6. Tinkers, Paul Harding

When I am old what will be the defining moments of my life that I will recall? Will it be something simply that currently holds no special meaning, or will it be something big that clearly impacted my life? Is it something that has already happened? These are just a few of the questions I found myself asking as I read “Tinkers” by Paul Harding. I was certain that this Pulitzer Prize winner was going to be the first bad review I write on this blog because I could not get into the book for the first 50 pages or so. However, it turned around and ended up being an enjoyable book after all. One that scared me immensely of old age and made me think for the first time about being old in a more serious way. In this book, the author celebrates life and truly puts mortality into a perspective even for those of us who are only 23 years old.

The story begins with an old man who lies dying (his last eight days) in his living room. George Washington Crosby is surrounded by his family which includes his grandchildren. He is stuck in bed awaiting death and is in pain. We learn that during his better days his big passion in life was repairing clocks. I found it ironic that in the room George is lying in all the clocks have been turned off so that he does not hear the tick tock as his time on earth winds down. George notices this and orders his grandson to wind them up and let them tick tock. He seems like he is not afraid of death and understands that his time is running out. As he rests in bed he drifts back to his childhood days in Maine and recalls the memories of his father Howard who was an epileptic and his grandfather who was a Methodist preacher full of madness. The novel goes back and forth between George’s memories and those of his father Howard and his grandfather. Their recollections cover everything from the struggles of illness, faith, love and loss.

In addition, Harding intertwines the beauty of nature that these characters are surrounded by and writes eloquently about it. There isn’t one bee that he forgets to describe in detail. To some readers this can get in the way of the story line but if you enjoy this type of writing style then Harding is your guy. One should also keep in mind that this is his first novel and is impressive. He has a way with words and often catches you of guard. This novel makes you think about life a little more deeply. It might sound cliché because all books make one think about their own life and such. However, this book has a special touch because it isn’t afraid to bring up death in order to highlight life. Because of this I have no hesitations in recommending it. This book will be a classic for many years to come. It might not seem appealing at first but if you keep with it, Harding crafts an incredible story. Here is a favorite quote from the book to give you a little taste.

“And as the ax bites into the wood, be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. And when you resent the ache in your heart, remember: You will be dead and buried soon enough.” 

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5. Rumi’s Little Book of Love, translated by Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin

After a busy few weeks I finally got around to finishing “Rumi’s Little Book of Love” that was wonderfully translated by Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin. This is a collection containing 150 shorter poems by the 13th century Persian mystic Rumi. For those that are not familiar with Rumi and his work here is a little extra information. Rumi is a poet, jurist, theologian, and Sufi mystic. His importance is considered to surpass national and ethnic borders.  When it comes to his poems, they have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. In 2007, he was described as the most popular poet in America. Because of this his works are widely available in most bookstores.

I have had this particular book for some time now and would read a poem or two every few days but never all in one sitting like I just did. I have to say that I recommend reading a few poems a day for many reasons. One of them being that despite the fact that these are very short poems they hold a depth of meaning that takes some time to contemplate. When you are reading a 150 of them in one sitting you don’t spend enough time on each of them like one should. They are beautiful pieces of art work. In addition, the translators should be praised as well because I understand just how difficult it is sometimes to translate something from one language into another without losing some beauty or the meaning in the process. The book also includes a nice introduction which gives the reader some background information about Rumi if they are not familiar. In addition, there is a list of terms and symbols in the back that was very useful.

Without a doubt I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys poetry. And for those of you who don’t, Rumi might surprise you. Despite being a 13th century poet his work is extremely relevant today and easy to read. Once you have mastered his shorter poems you might want to check out other books with Rumi’s work. One of the good ones is “The Essential Rumi” by Coleman Barks and John Moyne.  In the meantime, here is one of my favorite poems from this collection. Let me know in the comments what you think of it.

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