I’ve Never Seen So Many Books

During this “pause” in civilization how do we take care of our own soulful selves? Julie and I read while sitting with one another and our two dogs, Vivian and Charlie. Once in awhile cat Hattie comes out and passes by, acknowledging her presence more than ours.

The act of reading itself is mysterious to me. What are we doing when we read? What’s actually happening? All I know is that it has saved me over and over again. Do you have a reading regimen? One book at a time? A particular genre? Only fiction? Only non-fiction? A particular writer? Maybe a particular mystery writer?

I often told my students that when we read, we come alive. And especially in this
neverland, reading can place us in a world with value and bring out the best in us.

I read a bunch of books at a time. Our son-in-law says I have reading ADD.

Right now I’m wandering in Small Fry, a memoir by Steve Jobs’s daughter Lisa Brennan-Jobs; Steve Hughes’s Stiff, a collection of hardscrabble urban short stories; Christ Actually by James Carroll; Thoreau: A Life, a biography by Laura Dassow Walls who brings Henry to life; Dan Egan’s The Death and Life of the Great Lakes; Johnny Appleseed by Jennifer Clark; the memoir get me out of here by Rachel Relland about her life as and recovery from borderline personality disorder; Richard Jones’s Stranger Here; and yes, Bob Woodward’s FEAR, which has to be followed by a restoration to sanity with Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. My brain spins me to sleep.

The other day our dear friend Rebecca Klott was telling us about her time wandering in Powell’s Bookstore, a wonderfully overwhelming experience.

Let’s take a break and wander in the books that bring us back to a civilized day.

I’ve Never Seen So Many Books

This bookstore sure has lots of books.
Books in crannies, books in nooks.
Books for browsing bibliophiles
In aisles, in piles, for miles and miles.
Books on fiction, books on fact.
Books on friction, books on tact.
Books on unexpected heroes,
For computer geeks with ones and zeroes.
Books on gods that are and are not.
How to survive a pre-owned car lot.
Books on how to plant a garden.
Books on how to gain a pardon.
Books on trees, on bees, PCs,
Avoiding fleas and tacked on fees.
Books on every kind of pill.
On if you should or shouldn’t grill.
Books to make the hard seem easy.
Books on how to play Parcheesi.
Books on fraud, on sod, iPod.
On how to build the perfect bod.
Books on paints and glue and gook.
On what it takes and who got took.
Books on marriage and divorce.
Books on how to breed a horse.
Books to lessen stress, relax us.
How to deal with fractious taxes.
Books on making wine from peaches.
Books to take to summer beaches.
Books on music, dance, and art.
On playing dumb, on playing smart.
Books to lead you back to church.
Books to pull you from the lurch.
Books on style, or jog a mile.
On perfect health with Andrew Weil.
Books for teachers, books for pupils.
Books on loopholes and on scruples.
Books on staying home or travel.
Books on gravy, grieving, gravel.
Mad books, bad books, fad books, sad books,
Glad books, even I’ve been had books.
Books on ticks and tacks and talks.
Books on wicks and wax and woks.
On the smiling Dalai Lama
Books on Donald and Obama.
Books on what to wear when hiking.
On where to go fat tire biking.
On how to gain a leadership.
Get a grip, a readership.
Books by, and on, and pushed by Oprah.
To lift your spirits with Deepak Chopra.
On raising flags and lowering fats.
On living with a hundred cats.
On how to become a mover, Shaker,
Baker, Quaker, a great Great Laker.
Books for kids and older folks,
On telling lies, on telling jokes.
Books on how to micro-brew.
Avoid e-coli or the flu.
On pizza, pasta, crossword puzzles.
What you should sip, throw down with guzzles.
On how to be a better cook.
On how to hook a second look.
Books to make us less neurotic.
Less robotic, more erotic.
Books on Zen and Krishnamurti.
Books on living after thirty.
On learning basic economics,
gastronomics, plate tectonics.
Books on how to raise a puppy.
Raise a roof, a kid, a guppy.
And if your space for books should dwindle.
Find a zillion on your Kindle.
Holy cow! Good grief! Gadzooks!
I’ve never seen so many books!


–Jack Ridl

On April 1 (perfect!)  my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Yes, preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!

Still a few spots for The Lost Lake Writers Retreat. It’s such a beautiful setting, almost too beautiful to be able to write anything. It’s an R and R spot. You can write when you get home after being uplifted by everyone there. Check it out!

