It would be nigh on impossible for me, or any other voracious reader, to identify a lone, single, sole book as the one and only all-time favorite. There are simply too many wonderful reads, and, depending on time and place and emotional state and who knows how many other contributing factors, books can mean something different to a reader with each re-read.
But if you backed me into a corner, one book that would certainly clamor for the place at the top of the pile is The Meadow by James Galvin.
There are many, many reasons I admire The Meadow. And, for just as many reasons, it’s a difficult book to put your finger on.
It is, in part, a memoir of sorts, recounting aspects of the author’s experiences. It is part natural history, providing much detail about landscape and seasons and wildlife. Some of it is history, painting a picture of people and places over the course of 100 years. It is a biography, in a way, focusing on the life of one character in great detail, and telling the life stories of a number of other characters. It is fiction to some degree, as Galvin writes dialogue and puts words in people’s mouths that, while they may reflect truth, he could not have heard. The publisher categorizes The Meadow simply as “literature.”
As simply as I can put it, the book tells a century-long story of a mountain meadow and the surrounding countryside in the high country along the Wyoming and Colorado border south of Laramie. But—and this is one characteristic that I particularly like—it does not tell the story chronologically. Nor does it do so using the normal format of chapters.
Rather, the story is told in short bursts, with some entries (for lack of a better word) only a few sentences long, and with none occupying more than a few pages. Interspersed are extracts from the actual diaries of a couple of characters. I sometimes describe the book as a series of “snapshots”; vivid images captured to illuminate people and places and events.
Then, it as if the author took his stack of snapshots and tossed them into the air, gathered them up at random, and used that arrangement in the book. You will read a page about something that happened last week, turn the page and find yourself immersed in something that happened fifty years ago, turn another page to witness events of a decade ago, read on the next page something from a century ago, or perhaps last month, or some other time.
As you page through the images, a bigger picture forms, tying all the people and places into one, big, fascinating story.
Finally, James Galvin is a poet. Which means he uses language beautifully. It’s a pleasure to read, and a reminder that writing—real writing—is more than storytelling.
I can’t say how many times I have read The Meadow. A dozen, perhaps. Maybe twenty.
I think I’ll pull it off the shelf and read it again.