One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike

Brian Doyle
250
December 28, 2020
★★★★★ (+7.53%) 🛈

This is a book of essays – short chapters that have nothing to do with each other, though they are somehow grouped into sections.

I have never read a book of essays. And this is not a book that I would have picked up, but a friend sent it to me. I had sent the friend a different book years ago. He remembered this, and he decided that I should read this one.

I loved it.

Brian Doyle is a writer of some repute, though I can’t seem to categorize him. I think he was a college professor, and he edited a magazine, and I know he was Catholic, because he writes about it a lot. Apparently his essays appeared all over the place.

He died in 2017. Brain cancer. He had three children, and at least one brother who died before him (maybe another brother too, I’m not sure). I know all this because he wrote about it in various essays. Not a single one, but in a series of them where I picked up bits and pieces about his life.

Doyle was wonderful in capturing the “normalness” of life. In several essays, he writes about things that you would never think twice about. Encountering animals in the woods. Kids finding a praying mantis during a soccer game. Him and his brother falling asleep in a cabin next to the ocean.

In a few essays that border on meta, he writes about how normal life feels sometimes. About how awful things are attached to normal things – a man’s wife says she’s in love with someone else, then goes into the kitchen and makes coffee. And about how divorce can happen for the dumbest reasons, but we get married anyway.

This book can only be read meditatively, and not too much at one time. I read it over the course of several months. I read 7-8 books during the same time I read this one. I would put a solid hour into another book, then pick this one up and read a couple essays, then put it down. You didn’t want to read too much at one time, because you needed to think about them.

(I even found myself reading some of the essays out loud to my wife, which is something I never do.)

Brian Doyle wrote a lot of books, it turns out, including a “book of prayers” in which he offers prayers for simple things like socks, which seems incredibly fitting after what I read in this book because Doyle could find holiness in the simplest of things.

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