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The Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany Paperback – June 16, 2008
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Celebrated novelist and Presbyterian minister Buechner says that, at 80, he is unable to write whole books. “Maybe after more than thirty of them, the well has at last run dry.” Or maybe he no longer has the energy. So what we have here are essays, a story, reminiscences, family-themed poems, and a scene from a novel. Much of this is elegiac: remembrances of family members now gone and famous people, such as the first president Buechner met, FDR, in 1932, when the pol was about 50, the author about 6. As always with Buechner, the magic is in the details as he remembers the sights, sounds, and scents of particular times and places. His comments are invariably insightful, compassionate, and poignant, such as his recalling that, even at 6, he realized that Roosevelt would “crumble to the ground” on his “flimsy” legs unless aided by the two men at his side. Other memorable memories include the first funeral he conducted; corresponding with editor and novelist William Maxwell, whom he greatly admired; and first meeting Maya Angelou. --June Sawyers --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Frederick Buechner is the author of more than thirty works of fiction and non-fiction. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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the beek (ah, that's my little pet name for him) hasn't written a full length book in a while. and, as he writes in the forward of this collection, he guesses that ability has left him (i sure hope that isn't true). in the mean time, buechner says he could pull together a collection of essays, scraps of fiction, poems, and family memories, with a sprinkling of faith and church thrown in. somehow, it works.
the best parts of this collection, in my opinion, are the first few pieces -- little memoirs about family members (buechner's mom and brother-in-law, in particular). the whole thing is a bit voyeuristic, looking into a period of time and slice of society that is not my own. buechner comes from east coast, private school, intelligencia, with old money thrown in (buechner's wife is heir to the merck fortune, and his own family, while experiencing some rough times during the depression, did pretty well).
reading often felt a bit like sitting with mr. b in an old but fancy sitting room, somewhere in an old money neighborhood in new england, listening to him tell stories while sipping tea. with milk.
it's a quick read, really, but just lovely. intimate and brilliant.
A promising literary light whose works have attracted the attention of even New York's inner circle, Buechner dared to move further and further along his spiritual journey. He admits that his ordination as a Presbyterian minister was a terrible career move for a serious writer. He did it anyway. And, he's not easily categorized as a "Christian writer," either. His memoirs with titles like "Telling Secrets" through "The Longing for Home" are almost impossible to classify with our oh-so-easy labels of "evangelical" or "emergent," "progressive" or "conservative." He wrote them, anyway, and they found a loyal audience of thousands. Over time, his books have formed one the great spiritual reflections on life in turn-of-the-millennium America.
A clear theme emerges in these more than 30 volumes of memoir, fiction and nonfiction - a clear character to the relationship Buechner has been building with us. His overarching theology of writing goes something like this: Fundamentally, he argues in one book after another, we tell our stories because we have a deep yearning to participate in a far greater story. Whatever terrible secrets we think we are concealing, we soon discover that they weave themselves into a far, far larger narrative. And, in telling those stories, ultimately, we find ourselves in a community not only with other storytellers, but with the ultimate Storyteller.
That's why you should buy and read "Yellow Leaves." If you flip through it in a bookstore, you might mistake this slim volume for a late-in-life after thought. You would be mistaken. Within these 133 pages are some of the "yellow leaves" left toward the end of the season - vividly hanging from the limbs in Buechner's garden. In his mid-80s now, his reflections aren't the brawling spiritual wrestling match of "Godric" or the grand literary feat of "Bebb" or even the moving dramas of "Telling Secrets" or "Longing for Home."
These are last leaves. And what leaves they are! In this volume, Buechner gives us the spiritual gem of his catalytic evening with Maya Angelou; then he waves a wand and takes us with him back into Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol;" then another wave and we're attending a 1943 family picnic where he nervously gets to his feet as a boy and dares to read a poem and speak "simple truth." And, of course, the greatest spiritual gem in the book - the one-page Introduction of a memoirist now in his mid-80s, invoking Shakespeare's own "yellow leaves."
After all these years, Buechner fans, you can't miss this one. And newcomers? Here's a sparkling, multi-faceted showcase of this master's eye, ear - and heart.
This reminds me a lot of The Yellow Leaves. The character outlines are crisp. Buechner then allows the reader to fill in the colors and shades in a way that reflects the reader's perceptions and experience. It is a tricky, but wonderful technique when it is successful. Buechner is usually successful, especially in his poetry which completes the volume. I recommend reading this book slowly and savoring the stories. Let the wash over you and apply your own colors.