Friday, June 10, 2011

Book Response: Notes on the Need for Beauty

I started to read Notes on the Need for Beauty: An Intimate Look at Essential Quality by J. Ruth Gendler in a doctor's waiting room. I immediately got a huge grin on my face that lasted until my name was called. Reading this book has been like working my way through a box of Lindor Truffles. Each chapter dissolves into luscious surprises. I plan to return to the book frequently as a source of comfort, inspiration to look more closely at the world around me and as a source of creative experiments.

Even the categories of Gendler's thought—reflected by chapter titles—surprised me. She considers light, mirrors and windows, beauty secrets, faces and masks, rags and threads, bone breath and language, cups bowls and baskets. Her love of words makes the book into music. Simple line drawings throughout speak to our nonverbal selves.

Often, Gendler explores etymology to give us a greater appreciation of the language that we use.

"Mirror, derived from the Latin "to look at, to wonder at" is cousin to admire and smile, mirage and miracle, she points out," and goes on: "mirrors bring us into mythlands, moonlands, mystery lands."
Gendler writes of beauty we can see, but also beauty we can't see.

"Love becomes a cloth two people weave together; threading and stitching connection we weave it and it weaves itself out of us."
If we think about beauty we are also thinking about ugliness. Gendler quotes a therapist who works with disturbed teenagers: "beauty comes from seeing the world without the filter of fear. Ugliness is seeing the world through fear." There is a hunger and loneliness in ugliness, Gendler says, and goes on to ponder how what is regarded as ugly is often strong.

Stories of Gendler's friends, relatives and students add to the wisdom in the book.
"An urban fifth-grader writes:
my heart, the universe
my mind, the stars
my soul, the son
my blood, the moon
my bones, the world
my skin, the ocean
my heart, the universe
and it echoes with the simplicity and authority of an ancient chant."
I am learning to read using the Kindle app on my iPad. I add bookmarks because it is an easier gesture then highlighting text. Returning to the neighborhood of my bookmarks, I find myself rebaptized in the magic of Gendler's prose. What was it, exactly, that I wanted to mark? No matter! Look here and here and here—more good thoughts. I'm gushing, I know, and I suspect there are people who would find this book boring and pointless. It is a book for those who agree:

" attending to beauty and enlarging our sense of beauty, we are able to live with greater appreciation, engagement, wonder, and reverence."

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