Sunday, December 17, 2006

Natalie Goldberg's The Great Failure

Three days from the completion of my semester and I’ve been struggling with a cold. An odd cold, no less. My throat is sore, though today that is getting better, and when I am sleeping it seems to seize up, waking me struggling with a cough as though to clear it, but getting no relief. As I said though, today, I am feeling better - I woke up and showered and finished my first non-school book of the break.

I was actually reading Mary Rose O’Reilley’s book, The Love of Impermanent Things, which is really lovely, but I paused from it because I need to write a review of this book and her book of poetry, Half-Wild, when I finish it and I am not yet read to take up writing book reviews (and I really for deadline purposes have to look at Mary Daly’s new book). So I picked up The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg. I ordered this book on a lark. My writing buddy, Sally, was reading Thunder and Lightning, and was inspired wildly by Goldberg as we writers tend to be. She makes writing seem so possible and exhilarating and not at all challenging and painful and terrifying, which I think it is (that is to say writing is more often on the negative side of the emotional realm than the positive). So I went to and ordered Thunder and Lightning wanting that boost when my semester ended. I added The Great Failure to my list only because it was cheap and I hadn’t heard about it. Yesterday, sick and rooting through stacks of books, I picked up The Great Failure because it was available and easy to find. Thunder and Lightning is somewhere as yet unknown. The Great Failure was neither exciting nor exhilarating. It is, however, clearly a book that I needed to read. In it, Goldberg writes about the death of her Zen teacher and the death of her father, and most importantly about learning things about them either during their life or after their death that were painful and challenging to her, her relationships with each of them and her understanding of herself in the world. It is in the Natalie Goldberg way and accessible and easy to understand read. It is a book that I needed, not for myself, immediately as I think I have a pretty nuanced understanding of the imperfections of people in the world and in my life, but for my sister, who continues to be angry and alienated from my father based on information that she has gained that challenges her and her relationship with him and her sense of herself in the world. I needed to read this book so that I could give it to her and hope that it will help her. The family of my birth needs some of the magic that Goldberg uncovers in her unexpected path to truth. We’ll see if it works.

Meanwhile, I’m going to look for Thunder and Lightning and try to get some of the exhilaration that it gave to Sally.

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