Short Pieces About Making

Talking about Books: The Grace of Great Things

That inscription in my copy of The Grace of Great Things by Robert Grudin is in my own handwriting; perhaps I gave it as a gift to myself. I'd have turned twenty-six that month, the fall before I earned my bachelor’s degree (seven years, part-time). I was freshly divorced and living in a room rented from my parents, waiting tables grave shift Thursday through Sunday and taking classes Monday through Thursday. It’s a toss-up whether I had less time or less money: buying the book was an indulgence, as was reading it.

Twenty-three years later, the pages are soft from rereading, the spine taped. I come across phrases I’ve long had memorized. The passage of time is evident, too, in the evolution of my handwriting and the nature of my marginalia. I cherished this book for its beauty and for its message, completely novel to me at the time, that an “ethos of inspiration” can be cultivated. That what appeared to me on the biographical surface of the lives of my heroines to be genius, was in fact a compilation of characteristics held in common. And, most encouragingly, that ...

many of these characteristics are less inborn virtues … than plain habits, difficult to cultivate perhaps, but nonetheless far from superhuman.