On one of those days when the phone rings constantly and I'm late for everything and my clothes feel too tight, and I'm behind on 25 thank-you notes, if I can stop and smell some honeysuckle or gardenia, it pulls the plug on the treadmill and for a moment gives me back real life. That's why I love A Natural History of the Senses
, by Diane Ackerman. I've never met her, but I imagine she would walk in the door and say to all of us, 'Don't just live your life, savor it.' For my "Bookshelf" list, I decided to choose all nonfiction by people who write about history and science and culture in language that reads like poetry. Where else but in Ackerman's work can you learn that Helen Keller could smell the layers of odors left by successive families who had lived in a house? Or that women in Shakespeare's time used to keep a peeled apple in their armpits until it was saturated with sweat and then give it to their sweethearts to inhale? These were called love apples. (Don't try this at home.) Or that the Chinese believe we have to dedicate ourselves to sharing the sound of hope.
Here's the proverb: 'A bird does not sing because it has an answer—it sings because it has a song.' This book was a gift from a friend, so I'm happy to pass it on to you. So turn off the phone. Forget the thank-you notes. Enjoy this with a bubble bath, a cup of ginger tea and a phrase the ancient Greeks used to whisper to each other each morning: 'When shall we live, if not now?'What's on Diane's Bookshelf? Take a peek!