Rilke spouting genius, in a letter (and echoes in Saunders)

image from Wikipedia

“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: that each protects the solitude of the other.”

Just this morning, after a headstand-y, dolphin-y (aka woooo-that-was-hard) yoga class, I grabbed some donuts and a ham & cheese kolache and dug up the above Rilke quote from the New Yorker‘s review of Adam Phillips’ new book Missing Out: In Praised of the Unlived Life. Reviewer Joan Acocella echoed/unpacked Rilke’s statement this way: “People, [Phillips] writes, have no discernible connection to one another. But we can give solace to those we care about by allowing themselves to just be, without having to explain themselves.”

It’s so easy to feel like my loved ones are my responsibility, or that they reflect on me or I on them, like I have some kind of worker-bee job to do, plodding away to effect change. Sure, I think it’s healthy, important change I’m cheering for. And surely goodhearted, honest advice has some merit, some place in our lives. But really: What do I know? And how often does what we say make a difference anyway? How good does it feel to be left alone–in other words, accepted without question, loved for your bad habits and your little meannesses alike?

It came up again, this idea, in “Tenth of December”, a story I reread this afternoon and which broke my heart all over again. An ailing, aging narrator remembers his relationship with his wife:

“When they were first married they used to fight. Say the most insane things. Afterward, sometimes there would be tears. Tears in bed? Somewhere. And then they would—Molly pressing her hot wet face against his hot wet face. They were sorry, they were saying with their bodies, they were accepting each other back, and that feeling, that feeling of being accepted back again and again, of someone’s affection for you always expanding to encompass whatever new flawed thing had just manifested in you, that was the deepest, dearest thing he’d ever—”

In other words: No explanation necessary.

Alas, this desire to shape persists despite the fact that I know such an endeavor is useless, proud, and nearly always unfruitful, if not irrelevant. And so this review was a lovely thing for me to come across: Why not instead work harder at not changing them? The more I think about it, the more I fear any attempt otherwise is not just useless, but harmful, even poisonous—like any number of species of ripe red berries stumbled across on a long hike, just asking to be plucked and tasted.

writing about reading

I spoke with Manu Joseph about his newest book, “The Illicit Happiness of Other People”, and it made me very happy, indeed. (Photo credit:

This fall, at an impromptu party thrown for those authors stuck post-Texas book festival and as Hurricane Sandy brewed back in NY, I connected with the editor of Kirkus Reviews Online (also at this party, I stared slack-jawed at Robert Caro and ate raw marshmallows because I was too shy to toast them.)

The happy result of meeting the editor has been a handful of assignments that do not feel like work at all: I get to read books, and then interview their authors to find out what makes them tick and how the story came about. The glory! The pestering! The insight into craft shared neuroses!  Anyway, the first one is up here and the second one is due out shortly.

(Oh, and the craziest part? Finding your praise (and name) in the editorial section of Amazon!)