The Hope College Visiting Writers Series will be hosting writers Matthew Baker, Anne-Marie Oomen,, Linda Nemec Foster, and painter/illustrator Meridith Ridl. Tomorrow, 7pm, in the concert hall of the Jack Miller Music Center.

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Visit Reader’s World in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

I Am Wearing Your Shirt

On Tuesday night, 17 of us gathered at Bryan Uecker’s Book Nook and Java Shop in Montague, Michigan. Go there. You will enter the world as it should be: fine food, fine drinks, music, fascinating art objects, books of course, and overstuffed chairs, calming lighting, and such welcoming warmth.

This is a gift from Bryan to all those who hope to find a place where the soul finds respite.

We gathered for a workshop in which I try to offer a variety of approaches to writing that explores one’s personal history, the history that matters, the history that one is seldom encouraged to discover. There is memory, the wellspring of much of our lives. As Joy Harjo has so quietly said, “Memory alive. That’s what we are.” And there is memory that becomes a record of our history, meaning those experiences and those people who have had an impact on who we are.

During our evening a troubling discussion arose about how, all but daily, 45 by his coarse and caustic language distracts these writers from what deeply matters to them. Two and a half hours later, we left feeling re-connected to our own worlds, regretting that we needed a workshop to have this happen, and with hope that we can attend to political events that matter and somehow keep 45 from tearing us away from what creates the personal meaning in our days.

I Am Wearing Your Shirt
an elegy for my father

When your words left
your hands, the only place
silence holds us to the earth
opened.  Somewhere a child
opened a door.  Somewhere
a mother looked out a window.

You lived in your hands—alive
in bread dough, along the handles
of tools, holding the endless
usefulness of rags.  “In all
things, a firm grip,” you told me,
and at the end, you wanted only
your hands.

The snow that comes in the mornings
brings each of your words.  The water
forms around your and, your either, not
and yes.  They land, they just land.
Sometimes they fall all day, and into
the next.  Sometimes they melt before noon.

You never waited.  In the Spring,
you forced the shoots, even
the blooms.  The trays waited
on the coffee table, the refrigerator,
the floor of the family room. We gave
one to anyone who stopped. They
were gone by May.

Yesterday, I found a photograph.  I’m
sitting on your shoulders.  Or is it you
sitting on your father’s shoulders?  Or
is it your grandfather sitting
on his beer wagon, holding
his team of tired horses?

At the funeral, you walked through the house
collecting your garden tools, cookbooks, and
sweatshirts while each visitor laid the bud
of a rose on your chest.  They formed a heart
within the heart of your arms and folded hands.
I imagine them opening in your ashes.

Every morning for fifty-one years, you
woke and began by whispering, “This
is the best part of the day,” and laid
your arm across her back.

I am wearing your shirt.  Now,
when I walk, I wear your hat.  In
the garden, I wear your gloves.

Here the land is flat.  You
lived in the clay hills,
always at an angle.

Growing up on Goat Shit Hill,
looking out over the sullen
open hearths, the tired smoke
of the mills, the smudged strip
of heartless coal, you took shot
after shot at the hoop your father
rammed into the ridge behind
your house, knowing any miss
could send you down a mile
after the disrespected ball.

The house is cold now, cold
as Spring turning itself
into bloom.  We wait at the window.

You always stepped aside
to let every question have its way.

Your God wanted no attention at all.

Yesterday, when I dug into our garden’s
matted earth, I felt your hand slide
into mine as if it were putting on
a glove.  We went together
into the awkward ground, turned the soil,
let it slip between our fingers.

Where have you walked
in a year?  The center
of snow. . .  The center of
each amen. . . of every
word we’ve tried to keep.
Now, on this still April afternoon,
one more year to the day you
came to stay within us, the trees’
negative space waits for leaves.

And wearing your shirt, I look out into
the wood, where the end of each branch
touches the air’s one silence.

How you loved this dust, this
light on the side of the house.

–Jack Ridl

First published in the New Poems from the Third Coast, Contemporary Michigan Poetry (Wayne State University Press)
Subsequently published in Broken Symmetry (Wayne State University Press)

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Visit Roan & Black and Cabbages & Kings and Reader’s World to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

And, of course, click here to visit ridl.com, check out what Jack’s been up to, maybe say hi!