Thursday, February 27, 2014


The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt
Little, Brown and Company, 2013

We have art in order not to die from the truth. 

This book. It's why I do what I do. So that someday, maybe sooner, maybe later, every child in the wake of my teaching will come across at least one book that knocks them backward, sits them down hard. Changes the way they see the world.

I read this book through my ears. It's a huge book; we've been together through months of trips back and forth to school, and walks light enough to wear earbuds, and housework menial enough to listen while I worked.

It's not an easy book to read. Donna Tartt doesn't make anything easy for Theo for very long at all. But it's a beautiful book. Long passages were poetry -- love songs to antiques, cities, seasons, art, life.

Yesterday when I woke up, I had about two hours left to listen to, and (you know the feeling) there was nothing else I could do but listen. I took my early morning walk as laps around the basement so that I could listen. I listened while I ate breakfast. I listened while I made my lunch. I listened in the car on the way to school. I listened while I got the classroom ready for the day, before I went to my meeting.

After my students finished their word study task, one after another picked up a book and started to read. By the time I should have done the reading workshop mini lesson, the room was silent. That Kind of Silent. Spring in Fifth Grade Silent. This is a Community of Readers Silent.

I had 15 minutes left in the book. What else could I do? I grabbed my earphones and joined my community of readers. I finished the book, brushing away tears.

And what will I do next? I will buy a copy of the physical book, because it's one I want to hold in my hands and shelve next to the other landmark books of my adulthood. I want to read those last pages again. And find other favorite parts and savor them and sticky-note them.

And then? No, I won't be able to start another audiobook for awhile. I'll listen to Arvo Pärt on the drive to and from school, because Pippa listened to his music. I'll think about art and love and loss and chance and fate and right and wrong.

And I'll think about how lives are changed by the power of beauty in great art and in great books.


  1. You write the best reviews Mary Lee! Your words make mw want to pick up the book immediately. Persuasive Power:)

  2. I just downloaded this to my kindle yesterday and can't wait to start.

  3. What a lovely commentary, Mary Lee! Thanks!

  4. "That Kind of Silent. Spring in Fifth Grade Silent. This is a Community of Readers Silent." Wonderful. I miss seeing my children (in middle and high school) experience that time to read in a community of readers. My friend -- a poet and art critic -- also recommended the book. Glad to hear you liked the audio version!

  5. Mary Lee, I had been eying this book since it first came out. I was mesmerized by her first book, Th Secret History. I had decided No. There are SO many books but I will be downloading this to my IPad as soon as I finish this comment.

  6. Well, geez, how can I not read it now?

  7. I want to get to it, but haven't yet. My daughter is on her second time through, says it's that wonderful. Beautiful review Mary Lee.

  8. Holy cow. This post is going to be my read aloud for grade level meetings next week. Such powerful words. And I'd bet a million dollars that this "mini-lesson" will be the one your fifth graders remember. Thanks so much! P.S. And of course I want to read the book too!

  9. Anonymous5:38 AM

    This book has been on my shelf since October, patiently waiting its turn, but your powerful words make me want to start it today.

  10. I am in the middle of reading it - loving it - and now you make me want through everything aside and finish it this weekend!

  11. I put a hold on it but I am going to preorder the paperback. There were so many holds!

  12. Oh wow, Mary Lee. I am hunting for this book now in our library. Thank you for such a beautiful review.


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