NYT: What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
TEJU COLE: I have not read most of the big 19th — century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping. Also, my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too.
The monk poured tea into tiny cups, and while we held the cups on our laps and took small sips, he began to tell us a story about a woman who had lost her child. This woman had gone to the Buddha, distraught, and asked him to perform a miracle. She told him she’d lost her only child, and she asked him to bring her dead child back to life. The Buddha listened carefully, and then he said he would restore her child to life when she was able to bring him a blanket from a house that had not known a sorrow. And so this woman went from door to door begging for such a blanket, but each house had its own story, recent or long ago, of tragedy. So the woman returned to the Buddha resigned, having accepted what he meant her to learn: that no one can be spared loss, that this is the cost of life.