Warm Baths

Never in a Hurry

by Naomi Shihab Nye
Ingram Book Co., $16.95 hard

The most unusual soundbite from Never in a Hurry's cover blurbs comes from Albert Goldbarth, who likens Nye's writing to a "warm bath." Nye doesn't mind the analogy ("I like warm baths," she says with typical cheerfulness), but Goldbarth's phrase implies a place where you can close your eyes and relax, and frankly, Nye demands more of the reader than that. While it's true that her writing style is flowing, graceful, and easy for the reader, her subject matter winds through miles of terrain and you're never quite sure where you might encounter a particularly poetic passage or an image that burns into both the eye and the psyche.

Of the book's 39 essays, all but a few place Nye exactly where she needs to be: within the action of the piece, directing it with subtle narration and solid illustration. In a few of the pieces, Nye is a touch over-exuberant and even over-didactic, moving the balance of the piece from essay to lecture. In one case, "One Village," it's understandable, for Nye is conducting a Palestine 101 tutorial, but in another, "Newcomers In A Troubled Land," she packages an outlook far more trusting than most of us could possess with a tidiness that makes her sound too good to be true.

But the majority of essays effortlessly demon-strate that perhaps Nye is almost too good to be true, handling fantastic, sometimes surreal, situations with a good-natured grace and beautiful sense of humor. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and in Never In A Hurry, Nye revels in that maxim. At her best, Nye weaves through a three-way intersection of fiction, poetry, and essays, emerging not only unscathed, but full of the rosy glow of exhilaration and excitement that comes from once-in-a-lifetime experiences. And at her most joyous, Nye finds those once-in-a-lifetime experiences within the fabric of day-to-day life. -- P.W.