Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book Fate

Spring's a'coming! As I drove home from a friend's house this morning, with the Civil Wars blasting in my car and the sun warming up the picture-perfect farm fields all around me, I felt as if my soul awoke after a long winter of hibernation. Driving through God's creation is like attending a worship service, just as powerful and just as beneficial.

Three books in three weeks- my track record has been pretty good so far and I have enjoyed all three, each one vastly different from the other. So here for your perusal are the random thoughts that accompanied each book, during and after reading. Tonight, I'll discuss Frank Delaney's The Last Storyteller.


I believe in book fate. There have been times in my life where I have found myself reading the perfect book for the circumstance I am going through, completely by accident. Just like God brings certain people into our lives at opportune moments, I think sometimes He sees what we're going through and pulls the perfect book from the shelf. The Last Storyteller was my travel companion when I went to my Opa's several weeks ago to sit with him, celebrate his life, and say goodbye. As I sat there at home the next day, soaking in everything that had happened, I read voraciously. Reading is therapy, and Frank Delaney delivered. Delaney is a true storyteller, the kind one reads about in the old Irish tales about seanchai and wandering bards, weaving tales from thin air. When I listen to him read his books, I imagine him in the old tradition, pipe in hand, wreathed in smoke from a hearth fire. His voice makes each word and letter resonate, physically vibrate with depth and substance; it's an otherworldly experience.

The Last Storyteller
was the final installment of a three part series, one that is part love story, part coming of age story and entirely captivating. It follows Ben MacCarthy, a collector of Irish mythology for the Irish Folklore Commission, who has wandered the Irish countryside for decades, trying to understand his own life and the decisions he has made. Bereft of his true love, he finds solace in his memories, the words of his mentor, and the stories he collects. It was comforting to return to these places that had become so familiar to me in Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show and The Matchmaker of Kenmare. It was rewarding to revisit Ben, and James Clare, and even Billy "Flocking" Maloney. But the theme of this trilogy that especially resonated with me throughout Opa's last days and beyond was the advice James Clare gives Ben in the first novel and continues to emphasize throughout Ben's life. As James says, "Every legend and all mythologies exist to teach us how to run our days. In kind fashion. A loving way. But there's no story, no matter how ancient, as important as one's own. So if we're to live good lives, we have to tell ourselves our own story. In a good way." Oh, I love those lines. Ben's quest for the love of his life also becomes a quest to tell his own story. In The Last Storyteller, Ben is finally able to do so, to evaluate and understand his life. And it is beautiful to see.

I love stories. I have had people ask why I never studied literature (although I argue, technically I do... I just don't have a degree for it). But the reason I went into history is because I have found that the past is where we find the real stories, the true drama of human existence. Through studying history, I have been privy to the stories of men and women from Crete to Mississippi. When we live our lives, they don't seem glamorous or monumental. Daily life is just that.. marked by seconds, minutes, and hours that are equal parts triumph and disappointment, peace and stress, joy and sadness. But when we see our lives and our world today as acts in a larger play, or a chapter in a larger tale, it starts to make sense. We can see how we fit into the broader scheme of things and even how we can change it. We can look back on the stories of those that have inhabited this Earth before us and see how their stories affect ours and even how ours mimics theirs. But we have to be open to it, we have to realize the potential that comes from our collective stories. There is so much to discover when we learn to listen.

I believe I was fated to read The Last Storyteller, with its emphasis on looking back to understand one's life and the importance of sharing our stories, just as my Opa stepped from this life into the next. The book helped me grieve and made it easier to focus on the gift of life, as well as death. During the past two years, I made it a point to ask Opa for his stories, and record them for my family and my descendants. And I saw with what joy he looked back on the life he had lived and recounted details and moments that may have seemed trivial, but all added up into making him who he was. I believe we can learn from everyone's story and I know I learned much from Opa's. My job now is to make my life worthy so that I may tell him a good story when I meet him again.

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