What Books Reside in Your Heart?

UnknownSometimes you read/hear/experience something–and it’s cause and effect–you just have to write about it. It happened when I walked a labyrinth at the Redemptorist Center in Tucson. Went right back to my room and wrote about it. And it happened on Thursday when I read this excerpt from Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life.

“Books are living things and their task lies in their vows of silence. You touch them as they quiver with a divine pleasure. You read them and they fall asleep to happy dreams for the next ten years. If you do them the favor of understanding them, of taking in their portions of grief and wisdom, then they settle down in contented residence in your heart.”

The whole passage is both lyrical and visual, but the part that sent shivers down my arms was “then they settle down in contented residence in your heart.” Titles rippled right along after Conroy’s words– Gone with the Wind, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Yes, I reread those books to renew their place in my heart. They influence how I look at love, passion, and survival. They show me how characters are revealed in a gesture or phrase– “I’ll think about it tomorrow,” “I am Heathcliff”–then they settle down in contented residence in my heart.

The first unexpected reward was sharing this quote in my writing group at Atria Bell Court Gardens. The confidence and instant responses to the quote stuck with me and I wanted to share them before the memory faded as another one of those neat experiences that drifts to the bottom of the writing pile in the face of my caving to the constraint of TO DO things.

Back to Atria. We were discussing the need to sometimes step away from our writing and do something else. Paint. Walk. Do a puzzle. Read. And the connection that good readers make good writers.

I read the excerpt and asked, “What books reside in your heart? Immediate answers. Hemingway. Elmore Leonard. Edgar Allan Poe. Faulkner. Moby Dick. Gone with the Wind. The final lines of “Annabel Lee” quoted with assurance and love. Two other quotes from beloved books. In addition to being totally impressed with the fact that the quotes were memorized from three, four, or five decades earlier, was the smiles, the softening of features that accompanied the delivery of the lines. These books are beloved.

The second reward was when Kate shared an exquisite satirical poem written as an instant reaction to a newspaper article. “I just had to write something about this,” and she did. Right then. It was sharp, clever, and right on target for the subject of the article, (which is material for another blog). Her Nike-like “Just do it” remark inspired me to write–now–about Pat Conroy’s excerpt and how it affected me.

What books reside in your heart?




  1. Hank Miller

    Stephen King’s “The Stand”
    Dostoevsky”s “Crime and Punishment”
    Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain”
    Agatha Christie”s “And Then There Were None”

    Just to name a few…

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      Dear Hank, You know I’d be wiped out if I had to go through The Stand again. but Seven Story Mountain- I’ve never read that. Will put it on my list.

  2. Karen Eastlund

    Steinbeck: Cannery Row
    Verghese: Cutting for Stone
    Wilder: The Little House in the Big Woods
    DJ Brown: The Boys in the Boat
    Cather: Death Comes for the Archbishop
    Craven: I Heard the Owl Call my Name
    Wallis: Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival
    Poetry by Ted Kooser, or by Mary Oliver.
    And so much more….

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      I’m so glad I decided to post this thought about Books Residing in the Heart. Not just for the additions I can make to my own book list, but for the belief that if these books reside in your heart and I have the same books residing, that makes a beautiful connection. What a great concept. Thank you for sharing your (partial) list.
      I wrote to Mr Brown and he wrote a most interesting letter back about a tribute that was planned last year for the Boys in the Boat.

  3. Susan Trott’s “The Holy Man”
    Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie”
    Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”
    Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”

    All resonate deeply.

  4. Great blog. And I love Conroy’s quotes — and his books. I’m currently rereading Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitare.” I loved his “Monkey Wrench Game,” and everything else he has written. Favorite authors include Maya Angelou, John D. MacDonald, Agatha Christie, Robin Hobb, Patricia Briggs, John Seinbeck, Tim Cahill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Peter Matthiessen, Mary Stewart — and enough more that my list would almost reach to the moon. And my newest favorite is Richard Shelton, whose “Going Back to Bisbee,” I am now devouring and learning loads about my new home in the Sonoran Desert.

    • Ethel Lee-Miller

      I wish Abbey were physically still around. My friend did a road trip to all the places in AZ that he read Abbey went to. Edward Abbey was an inspiring person and an almost poetic writer. Beside being a really cool guy.

      I sometimes think writers need a Reading Retreat. Just to go off somewhere and read, do yoga, take walks, and read.
      Thanks for sharing your list.

  5. Ethel Lee-Miller

    Dear Chris, You mentioned “The Holy Man” once before, and I never followed up on it. I’m glad you responded and there it is again to remind me.
    “Tuesdays with Morrie” inspired me to be more courageous in my own personal life. His “We’re # 2” chant had me laughing while at the same time, chipping away at my image of perfectionism as the standard of life.
    Thanks for responding with your list.

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