Read This Book

Ahhhh, how I love weekends in the summer. We’ve got a lot of fun planned—a cookout, hiking, time in the garden, knitting on CeCe . . . Yesterday was full of meetings and work, so the next couple of days will be a welcome break.


I don’t have a lot to report, but I did want to pop in and tell you about the great book I just finished. Peter Heller’s The Painter is the most enjoyable novel I’ve read in a long time. I thought it would be a quick, in-between kind of book, sort of a palate cleanser for the next challenging read on my list. I didn’t even bother to get the hardcopy but downloaded the book to my iPad. Was I ever wrong. It was a fairly quick book to read, but it is one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

The writing itself is wonderful. Conventional grammar is out the window, and instead you get prose that is so alive and energetic it’s almost a character on its own. And as far as the substance of the book, this is one of those times when a subject is treated so passionately and convincingly that you want to stop dead in your tracks and devote the rest of your life to it. The subject in this case is fly fishing—oil painting too, but the fly fishing . . . wow. In this book it’s the answer to almost everything. It’s exhilarating and relaxing, simple and challenging, the thing to share with the one you love most, and the thing to do when you’re all alone or when you need to be more alone. It’s perspective and respite. It’s better than religion. Reading about it in this book is a serious rush.

On top of the fly fishing, you’ve got murder, mystery, suspense, and a main character who pays attention and makes things meaningful by putting language to them. The language isn’t always especially refined or complex. Sometimes, he’ll say something in a way that’s almost clumsy like when he’s describing a group of elk: “. . . once in a while one of the calves lifted its head and cried. It cracked me in two.”

Other times, though, his observations are more like a meditation. You see the guy’s mind work.

So crows must spend a lot of the day wondering what they are supposed to do now, what they are here for, and that seemed like a cruel existential dilemma for anyone who didn’t have TV. It made me look at the painting in a different light: that the crow was more mischievous than he seemed at first. He was handing off this idea of choice to the horse the way the serpent handed off the apple. Poor horse. It was leap and die or live and be haunted by the ability to choose. Which when I think about it, might be one definition of consciousness. I pitied just about everybody.

This guy is an avid thinker and articulator of his own experience with the world. And he seeks out others (like the poets in the books left by his home’s former tenant) who can say things he hasn’t been able to. He realizes when someone has gotten just the right words for a thing and takes it to heart, literally writes the lines down and places them in the breast pocket of his Carhartt like he does with a few lines from Eliot’s Four Quartets:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

This book is a great read, and it’s also a book that tackles big issues in an important way that gives you ideas about how to tackle them yourself. I can’t wait to read more by Peter Heller. I’m noting all of this here for the record but also with the thought that someone in need of a blow-you-away book for a summer weekend might stumble upon it and be in for a treat. Happy weekend!


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