Gail Godwin

Nonfiction by Gail Godwin

Heart Heart
A Personal Journey Through Its Myths and Meanings

Published 2001


Read an Excerpt

"The Italians have a musical notation not found in any other language: tempo giusto 'the right tempo.' It means a steady, normal heat, between 66 and 76 on the metronome. Tempo giusto is the appropriate heat of the human heart."

One of the preeminent literary artists of our time turns her attention, her profound insight, and her passion to humankind's most enduring, important, evocative, and provocative symbol.

What is heart? It is the muscle of life, sending our most vital fluid coursing through our veins to every striving hungry part of our being. It is what keeps us striving against impossible odds; that fortifying something that is the cornerstone of every triumph. It elates us when we discover love and pains us greatly when that love is lost or proves unrequited. It is a gentleness that colors what we give to others. It is a symbol that we see on greeting cards: a small, red shape that was drawn on the wall of a cave in Spain more than 12,000 years ago.

In this truly remarkable work, acclaimed, bestselling author Gall Godwin takes us on a breathtaking journey of the heart that spans the entire history of human civilization, combining literature, myth, religion, philosophy, medicine, the fine arts, and intensely personal stories from the writer's own past to explore the full and complex character of that unique symbol. Brimming with intelligence and wit, Godwin's explorations and meditations brilliantly track themes of the heart in life, legend, and art-from the first valentine to the first stethoscope, from Gilgamesh to Confucius, from the heart of darkness to wearing one is heart on one's sleeve.

Here is a gift of the heart from an eminent American writer at the pinnacle of her creative talents. It is a work of extraordinary power, creativity, scholarship, and passion. Lively and moving, Heart offers us a profound new look at where we come from and what has sustained us across millennia-in short, what it is that makes us human.


"This is a generous, graceful, and memorable read, kin to the spiritual writings of Kathleen Norris, Andre Dubus, and Thomas Lynch."
--Booklist, starred review

"Entertaining . . . the author pursues her theme with great energy and zest."
--The Atlanta Journal Constitution

"Godwin turns her formidable skills as a writer to matters of the heart . . . this is the perfect book to show someone your heart's in the right place."
--New Orleans Times-Picayune

"Our only wish is for more . . . Refreshingly smart and remarkably simple."
--Associated Press

"[Godwin] jumpstarts the imagination with new-old ways to think about one of the most prevalent concepts in our lives."
--Christian Science Monitor

"Erudite . . . . Godwin offers religious and literary references to the . . . heart from every historical era and cultural quarter."

"Accessible and confidential . . . . She is such a good writer"
--St. Petersburg Times

"Charming . . . the author takes us backstage, behind her stories, and generously lets the reader watch the process by which her mind, and her heart, work."
--Washington Post

"Godwin sifts admirably through vast tracks of literature and philosophy, interpreting the ripest uses of heart imagery in ways that are entertaining and educational."
--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"An engaging blend of essay and memoir . . . Heart is an absorbing mix of historical survey and personal confession, unified by Godwin's accessible, familiar prose style. Gift-seeking lovers could do worse than to forget that pink box of candy and buy this book instead."
--Greg Johnson, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday February 11

"Gail Godwin on the phone seems markedly different from the guarded author described in various profiles. Her voice carries the warmth and ease of an old childhood friend, as she talks about loves and losses in her life, her creative talent, her religious faith, her recent yoga classes. The conversation feels like she's just filling in chunks of personal history that I missed while our lives happened to temporarily diverge, and I cannot help but think this might be a woman with a changed heart."
--Mary E. Miller, Raleigh News & Observer, Sunday February 4

Harper Perennial | Paperback| 336 pages