Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye’s The List

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I have been reading Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry recently and there’s one particular title that caught my eye as I was finishing her book, A Maze Me: Poems for Girls (which I should have discovered when we were doing our Girl Power bimonthly theme).

I borrowed this book from the library and have enjoyed it as much as I did her HoneybeeI thought of sharing one of the poems here entitled The List. I thought it was perfect for our current bimonthly theme “Dusty Bookshelves and Library Loot” plus I wanted to check with fellow Poetry Friday enthusiasts whether you have also created such a list. I, for one, don’t have such a list, but there is an ever growing number of books in my shelves waiting to be read.

Poetry Friday is hosted by the amazing Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children.

The List
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A man told me he had calculated
the exact number of books
he would be able to read before he died
by figuring the average number
of books he read per month
and his probable earth span,
(averaging how long
his dad and grandpa had lived,
adding on a few years since he
exercised more than they did).
Then he made a list of necessary books,
nonfiction mostly, history, philosophy,
fiction, and poetry from different time periods
so there wouldn’t be large gaps in his mind.
He had given up frivolous reading entirely.
There are only so many days.

Oh, I felt sad to hear such an organized plan.
What about the books that aren’t written yet,
the books his friends might recommend
that aren’t on the list,
the yummy magazine that might fall
into his hand at a silly moment after all?
What about the mystery search
through the delectable library shelves?
I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
calling for his hand.

So, dear friends, have you done something similar to this? What are your thoughts about this list?

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

23 comments on “Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye’s The List

  1. I don’t have a list, some on Amazon, some on Goodreads, but just to remember those I might read, not what I need to. Naomi Nye is a wonderful thinker, isn’t she? I would never have thought of making a ‘bucket’ list for books, & I wonder when she wrote this, before all those other ‘lists’ came out.


    • Hi Linda, yes, she is a new favorite of mine. I, myself, don’t have such a bucket list. But I remembered saying before when I was younger that one of the things that would make me sad when I die would be the books that I failed to read while I was alive. A gentle reminder to keep on reading and enjoying the books that chance upon us at strange moments in our lives.


  2. I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
    calling for his hand.
    I love those lines…isn’t this what we feel the moment we walk into a library or a bookstore? The pull of all that is thought about, felt and written…the desire to be a part of that process…the wondering about what is being written and imagined even at that moment?


    • Oh yes. And the smell of unopened pages, the crispness of the phrases – the pulsating energy in how the words have been woven together to breathe new life.


  3. Interesting poem — never seen it before. Fascinating idea, but I agree with the speaker of the poem: what about the books not yet written? I’m a very emotional reader, too, so I reach for what I “need” to read at any given time, even though I have a casual, flexible list of titles I’d like to get to at some point.


  4. I’m afraid if I did that calculation I may have to stop buying books — I may have enough books already to last me a lifetime. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating poem.


  5. “He had given up frivolous reading entirely.” Terrifying words to me!! I am having fun just making lists, never mind the joy of discovering a new fabulous author or book. BAH! to the old moldies I “ought” to read!! and Phoey to “there are only so many days”!!


  6. I love this. I read in a much more haphazard way than the man in this poem!


    • While our reading is also goal-directed given our bimonthly themes here in GatheringBooks, I could see what you mean. Cheers to ‘haphazard reading’!


  7. What I love about Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry is how it comes from the heart-space. There’s the reading that’s on your to-do list, and then there’s the reading you allow yourself to get lost in, the surprising discoveries.


    • It’s good to have both perspectives, I think. The challenge is how not to restrict ourselves and yes ‘immersing’ ourselves in the reading and its wonders.


  8. I find it curious and maybe pointed that this poem that begins “A man told me he had calculated” in a book of poems for girls. I do think a stereotypically “male brain” is much more likely to approach reading in this way. I have no list, and I don’t even exactly have a TBR pile…have not been able to afford that kind of attention to my own reading for ages, but that just may be changing. Naomi’s book is now on my mental “watch for it” board! Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Myra!


    • Heidi, you have a good eye! I didn’t think of looking at the poem in that way. That IS interesting indeed. I wonder if the male-readers I know also have some such list. I shall ask around and snoop.


  9. Ooooh! I’m going to print this out and make a poster for my classroom for next week, as we begin thinking about how to budget our time in the next 35 weeks in order to meet the goal of reading 50 books in 5th grade. It will take some planning, but we certainly don’t want to forget about the frivolous and impulsive reading!!


    • Hi Mary Lee! I’m glad that you enjoyed this post. Wow. 50 books in the 5th grade. I shall ask my daughter’s 5th grade teacher if she has around the same number too! Haha. Their class just started reading Holes by Louis Sachar. 🙂


  10. Pingback: August Round Up and the Winner for the AWB Reading Challenge «

  11. I quite enjoy unnecessary books. Thanks for sharing this poem!


  12. Wonderful poem! Love the line: “What about the books that aren’t written yet” as well as, ” I felt the heartbeat of forgotten precious books
    calling for his hand.”


  13. Oooh, I love this.
    “… the heartbeat of forgotten precious books…”
    Great poem.


  14. THIS is beautiful! I soooo love your blog 🙂


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