to write children's books and to pursue psychology so I can see the world through children's eyes.

    1. Jan- I totally love this one, too! I have been thinking lately that if I were to really dig back through a lot of my childhood reading, I would probably identify SO many origins for my current defining ideas and passions. It is something I am really looking forward to when we have our own kids someday, but I should start sooner than that, too! Thanks for sharing!! <3