When I choose books to review on this blog, I find that there are some authors who have won my heart so thoroughly that I can’t decide which of their books to review first. These are the authors that I love for themselves, not for any single book, and whose name on the spine of an otherwise unknown volume is enough insurance for me to buy a copy without even peeking at the blurb on the back of the book. Introducing you to them is my way of saying, “Yes, we’ll get to the specific titles. But for now, just skip to the part where you read any book they have ever written.”
Today’s author is a new acquaintance (for me) and one whose presence in this post won’t exactly surprise you. My friends, I give you: L. M. Montgomery.
My affection for L. M. Montgomery is quite personal: you see, her stories gave me back the key to my imagination in a season when I sorely needed it—after the birth of my third child, when the Great Juggling Act of life with a newborn had begun again and the Regular Juggling Act of life with two older children continued without pause. I read a dozen or so of her books then, in those midnight moments, while nursing Phoebe; in back rooms at family gatherings, while nursing Phoebe; during the girls’ nap time, while nursing Phoebe.
L. M. Montgomery’s characters reminded me that, though I am a woman who needs to chop an onion, nurse a baby and help a three year old find her shoe—all in the next fifteen minutes—I am also a woman can sit for a minute on the front steps and watch the stars come out (while the children put their pajamas on), or listen to the hushed voices of the bamboo outside our kitchen window (when the chirruping voices of our home’s smaller occupants are stilled for a moment). She reminded me to look up from the budget and out the window, where the setting sun ignites the clouds and turns the sky a gorgeous, golden rose. She reminded me to find the stories in those things, to wonder at the world around me.
Yes, Montgomery can lay out a lush landscape. She can, in a few words, put her finger so precisely on the pulse of a character that the character springs, fully formed, into your mind’s eye. She can weave a story out of the stuff of ordinary life but with the colors of those things heightened, until you see them not as ordinary but as unforgettable and enchanting. But she has a way of giving us back to ourselves, reminding us adult readers of those childlike qualities that we had—perhaps accidentally—forsworn as we entered adulthood, as we forgot the bigness of the world inside a single flower and got caught up instead in the Things That Must Be Done Before Dinner. Her words are—to quote my friend, Angie, who kept me supplied me with Montgomery’s books during that first month after Phoebe’s birth—”life-giving.”
Montgomery wrote for serial publication, so, like any really prolific author, some of her works are markedly better than others. But any of them are worth dipping into, especially once you develop an unquenchable thirst for her language, lands and the inhabitants thereof. These are some of my favorites (in a particular order):
Emily of New Moon (I was slightly less smitten with the rest of the trilogy, but the other two books are worth reading)
*Akin to Anne is a collection of short stories about orphans who find, through unlikely means, their place among folks who love them—a common theme in Montgomery’s work. These stories are fun to read aloud with children who might be, as yet, too young to appreciate a full-length novel but who would, like Lydia, be enchanted by the characters, the scenery and, of course, the happy endings.
If you’re inspired to read more about L. M. Montgomery (and I hope you are), I highly recommend Jennifer Trafton’s piece “Smelling Flowers in the Dark” and Lanier Iveston’s four-part biography of L. M. Montgomery, both published on The Rabbit Room.