Heartfelt essays cover wide range of subjects
August 16, 2005
“Feasting the Heart” by Reynolds Price
I n “Feasting the Heart” Reynolds Price has collected 52 of his short essays he prepared for his radio show. A master of clarity and lyrical wit, he balances each offering with an equal measure of head and heart. Price, an English teacher at Duke University in North Carolina, has been publishing since 1957 and has over 50 works to his name in many different genres; fiction and non-fiction, novels, poetry, drama.
A master craftsman, the author is able to vary the topics of his essays widely but still make each one of interest to any reader. In “Casting Bread” he expounds on teaching. He compares it to the work of an actor, a priest or nun, or a musician – you put it out there and rarely know if it connects. But after receiving a letter from an appreciative student from long ago, he concludes, “Beauty can happen. A thoughtful life susceptible to joy can happen in a moment to a well-stocked mind.”
In “MRI” he sketches with a deft hand his experience being read by an MRI machine. Brief, spare and lyrical, he will leave you in amazement by the quality of his prose.
In “Lucky Catches” he addresses the able-bodied’s question of how much help to offer someone with a disability. His answer is you don’t know – it’s different with each person. Again, with his perfect precision he brings it home, illustrating a time when he was pitched out of his wheelchair in New York City by a bump in the road only to be saved before contact by two black kids. In 1984 Price was treated for spinal cancer by heavy doses of radiation which left him without the use of his legs.
In “The Commonest Demon” he sketches the widespread incidence of depression, how it occurred in his extended family, and how common it is for college students. With a light touch he describes how he alerts his young students of the danger.
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In “A Full Day” he recounts the charms of a reunion in a well-loved town from his childhood. In three short pages with a few perfectly chosen words about childhood joys, he effortlessly illuminates the glimmering quality of memory. In “The Last Great Weeper” he teases those for whom tears come readily.
My favorite essay, though, is “A Motto,” and it sums up the feeling of the entire book. He recounts the story of an Irish friend of his. This friend had just found out his mother was dying and made the journey back home. While visiting, one night he checked in on her, saw she was resting quietly, and turned to leave without disturbing her. As he was about to exit, he heard her say, “Remember: I only regret my economies.”
Reynolds Price took this as a personal motto and says he has “never regretted a splurge in my life, only my stingy-hearted choices at the sun-baked crossroads of money and passion. In love and friendship, food and travel, art and commerce, thanks and praise – I only regret my economies still.”
– Peggy Meyer is a library assistant at Lake Tahoe Community College Library.