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.”
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.