“How Books Find Me,” First Published on Shelf Pleasure

Max Langelott photo of Stuttgart library

Photo by Max Langelott on Unsplash

Note: The essay archived below was first published on the book-lovers’ website ShelfPleasure.com in 2012. The site is no longer active. I’m sharing it here as a writing sample.


If you were to look at my nightstand, my coffee table, and my Goodreads profile, you’d see about 400 books. About 390 of them came into my life through the usual means like recommendations and reviews. The rest found me through synchronicity, and those are the ones that I love the most, that I find myself buying, keeping, loaning out, and recommending to others.

Over the years, I’ve read endless articles about how people find books, but never a single one describing how books find people. This, I think, is a critical oversight, because the best books, the ones that make the biggest impact on us, don’t come to us through active seeking; they float into our lives at just the right time, the way a perfect wave will come to a surfer exactly when she’s ready to ride it.

Woodswoman memoir

My most recent serendipitous find was Woodswoman by Ann LaBastille. In true “meant-to-be” fashion, I didn’t stumble upon the book itself; rather, I found a newspaper obituary from the Los Angeles Times, taped to the end of a shelf in my favorite used bookstore. The obit was dated 2011 and featured a photograph of a gray-haired woman sitting in a canoe with her German shepherd. After a divorce in the 1970s, it said, LaBastille retreated to the Adirondacks of New York State, built herself a 12 x 12 foot log cabin on the undeveloped side of a remote lake, and remained there for decades, supporting herself as a conservationist consultant, writer, and photographer. In those many years, she’d written several well-regarded memoirs about her life in the woods.

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That Field at the Top of the Tallest Hill in Town

Reprinted from my Tumblr

Every summer for the past seven years, I’ve lived in a tiny town near the Catskills of New York State. Two years ago, we changed locations so that our picture window faced a towering hill behind a university. At the top of this hill, high above all the other athletic fields, is a wide swath of mowed lawn surrounded by wilderness. At one end of this lawn stands a set of football goal posts, rising up out of the grasses like Druidic ruins.

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