Legacy: Read a book, do what you love

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My friend Kim Ricketts died last Monday.  She was tough-minded, big-hearted, interested in seemingly everything, generous to a fault. She created book events featuring authors and in doing so, used her life’s passion for reading to create an unusual community. She was much loved here in Seattle, but her reach in the publishing industry was extensive. The day after she died, my publicist in New York sent me an email. “She’s meant so much to everyone here at Penguin,” she wrote. “She was an absolute dream to work with and so dedicated to the world of books–truly one of a kind in so many ways. She will be deeply, deeply missed.”

Mourners swirled around her departure with a flurry of social networking. They packed a huge cathedral for a memorial service; at the end of it, her daughter Whitney read Kim’s favorite poem.

Whitney, Kim, me at event last month

I last saw her at the Palace Ballroom for Grant Achatz. I mean, Grant’s a nice a guy and I enjoyed his book and all, but I went there to see Kim. She was skinny, with a new short bob of a haircut, a bit tired looking, yet herself. As the conversation focused on gritty details of Grant’s experience with mouth cancer, Kim became increasingly frustrated. “God, I wish they would get off this cancer talk!” she kept hissing to me in whisper as she scanned the silent crowd. “He’s so adorable, his work is so interesting and this is a total downer.” No concerns about her own illness, no concerns about anything other than the show and the audience and whether they would leave having had a good time. As the Q&A started, people asked about his food and restaurant. Kim sighed a breath of relief.

The event wrapped up, and she headed out. “I’m beat, I’ve got to go home and lay down,” she said.  “I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” I promised to bring her food and hang out with her after I got back into town from an extended trip I was leaving on the next day. We hugged good-bye. I chatted with her online, but never saw her again. Even though she was sick, desperately so, her death still struck most as a surprise.

As I reflect on her life, I keep coming back to a conversation we had at the bar of the Dahlia Lounge in Seattle about one of our favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A teacher gave it to me shortly after my father died when I was 13. I think we both knew the entire book by rote. We talked and talked as we downed a bottle of red wine. I identified with Francie, the main character, a bookish, plain-looking young girl who aspired to grow up to be a writer, who also lost her father as a preteen. I told Kim that I often felt that the author had written that book especially for me. She laughed and said she thought it was written just for her. “It made me feel like less of a freak for loving books so much.” When I came home after her service yesterday, I pulled my copy down from the bookshelf and started to reread it.

Fittingly, a reading list was included in the program at Kim’s service. The headline simply said “Read These Books.” A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is on it.

The Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillar
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis by Dave Eggers
The Silver Palate Cookbook by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso

I didn’t link these titles to Amazon for a reason. She would hope you’d hit a local bookstore. One book on a shelf so often leads you to another, and sometimes, the multiple of things matter. Kim loved to read, she loved cooking and cookbooks, to throw a party, to introduce people to new authors, to drink good wine, to spend time with her husband and three kids. She thought big, worked hard and created for herself a career at the intersection where all her interests met.

How often do we meet people who truly chase and fight to live and share their passions? Rarely.

So, I ask, what do you love? What are you passionate about? Go do it. Life is short. Kim was 53. My dad was only 50 when he died. You may be waiting for “someday” to do that something you love, but it may never come.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

Comments

  1. Alphonse de Klerk says:

    Kathleen: Your words touched me and how true they are.

    Thank you.

    Alphonse de Klerk

  2. Glenn Dettwiler says:

    Value of friendship can never be understated.

  3. This made me cry. It also makes me think that it’s time to actually start writing a book, rather than talking about it.

  4. Beautiful. I am printing out the list and going to a bookstore this weekend. Were there charities that Kim’s family wanted donations to?

  5. … beautifully written

  6. Kathleen Flinn says:

    Thanks, Amber and Clare. To your question on charities, absolutely.

    826 Seattle
    A non-profit writing center for ages 8 to 18
    Check go to:
    826 Seattle
    P.O. Box 30764
    Seattle, WA 98113
    or you can donate online

    and
    The Seattle Public Library
    Online donation page

  7. Beautiful post, Kathleen. I knew “of her” through the class I took from you, followed her on Twitter and her website, and she was indeed a wonderful and inspiring person. And this was a beautiful tribute to your friend.

  8. Stephanie says:

    Kim’s love of books and writers included a request for donation be made to the Seattle Public Library and to 826 Seattle, a nonprofit that encourages kids to write.

    I’m sorry to hear that Kim was irritated by the cancer talk – there were many people in that audience nodding knowingly and feeling just a little less alone in their own story with cancer. It was a fascinating part of the evening.

    Another childhood fan of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”.

  9. Kathleen Flinn says:

    I think she thought the discussion went on longer than she hoped. I thought it was interesting, too. Maybe she was just tired of talk of cancer by that point? Or maybe she worried that he would be defined by cancer, and not by his achievements?

    She kept noting that it was only one slice of the book, and she hoped they would move on to the food. I read the book after the event, and it’s only about 20 pages of the book. Which is a terrific read, by the way. It challenged my thinking about modern cuisine/molecular gastronomy.

  10. That’s an intriguing point, Kathleen. Maybe her own experience made her realize that he probably wanted to talk about his food, not his cancer.

    Thanks for such a beautiful post. I didn’t know Kim personally, but I learned about her events and became a regular when I attended a panel with food writers that you moderated a couple years ago. So thanks for introducing me, in a way. I hope her legacy lives on in more great events, too.

  11. Beautiful tribute, Kat. Thank you.

  12. Kathleen Flinn says:

    Thanks to everyone. I debated whether to even write anything since I think that grief should, in general, be something done in the quiet of one’s own soul. So thanks for the encouragement.

  13. Oh my gosh, this is lovely. I loved the whole message. Funny, I always thought that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was written for me! But then, I always thought you wrote The Sharper Your Knife for me, so there’s that, too. Thanks. I never knew her, but reading about her makes me want to be a better person.

  14. What a lovely post. I’m sorry for your lost. The older one gets the more you see that you cannot wait for someday. You have to make that someday now and grab life with both hands. It’s wonderful that Kim got to do what she loved and live a full life in the very short time she had.

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