Goodbye, Madeleine

I saw a line item in someone’s LiveJournal this morning that Madeleine L’Engle had died. Publishers Weekly had a couple of lines about it on their website today, with a comment that they only got the information at deadline, and would have a longer piece next week, and that’s all very well and good, but I needed to write something of my own.

I’ve never met Madeleine L’Engle, but her book A Wrinkle in Time was my first entry into science fiction and fantasy reading. I’d already been a fan of Star Trek and Space 1999 when someone handed my eight-year-old self a black book, no dust cover, no pictures, and sent me into the quilt covered bed in her guest room, and said, “Read this.”

The “someone” in question was a friend of my mother’s. I don’t remember her name, but she and her Latin American husband used to fuss over me and feed me carob drops, and on this night, she and my mother were involved in a project and a long conversation. There as a lightning storm outside the window, a bowl of grainy home-made vanilla ice cream nearby, and a really soft quilt, and I didn’t so much read the book as fall into it and never quite come out again.

I was hooked.

Over the years, L’Engle’s work has floated into and out of my life, with one of her novels dropping into my lap every so often, just when I needed it most. When my grandmother died, her Crosswicks Journals helped me process it. When I was adjusting to being back in California, married, and working for my mother Certain Women was my companion. On a cold night in January, I toasted my toes, cuddled my dog, and read her two novels about pianists and St. John’s Cathedral, and when I began my explorations into the Episcopal church a couple of years ago, it was a work of hers that was part of my reading.

Authors, through their words, touch so many lives so deeply, that we readers often feel as if we know them, when we don’t. It’s not the same sort of “knowing” as with a favorite actor or musician, but a closer one, at once more intellectual and more emotional. We see their thoughts, in the lines and dots that make up printed letters, you see. And we see into their hearts.

While I suspect Madeleine L’Engle and I might have disagreed on some fundamental social issues, I also think we’d have found things to talk about, and I KNOW she was a woman with a good heart.

I met her works as a child, and I continued to keep them as part of my library as I grew up. I think it’s marvelous that her stories are so timeless.

She will be missed.

Edited to add: The New York Times article about her is here, and it’s good, though it persists in referring to her as a “children’s author.”

Five for Friday: Back to School

I haven’t been in school for years – almost decades – but in honor of most students being back at school by now, my list this week is books that involve school.

  1. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh: Harriet’s entire plot involves the reactions of her schoolmates to her spy notebook, after all. Plus, I always wanted to go to a school where being in the play involved being an onion.
  2. A Live Coal in the Sea, by Madeleine L’Engle: Technically this is a sequel to a much earlier novel, Camilla, but it stands on its own as well. Most of the action takes place in and around a university campus.
  3. The Anne of Green Gables series, by Lucy Maud Montgomery: While it’s true that not all of the wonderful stories about Anne’s life in and around Avonlea involve school, education was a prime motivator in Anne’s life. From student, to teacher, to wife and mother, Anne Shirley progressed through life surrounded by books and words.
  4. Mythology 101, Higher Mythology, Mythology Abroad, and Advanced Mythology, by Jody Lynn Nye: a delightful light fantasy series about a group of elves living in the sub basement of a university library, and the human students who interact with them.
  5. The President’s Daughter, White House Autumn, and Long Live the Queen, by Ellen Emerson White: Well-written, if slightly dated based on characters’ television choices, series about the teenage daughter of the first female president of the United States. There’s apparently a fourth book coming out next month, and while these are YA, I plan to read it anyway.