Last week, we lost an author who was tremendously important to my personal reading history. As long as I can remember, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds has been a staple on the bookshelves of my homes. First, as a book beloved by my mom – carefully packed, transported and reshelved along our many, many moves. My mom later shared this book with me as a young woman giving it her most honored (in my eyes alone) stamp of approval as “one of her favorites.” Most people who know us both, know that we share an awful lot; we have the same voice and mannerisms, we have similar tastes from food to movies, and we have a very deep love of reading. It was these small acts of sharing books like The Thorn Birds by which my mom slowly changed the course of my life. My love of literature grew deeper and stronger, and ultimately, more important than other pursuits.
Slowly, this book migrated from the communal shelves of our family to my own growing library. When I moved out, this was one of a very few books my mom officially passed to me. It still holds a proud place in my collection. I don’t read The Thorn Birds as often as I used to, but it’s one that I simply hold onto often – when I feel homesick, when I feel lonely, when I miss my mom. As I open the front cover, I see my mother’s (maiden) name written atop the first page. And as I read the epigraph, I can’t help but think of all the times my mom’s eyes have looked over the same passage.
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest I searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to out-carol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain…Or so says the legend.”
Thank you Colleen McCullough for living, for writing, and for imparting your beautiful book to my mom and to me. You are greatly missed.