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 The site is no longer active.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.
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.