Wow, what a response a couple weeks ago to my posting of pictures of flowers on Facebook.

The Asiatic lilies are blooming here in Marge’s garden in southern Wisconsin, so I shot a series of pictures and put them up in an album I titled “Lilies of the Field.” In the blurb, I said the album title came from the 1963 Sidney Poitier film of the same name.

Said Jean Dregne, “Love the film.”

Mary Ann Macomber: “That was a fantastic movie and one I will always remember. Thank you for reminding us of that movie.”

Sean Patrick Little: “GREAT film. Poitier is so great in that one.”

Sean must have gotten his hands on a DVD. He couldn’t have seen Lilies of the Field when it was first released because, well, he hadn’t been born yet.

Poitier won a Best Actor Academy Award for his work.

But there would not have been a movie had not William Barrett first written the book. That book came out in 1962.

Everybody has to have a day job, and Barrett (1900-1986) worked as an aeronautics consultant for the Denver Public Library. He also wrote novels – 21 of them, and three became the basis for movies – The Left Hand of God (1955), starred Humphrey Bogart; Lilies of the Field, with Poitier; and Pieces of Dreams (1970) based on Barrett’s 1968 book The Wine and the Music.

If that were not enough, he also wrote a handful of scripts for television and a bushel of short stories.

The Lilies of the Field is a short book at 128 pages, short but hardly minor.

Said one reviewer, “Ask yourself this: how many books have you read in your life that actually made you feel more optimistic about the prospects of the [human] species? If it’s really that easy to create sympathetic characters and write a story that uplifts the spirits, why haven’t more authors written them? Isn’t it fair to conclude that the paucity of such stories, and the memorable nature of this one, indicate just how major an occurrence it is when one gets written?”

The New York Times Book Review described The Lilies of the Field as a contemporary fable. “What joins these unlikely forces [Homer Smith, Mother Maria Marthe and her nuns, and the diverse people of the community] in a plausible miracle [building a church in the desert] is the vein of basic goodness Mr. Barrett sees in all men.”

If you loved the movie, you owe it to yourself to read the book.

Tomorrow: Scott Turow on what makes a good read

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