The List – a poem for World Book Day

The List
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A man told me he had calculated
the exact number of books
he would be able to read before he died
by figuring the average number
of books he read per month
and his probable earth span,
(averaging how long
his dad and grandpa had lived,
adding on a few years since he
exercised more than they did).
Then he made a list of necessary books,
nonfiction mostly, history, philosophy,
fiction, and poetry from different time periods
so there wouldn’t be large gaps in his mind.
He had given up frivolous reading entirely.
There are only so many days.

Oh, I felt sad to hear such an organized plan.
What about the books that aren’t written yet,
the books his friends might recommend
that aren’t on the list,
the yummy magazine that might fall
into his hand at a silly moment after all?
What about the mystery search
through the delectable library shelves?
I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
calling for his hand.


>Good authors gift us with pearls. Here are some pearls polished and presented by Timothy radcliffe from my reading today – What is the Point of being a Christian?
How about this?

  • As fish were made to swim in water, human beings were made to thrive in the truth (p121)
  • When Wittgenstein was asked how philosophers should greet each other, he replied ‘Take your time.’ (p123)
  • We come to see people as lovable because we see other people loving them. (p124)

and then Radcliffe uses this story. “one day a rabbi asked his students, ‘How can you tell that night has ended and the day is returning? One student suggested, ‘When you can see clearly that an animal in the distance is a lion and not a leopard.’ ‘No’, said the rabbi. ‘It is when you can look on the face of another person and see that woman or man is your sister or brother. Because until you are able to do so, no matter what time of day it is, it is still night.'”

>World Book Day

>When Prince Charming married Cinderella – it was World Book Day. I’ve just waved Jeanette off to her school in her Willie Wonka outfit – no doubt going to see all the oompa-lumpas. It’s World Book Day – when children will be dressing up as characters from well loved books. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in a costume other than what that is derived from film, which shows how dependant we are on those who can visualise and transfer a character from one media to another. Some schools will be having a bookstall and some will be having authors coming into school.

I wonder what everybody will be reading today in the cafes, tubes or stretched out on the settee. One blogger, Sonya Worthy, spends her time asking people what they’re reading – her blog, People Reading, is a real celebration of books. As for me, I shall be reading more from What is the Point of being a Christian? because I promised myself that for Lent – and today I have already come across this lovely quote from Salman Rushdie’s article Is Nothing Sacred?:

I grew up kissing books and bread. In our house, whenever anyone dropped a book or let fall a chapatti … the fallen object was required not only to be picked up but also kissed, by way of apology for the act of clumsy disrespect. I was a s careless and butter-fingered as any child and, accordingly, during my childhood years, i kissed a large number of ‘slices and also my fair share of books. Devout households in India often contained, and still cotain, persons in the habit of kissing holy books. But we kissed everything. We kissed dictionaries and atlases. We kissed Enid Blyton novels and Superman comics. If i’d ever have dropped the telephone directory I’d probably have kissed that too. All this happened before I ever kissed a girl. In fact it would be true, true enough for a fiction writer, anyhow, to say that once I started kissing girls, my activities with regard to bread and books lost some of their special excitement. But one never forgets one’s first loves. Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul – what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love?

That’s from Granta 31:1990