Everyone has a book that changes their lives. It arrives when you are ready.

There is always a context to how this book finds you–a context which probably isn’t that interesting or magical to anyone except you—so I’ll spare you the story of how a stranger handed me this book, how lost and forlorn I must have seemed at the time, how this distant quest of Laurens Van Der Post’s spoke so directly to me.

William Morrow Books

Source: William Morrow Books

Instead of talking, instead of so much useless chatter, if I saw you in such a state right now in front of me, I’d prefer to silently hand you a copy of the book, the way that this book was handed to me without explanation. Perhaps I’d make you wait a moment until I found a brief passage I’ve all but memorized.

I’d leaf through the pages, saying the quote I was looking for didn’t need any context, but then I’d probably also say that, in the book, the author tells how he had dreamed from boyhood of finding the nearly-exterminated Bushmen, and how he came to commit to organizing his expedition into the Kalahari desert of what is now Botswana. I’d tell you it’s a spiritual quest for him and would thumb through the pages and read the following passage to you:

In fact all the aspects of the plan that were within reach of my own hand were worked out and determined there and then. What took longer, of course, was the part which depended on the decisions of others and on circumstances beyond my own control. Yet even there I was amazed at the speed with which it was accomplished. I say ‘amazed,’ but it would be more accurate to say I was profoundly moved, for the lesson that seemed to emerge for a person with my history of forgetfulness, doubts and hesitations was, as Hamlet put it so heart-rendingly to himself: “the readiness is all.” If one is truly ready within oneself and prepared to commit one’s readiness without question to the deed that follows naturally on it, one finds life and circumstance surprisingly armed and ready at one’s side.

I’d hold the moment of this quote, and then I’d hand the whole caboodle of this book to you and simply disappear, just as someone handed a hardcover copy to me and disappeared.

William Lychack

My pay stub from the bookstore…

Source: William Lychack

I was fresh out of college and working in a bookstore at the time on the upper east side of Manhattan; the long-gone Madison Avenue Bookshop (and I made so little money that I’d sometimes have to walk three hours home over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn). And in these years I had never felt more adrift in my life, trying to find my feet as far from home and the life I wanted to live as I might have ever been, trying to pay rent and eat and survive on 200 dollars a week.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m always looking for you. I’m always hoping to pass along the same gift. Maybe I’d recognize some of that same kindred feeling in the way you look, maybe that’s why I’d hand a book like this to you, maybe that’s why you’d read it, and maybe that’s why it might speak to you the life-saving way that it did for me. You never know. Stranger things happen.

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