Earlier this month I asked Mariconda about what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have a pile of books beside my bathtub, spend the last hour of every evening up to my chin in warm water, reading. Relaxing. Sometimes, if the book is just okay, I’ll nod off - in fact, you can identify the less riveting books on my shelves by the curled, rumpled pages of titles that have taken a dip in the suds after putting me to sleep.Visit Barbara Mariconda's website.
Two books that have stayed high and dry and kept me awake much later than they should have are Body and Soul by Frank Conroy and Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. The first, a novel, written back in the 90’s, the latter, a prophetic reflection on what spiritual maturity means, and the richness that comes with it.
I picked up Body and Soul at a small independent book store in Chapel Hill, N.C. at the recommendation of a helpful, well-read book seller. It’s the story of concert pianist Claude Rawlings, set just after World War II. The story begins with five year old Claude, lonely and isolated, living in NYC with his mother, whose attitude toward the boy is one of not-so-benign neglect. Spending most of his days alone in a basement apartment, Claude becomes fascinated with the rhythm of footsteps on the sidewalk above, the sounds of the building and surrounding neighborhood, a radio that provides company, and an old white studio piano jammed in the back room. This alienated, lonely child develops an extraordinary sense of the power of sounds, and music becomes a vehicle for him to grow beyond the walls that hold him prisoner.
As a pianist myself, what fascinated me was the way Conroy explored the ability of music to nurture the soul and elevate the spirit, and the relationships between artistry, the science of acoustics, music theory, and technical aptitude, while drawing analogies between all of this and the complexities of life. To be honest, I enjoyed the musical aspects of this novel more than the plot, which follows Rawlings into adulthood, still, the musical elements were enough to keep me awake in the tub.
Falling Upward is a must for anyone pushing fifty who’s ever asked, “What’s it all about?” Rohr, a Franciscan priest, is, I believe, a prophetic voice, offering insight and hope. He discusses the tasks of the first half of life – to strive, excel, compete, attain - to define ourselves as successful in terms of societal values, building a secure container that will hold the often difficult second half of life realities. Failure, illness, loss - these seemingly tragic events are actually necessary vehicles for spiritual growth and emotional maturity. What I love about Rohr is his compelling insights into the way of the middle – the often uncomfortable place between the poles of opposites, of black and white, right and wrong – the place where compassion and inclusiveness are born. His writing pushes us beyond religious dogma and the grade-school faith that does not serve us well when life becomes difficult, and toward a richer, wiser, more complex, and ultimately more satisfying mature spirituality in the second half of life. It’s a book to read several times, to savor, to contemplate, in the tub, or out!
Read--Coffee with a Canine: Barbara Mariconda and Little Man.