Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Guest-Blogger Richard Goodman's Five Favorite Books with Soul

While I wind down pre-judging the Flannery O'Connor Award (must write comments on the selected seven for series editor Nancy Zafris), travel writer and writing teacher Richard Goodman guest-blogs again! His latest book is The Soul of Creative Writing. He is also the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France, one of the founding members of the New York Writers Workshop, and teaches creative nonfiction at Spalding University's Brief Residency MFA in Writing Program in Louisville, Kentucky. Over to you, Richard!
My Favorite Five Books With the Word "Soul" in the Title.

Yes, I know five. And they are all very good books it turns out. While this may seem a bit gimmicky, it actually reveals something about the intensity and depth of the word "soul." I chose it as part of my own title with a great deal of respect and some trepidation. It's an august word, and meaningful, and, to be truthful, I still have my doubts as to whether or not I've used it in vain. But it was too appealing to resist. The five books are all very different, but what connects them, I think, is an attempt to get at something intangible, essential, elusive, unique and powerful. I left out some well known "soul" books (Dead Souls comes to mind), but five's the limit.

Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver.
For those readers who have never heard of the Black Panthers, and for those who have simply relegated them to a dusty corner of their memory, this book, published in 1968, will be a stern enlightenment. Cleaver was one of the founders of the Black Panther party. He spent time in prison. Eventually, he fled to Algeria to avoid criminal prosecution. This is a brutal, hard book, with a bitter taste, but he pulls no punches.

Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore.
This book was given to me by the great editor Hugh Van Dusen. Hugh, who has worked at Harper Collins for years, and edited some of the world's most famous authors, is a wonderfully urbane, elegant and generous man. When he gave me this book some years ago, I was skeptical. The title seemed a but new-agey for me. I was wrong. It's a powerful book, and one of the most important things it does is to make a distinction between the heart and the soul.

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder.
This book, told at a breakneck pace about a breakneck race to build a new kind of computer, is a brilliant look at the huge pressures involved in trying to stay one step ahead in cyber technology. What makes this book especially wonderful is its sense of irony, and ultimately, of disappointment.

Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross.
This sixteenth century Spanish monk, and friend of St. Teresa, wrote stirring poems about the soul's effort to unite with God. Whether you're a believer or not, it's hard to resist verses like: When the breeze blew from the turret / as I parted his hair / it wounded my neck / with its gentle hand / suspending all my senses.

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois.
This seminal book begins, "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line." Now, as we move steadily into the twenty-first century, has anything really changed? This book, by the "Bard of Great Barrington" and one of the most influential black thinkers who ever lived, is a favorite.

--- Richard Goodman

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo's guest-blog posts, click here.