Madness, Rack, and Honey

Quite a while ago, probably over a year, I started Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle. This past weekend I picked it back up, sat out in the sun, and finished it. Often I start a book and it’s just not resonating with me, so I set it aside and I never know when I’ll come back to it. It’s taken me a long time, but I now give myself permission to not finish things. But often, the timing is wrong, it isn’t the right book for me to be reading.

This was definitely the case with this book and last weekend became the right time. I almost couldn’t put it down. It, quite simply, is amazing. Ruefle is a poet and professor, teaching in an MFA program in Vermont. She was terrified at the idea of lecturing, so she writes out her lectures because “I am a writer and writing is my natural act, more natural than speaking.”

I’m so glad she did. Her lectures on single words are my favorites, On Secrets: Eight Beginnings, Two Ends and On Fear made me think and want to read more. She draws on her rich reading history to talk about the words and what they mean and how they’re used. She does this often throughout the lectures, but these two stand out to me. I may even be doing some rereading soon.

I didn’t do a lot of underlining or highlighting as I read, choosing instead to relish the words alone, but I did sit with my journal next to me and I wrote things and asked myself questions; I’m still thinking on the words I read. Below I leave you with one of my favorite passages on reading, but if you’d like another perspective on Ruefle’s writing, I highly recommend Mandy’s reading notes (Mandy’s note on wasting time is well worth your time).

We are all one question, and the best answer seems to be love—a connection between things. This arcane bit of knowledge is respoken every day into the ears of readers of great books, and also appears to perpetually slip under a carpet, utterly forgotten. In one sense, reading is a great waste of time. In another sense it is a great extension of time, a way for one person to live a thousand and one lives in a single life span, to watch the great impersonal universe at work again and again, to watch the personal psyche spar with it, to suffer affliction and weakness and injury, to die and watch those you love die, until the very dizziness of it all becomes a source of compassion for ourselves, and for the language which we alone created, without which the letter that slipped under the door could never have been written, or, once in a thousand lives—is that too much to ask?—retrieved, and read. Did I mention supreme joy? That is why I read: I want everything to be okay. That’s why I read when I was a lonely kid and that’s why I read now that I’m a scared adult. (p. 197)