I once read a beautiful little book at the tender age of 20. Though my motives for reading it seemed capricious at the time, I now know something happened within its first few pages that set me on a path to the interior life. Books have the power to do that, of course. Not every one. Perhaps relatively few. The book was the novel Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, and it served as the first way marker of my post-Catholic spiritual life. It suggested to me that there was another way of looking at this world, my place in it, and my identity. It was a good book for me to read at 20 - actually, the perfect book. Siddhartha was my first look inward, and oddly, at an age where hedonistic considerations usually had my full attention. A look at my present day bookshelves will suggest the tendency toward quiet, contemplative reads has continued with only a few minor deviations.
I’ve just read another book at the not-so-tender age of 63. I had an intuition about this one, that it would be important to me, something special. I came to know of it by virtue of having just signed a contract with Homebound Publications to publish my own book. It is likely I would not have found it otherwise had I not been exposed to their catalogue. My attention was immediately drawn to a new release, the novel Painted Oxen, by Thomas Lloyd Qualls.
It captured me as surely and as deeply as Siddhartha once did, as a richly layered, gorgeously written story of time and the mystical wonders of pilgrimage, of alchemy, and the interior life projected outward to the world. Illusions and reality mingle and dance. Seductive dreams bridge inner and outer worlds. What is real? What is a dream? The age-old hero’s journey unfolds once again, and every human on the planet can join there. It is our collective story.
It was a good book for me to read at 63, another perfect book for an old pilgrim who’s walked a step or two and known the alchemy of movement. It has given me a few more things to chew on, some things to dream on, and as was promised in its introduction, some things to be remembered. It’s not done with me just yet. This one will be on the nightstand a while.
It’s a little funny how these things present in life, the things meant to be noticed. Two books, forty years removed. Or was it only a step, a breath, a moment? All in a dream.