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.

Booking Through Thursday: 6 September 2007

So, this is my question to you–are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?
Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

While I agree that there are some environments that are more comfortable for reading than others, if the book is good, I have no trouble getting lost in it no matter the location. At home, I read a lot in bed, the bath, and on the porcelain throne. Elsewhere? I’ve found it perfectly easy to lose myself in the written word while in class, on a bus or train, on a plane, or sitting in a bookstore, library, or cafe. I didn’t generally bring books to work, however, because I knew I’d lose track of time if I stopped to read, even over lunch.

Booking Through Thursday website.

Thursday 13: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thirteen Things about Laura Ingalls Wilder

The images in the Wordless Wednesday post below are from De Smet, South Dakota, the real “Little Town on the Prairie.” De Smet is the town where the last half of By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, and Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years take place. Here are thirteen quotations from Laura Ingalls Wilders’ books, from those years.

  1. It was a big house, a real house with two stories, and glass windows. Its up-and-down boards were weathering from yellow to gray and every crack was battened, as Pa had said. The door had a china knob. It opened into the lean-to over the back door.

  2. This house had board floors; not as comfortable to bare feet as the earth floor of the shanty, but not so much work to keep clean.

  3. The surveyors had left their stove! It was a larger stove than the one that Ma had brought from Plum Creek; it had six lids on top and two oven doors, and it was all set up with its stovepipe in place. Spaced on the wall beyond it were three doors. All of them were shut.

  4. Laura tiptoed across the wide floor, and softly opened one door. There was a small room, with a bedstead in it. This room had a window, too.

  5. Softly, Laura opened the middle door. She was surprised. Steeply up in front of her went a stair, just the width of the door. She looked up and saw the underside of a slanting roof high overhead. She went up a few steps, and a big attic opened out on both sides of the stairs.

  6. That made three rooms already, and still there was another door. Laura thought that there must have been a great many surveyors to need so much space. This would be by far the largest house she had ever lived in.

  7. She opened the third door. A squeal of excitement came out of her mouth and startled the listening house. There before her eyes was a little store. All up the walls of that small room were shelves, and on the shelves were dishes, and pans and pots, and boxes, and cans. All around under the shelves stood barrels and boxes.

  8. All day long, except when he went through the storm to do the chores, Pa was twisting more sticks of hay in the lean-to.

  9. Laura picked up all the hay her hands could hold and shook the snow from it. Then, watching Pa, she followed his motions in twisting the hay. First he twisted the long strand as far as his two hands could do it. Then he put the right-hand end of it under his left elbow and held it there, tight against his side, so that it could not untwist.

  10. Laura’s stick of hay was uneven and raggedy, not smooth and hard like Pa’s. But Pa told her that it was well done for the first one; she would do better next time.

  11. She put the button in the center of the square of calico. She drew the cloth together over the button and wound a thread tightly around it and twisted the corners of calico straight upward in a tapering bunch. Then she rubbed a little axle grease up the calico and set the button into the axle grease in the saucer.

  12. “Give me a match, Charles, please,” Ma said. She lighted the taper tip of the button lamp. A tiny flame flickered and grew stronger. It burned steadily, melting the axle grease and drawing it up through the cloth into itself, keeping itself alight by burning. The little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.

  13. “I was wondering…” Almanzo paused. Then he picked up Laura’s hand that shone white in the starlight, and his sun-browned hand closed gently over it. He had never done that before. “Your hand is so small,” he said. Another pause. Then quickly, “I was wondering if you would like an engagement ring.”
    “That would depend on who offered it to me,” Laura told him.
    “If I should?” Almanzo asked.
    “Then it would depend on the ring,” Laura answered, and drew her hand away.

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Wordless Wednesday – #1

Surveyor’s House – Front, originally uploaded by Ms.Snarky.


First Book: What Book Got You Hooked?

The folks over at First Book polled their readers with the question, “What Book Got You Hooked?” They had 100,000 responses and used them to compile a list of the top 50 “first books.”

I don’t remember my actual first book, but one of the earliest books I remember is Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. Some of his rhymes were so full of Britishisms that I didn’t quite get them, though of course I do now, others were just delightful on many levels: the back-and-forth rhythim of “The Swing” for example, or the mischievous tone of “The Shadow.”

The first five books on FirstBook’s list are:

  1. Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
  2. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
  3. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  5. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

I can’t say I’m surprised by anything on that list – the Nancy Drew books were among my childhood favorites, and the Little House series and Alcott’s works grace my shelves even today, but I have to confess that I wish fewer people were introduced to reading by Dr. Seuss, but that’s my bias, because I’ve never been a fan of his sing-songy style.

For the rest of the top 50, go here.

A Writer’s Paris: A Guided Journey for the Creative Soul


There are always reasons not to write. They appear as wantonly as toadstools after the rain. Entertaining those reasons even for a split second is the path to uncreativity. Write, even if you have a twinge, a doubt, a fear, a block, a noisy neighbor, a sick cat, thirteen unpublished stories, and a painful boil. Write, even if you aren’t sure. Come to Paris, even if you don’t speak French.

Why I Chose This Book:
The small mustard covered volume was staring at me from an end cap full of France-themed books, mostly novels (and I did pick up two of them) but this book as well. It’s designed to look like a moleskine notebook, with a two-inch-wide paper band its only real decoration. I liked the title, it seemed to speak to me.

About the Book:
A Writer’s Paris is part guide book and part writing guide, using the rhythm and flow of the City of Light as a source of inspiration, as much as a recommended place to spend a month writing. The author is a writing coach/life coach kind of person, and has written many works that encourage readers to pursue their creative urges. The particular book is gentle when it needs to be, firmer when it must be, and completely entwined with the seduction that is Paris.

Much of it was common-sense reminders that we all, as writers, need to hear: write every day, make the time, skip tv and write, don’t talk about it, just do it, etc. A good portion of it, however, recommended various neighborhoods in Paris, told you to visit the Louvre, yes, but remember that you were there to write, and even to stop passers-by and ask, “Which of these two things would you rather read a novel about?” then offer two things, to help choose one of the topics in your head. (The improviser part of my personality finds this exercise really appealing.)

Do I recommend this book?
Yes, absolutely. If you are a writer, or think you want to be, you need to read this. If you are involved in any other creative pursuit, you might also benefit from it.