Full disclosure: I haven’t finished this book. In fact, I am not even close to being done. My Kindle tells me I am at the 33% mark, so you might wonder how I can possibly review a book I haven’t even finished halfway yet.
It’s because of the kind of book this is. A Room Called Remember is a collection of essays, addresses and sermons, published in 1984. I chose this book as one of the 12 Buechner books to read during my Year of Reading Buechner series because it was one of the lesser-known of his titles, and because it contained an essay on writing and language that I was interested in reading.
So, it’s not like it’s a book that has any kind of narrative arc or central theme, it’s very much a book that can be picked up and put down. The different chapters themselves could be read in no particular order, although in general I am working my way through the book from beginning to end, with the exception that I read the essay on writing so I could include some thoughts about it in this review.
It’s quite a long book. Which is another reason why I haven’t made it through to the end. But the main reason for my slowness of reading the book is because it’s not the kind of book you can read quickly, in big chunks here and there. Each chapter invites careful reflection by the reader. It’s just too much to keep barreling through the book without stopping to appreciate the truths and perspectives Buechner offers us here.
So, with that caveat in mind, I do think that even though I haven’t read the whole thing, I have a good sense of what the book is like. And in a word, it’s marvelous. This collection is full of profound truth and honest reflections on faith, God, and life, and as such is a wonderful opportunity for the reader to ponder these things as well. Buechner is a wise friend and mentor in these writings, coming alongside us to point us to profound insights. He is never pushy or dogmatic, but carefully, with sensitivity, pulls back the surface layers to show us deeper meanings we may have missed in the ordinary events of our lives.
The first essay, from which the book gets its title, A Room Called Remember, is a great example of Buechner at his finest. It is based on a profound dream he had, in which he searched for a hotel room he had found that was the most comfortable of all, just right for him in every way. The clerk tells him he can find the room again if he could ask for it by name, and tells him that the name of the room is Remember. Upon reflection on the dream, he concludes that,
The name of the room is Remember–the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.
The room called Remember is the place where we reflect on our lives. “Listen to your life”, as Buechner puts it, a theme that resonates through much of his writings that I have read so far. In this room we search for glimpses of what has sustained us, the hand that has led us thus far. As he says,
Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.
This book is full of thoughtful insights like this. Buechner is a lovely writer, using his words to challenge, delight, and comfort us. He is one of the most quotable writers I have read, and that’s saying a lot. It’s hard to go more than a page without finding something you want to underline. This is true of this book and of all the books i have read of his so far. Many of the chapters begin with Bible verses, the accompanying text (presumably sermons) a reflection on the verses, giving a richness and depth to both his words and the verses.
The essay on words, language, and writing, called “The Speaking and Writing of Words”, is where Buechner develops a theory that language developed out of humanity’s need to understand the world more deeply and to share experiences with others
He goes on to say, there is no world for us until we can name the world. In other words, the things we see and experience do not fully exist until and unless we name them, and even more profound than that, time itself has no meaning without the words to understand past, present and future.
Ultimately, he postulates that the whole purpose of language is so that humanity may speak to God, can look beyond the events of our lives and ask the question, why.
From the spoken word he moves on to writing, exploring how the written word is both like and unlike the speech, becoming more powerful by the fact of its permanence. He explains,
Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves…not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate.
This is a a powerful and humbling thought for us writers. I suppose, if we are honest, its one of the reasons we attempt to write anything at all.
I am only 33% through this book, but I am not finished with it yet. Nor, I suspect, is it finished with me. I am looking forward to reading the rest of it, and to rereading it in the years to come. It’s not a book that lets you go lightly.
In the last paragraph of “The Speaking and Writing of Words”, Buechner writes,
…a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth.
It’s a fitting epitaph for this book, too.
For more posts in this series, click the links below:
2018 Reading Challenge: The Year of Reading Buechner
Year of Reading Buechner: The Remarkable Ordinary
Year of Reading Buechner: A Sacred Journey
Year of Reading Buechner: Brendan, A Novel
Year of Reading Buechner: The Alphabet of Grace
Year of Reading Buechner: Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation
Year of Reading Buechner: Godric
Year of Reading Buechner: Telling Secrets: A Memoir