Bibliophile on Retreat


Somehow it has been ten years since I took my first silent retreat?!?!? I do not even know how that time has passed or why it seems incredibly significant and not a big deal, all at the same time.

Sigh…as the audience for my annual book buying goals I have a confession and it’s all tied up with my retreat…

My father and I have been retreating at the same time for the past 3 years and this year he decided we should stop at a used book store on our way.  Now this stop was sprung on me, literally on the morning we left.  Dad has been doing his best to get to all the stores on The Ultimate List of Local Bookstores: 51 Must-See Bookstores Across the US and that morning he realized we would be traveling right through LaCross, WI and could stop at the Pearl Street Books.

Great idea Dad! Fantastic! Yes, I will hustle, get ready and meet you in Stewartville a little early. Whoot whoot, great way to start our retreat!  It wasn’t until we walked in the store that I realized, “oh yeah, I’m not buying books this year.” For about two second I was crestfallen and then…well friends, here’s the deal; when a bibliophile father takes his bibliophile daughter to a FANTASTIC used book store, all bets, and in this case self-challenges, are off!!!

Yes.  I had an entire thirty-one bag filled to the brim with books.

Yes. The retreat house has both a small library and a book exchange basket.

Yes. My bibliophile father had a bag, even bigger than mine filled with books.

Buuuuut when I was packing, none of the fiction in my house was calling to me, so I had to pick up America’s Best Short Story 2016 compilation in case I got a hankering for fiction.  And then they had Essential Rumi which has been on my list for a while now and I only had one book of poetry so Rumi might come in handy, so I had to pick that up.   Then I saw America’s Best Essays 2013 and I had just finished 2016 which reminded me 1) how much I love essay (blog to come on that later) and 2) that I might need some short reading during this retreat, so I had to pick that up.  And right then, I took a deep breath and said, “I’m good now.”  Dad was still searching, but I was done.  Three books is perfect.  So I moseyed over to the kids section because I can ALWAYS resist a kids book and when I turned around, there it was The Tale of Genji.  Perhaps the first novel EVER WRITTEN and fyi, BY A WOMAN.

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The story on this one is a little longer…Leonel and I went to the MIA (Minneapolis Institute of Art) earlier this year and we saw this incredible exhibit Love Affair: The Tale of Genji. I guess this was like Japan’s original superhero in that ever since it was written (cough, cough…by a woman) in the eleventh century Genji has played a vital role in Japanese culture.  In all sorts of ways. I think a parallel (though please do not quote me on this) would be King Arthur and the knights of the round table. Told in a million different ways and inspiring art, music, etc.

So obviously, I had to buy it. I mean, it was just sitting there, staring me down.  I couldn’t leave it there on the shelf.  I had to pick it up too.

And so I left Pearl Street Books with four new books. A lovely success and also bit of a failure all wrapped up in one. But I was happy.

Now you may ask, how many of those books did you read on retreat? Weeeeelll…

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I finished one book I had already started and then finished four additional ones during my eight days. I only got The Essential Rumi started.

And sure, Haddi makes it sound like all I should have done was read, read, read. And yes, that is possible but it’s not really the point of eight days of silence. Over the years, even as I swear my bag of books gets bigger, I find myself reading less. Those Jesuits keep trying to tell me that I am not to produce during these days of silence That includes finishing books. The point is to simply be. Be in the presence of God, in the presence of yourself, nature, our silent retreat community.  Simply be. It’s hard. In 10 years I have gone from probably reading 6-8 books to kindof like 4ish. Progress. Slow. But steady progress.

Going on retreat is amazing, even if it induces this bibliophile to pack exorbitant amounts of books.  And sure I crumbled under the pressure of an amazing used book store but I am recommitting myself to my original goals for the year. No BUYING BOOKS for myself.

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Sigh…Happy reading!