December 15, 2011

Just the Right Book

Today I was asked by the good folks at JUST THE RIGHT BOOK, which is a neat personalized book-of-the-month subscription service, to contribute to a series they are doing throughout December, in which they ask authors to tell a story of the best book they received for Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the winter holidays. Other contributors include James Patterson, Gina Barreca, Nicholas Sparks. Here's how my piece opens~

The best book I ever received for Christmas is a first edition of W. S. Merwin's THE FOLDING CLIFFS, "a narrative of 19th-century Hawaii"--in other words, one of the great epic poems written in our time. In elegant, urgent verses Merwin tells the story of a family determined to stay together as they flee government capture during a quarantine effort on Kauai. Woven in amidst the action is an appreciation of the native culture, mythology, and landscape of this gorgeous island. The book is dedicated to Olivia Breitha (1916-2006); Breitha was known as an outspoken advocate of those discriminated against for leprosy, and her firsthand experience resonated with later generations affected by the AIDS epidemic. 

It would be enough to appreciate this gift in terms of its literary merit...but the real reason I share it with you is because of the spirit in which it was given. It was the first Christmas that I had chosen to spend away from home to be with a love, and I was on the eve of making a trip to Kauai myself--without him. He was a huge Merwin fan. The day after Christmas, after all the "official" gifts had been opened, I was packing to make the 15-hour drive back to see my family for a day and catch a plane to Hawaii. That was when took his own copy of this book, signed it to me, and told me I must read it. I carried this spontaneous gesture to Kauai's beaches....
And exclusive to the blog, here is a snapshot of the book with a second inscription--from Merwin himself. Read the full essay here to get that half of the story. For regular blog readers, you might recognize an intersection with this May entry, "Swoon.")


Maureen said...

What a great idea from Just the Right Book.

What a marvelous book you received. Merwin also did an edition of "Trees" with Pacific Editions that I'd love to own. said...

Thank you Maureen, and thank you Sandra! The Facebook project came as the brainchild of our PR team. We stepped in with a little trepidation, but with each post are basking in the rich stories that authors from wide and varied backgrounds have shared. We, and our Facebook followers, are feeling the holiday season in a different way because of the thoughtful sharing of writers like Sandra.