L. M. Montgomery’s books make me want to befriend some patch of land and explore it thoroughly until I know and have named every tree, every brook, every starry-eyed flower in its thickets. I want to wear clothes made from fabric with names that sound edible—chiffon, taffeta, voile—in colors like “dove gray,” “dusky rose” and “pale green.”
Oh, to eat preserves from quilted jelly jars and don hats festooned with silk flowers and curling ostrich feathers! (I also want to clean, because I harbor a strong suspicion that Marilla Cuthbert and Mrs. Rachel Lynde would not approve of my standards of housekeeping.)
Montgomery’s writing transports me so completely to the Prince Edward Island of yesteryear that it is with a jolt that I come to at the close of the chapter to find myself camped out on the couch with a sleeping baby on my chest and a mean crick in my neck (a scene no less lovely, by the way—just slightly less romantic).
You have read Anne of Green Gables, of course. I had—twice—and had also acted in the play (some of you may recall that I married Gilbert Blythe), so I was more than familiar with Anne’s story. But in these early days of new motherhood, I decided to read on in the series and, in doing so, discovered a story of rare beauty.
Anne is an endlessly endearing, perfectly imperfect heroine, settled into a story of lush scenery and unforgettable characters. To walk with a character through childhood and into adulthood, to watch her friendships and marriage grow and change, is a delight. Montgomery’s ability to present Anne in the various stages of life without slackening the pace or vibrancy of the story, allowing the reader to watch Anne grow in wisdom as she becomes a mother, confronts loss, and watches her own children mature, shows just how masterful an author she is.
There is something singular about seeing a life spun out in story like that. I can’t help but hope that, in heaven, we’ll see our own lives in a similar way: we’ll step back from it a bit so we can see God’s delicate foreshadowing in our own stories and, knowing the end of things, we’ll see, in those moments when life seemed “a vale of tears,” the first glint of the glorious light up ahead.
Today’s summer re-run originally appeared way back in February 2014, in the early days of this blog. But it is about one of my favorite series in all of literature, so it’s worth sharing again. (Also, these books are perfect for reading beneath a favorite tree. Just in case you were looking for books perfect for reading beneath a favorite tree . . . )
The baby blanket is done; the countdown is on. With only a half dozen days left until this baby is due, our house looks like a nest built twig by twig—if the twigs were baskets of small, pink laundry and empty chocolate bar wrappers.
My husband is diligently working his way through a to-do list that mysteriously grows longer with every item he checks off, and the girls have decided that we must name the baby Rosamund Rose Rosenburg (they even insisted on it with adorable, mom-wilting eyes). I, meanwhile, am doing practical things like napping, re-reading Anne of Green Gables, and taking photos of myself in the mirror.
Though not typically given to taking photos of myself in the mirror, I had to take this one, because it is, in fact, the only photographic evidence that I was ever pregnant with this child. My belly crept into a few photos taken for this blog, but otherwise, there is a noticeable lack of pictures of this pregnancy (one of the perils of being the family photographer or, I suppose, the fourth child):
But I like this photo: notice the birth ball to the left and the basket of unfolded onesies to the right? That, my friends, is a visual summary of the final weeks of pregnancy.
But to all of you who have sent us sweet wishes and prayers for the coming weeks: thank you! Thank you for the love you’ve all shown our family and for the kind inquiries into our life in these last few weeks. Your emails have warmed my heart the way a cup of Earl Grey does.
Before I disappear into newborn-land for a while, I wanted to give you all a glimpse at my plan for the next few months. I have one more Easter post to share with you later this week, as well as the results of the Slugs & Bugs giveaway (which you can still enter until 3/17!), and then—after sharing a baby photo or two, of course—I’ll retire quietly into life with a newborn, a toddler, two big sisters and one patient and loving husband. I hope to be back around mid-April with a slew of new posts for you, beginning with a review of one of my favorite books about a family of four sisters.
Until then, dear readers, thank you again. I am so grateful for you—even the ones I don’t know by name. May your Easter be filled with joy and song!
For the knitters out there, you can find the baby blanket pattern I used (and modified: I used worsted weight yarn and US 7 needles, and cast on 23 stitches per square) here.
Phoebe was a few hours old when the nurse came by on her rounds and found me feeding the baby with a book propped up on my meal tray. She stopped and said, taken aback, “Are you . . . reading? While you nurse?” I don’t think she realized that Phoebe was our third baby—not right then, at least. And she couldn’t have known that our second child never learned the ASL sign for “milk” but instead took to bringing me a book when she was hungry.
So, maybe it was the nursing baby, or the school library, or the copious amounts of preparation I’ve put into learning to copy edit and teach art to kids this year, but I read a lot of books in 2014—so many, in fact, that for the first time ever I took to keeping a list of the ones I finished.
I read so-so books, and I read too-painful-to-finish books. I read books whose appeal I did not understand (Brideshead Revisited, this means you). But I also read books that took me outside myself—books that shook up my thoughts like so much confetti. I read books that weren’t satisfied with being read silently, but that compelled me to nudge my husband and say, “Listen to this.” Books that made me gasp aloud, or laugh belly laughs in an empty room.
My favorite children’s books from the past year have, of course, been appearing all along on this blog. But I thought I’d share some of my other finds with you, as a way of bidding farewell to 2014, bookworm-style.
I find myself wishing that I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books yet, so I could read them again for the first time. Instead, I look longingly at the shelf that houses them and wonder, every few months, if it is still too soon to reread them. (Read my full review here.)
This book has, quite possibly, displaced Bird by Bird as my favorite book on writing. Zinsser says things like, “Few people realize how badly they write” and “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” but he says it in the sort of tone that makes you want to laugh at yourself, pick up a red pen, and start slashing passages from your essays without remorse. (Side note: I think all bloggers everywhere should read this book.)
Don’t let the sappy cover fool you: there is grit in this story, and politics. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my new favorite authors, as she can turn a love story into something bigger than itself without manipulating her characters to suit her story’s needs (I went on at length about this on the Deeply Rooted blog).
In a rare turn of events, I saw the mini-series adaptation before I read this book and loved both of them in their own right. (Have you seen it? You should. You’ll never look at Thorin Oakenshield the same way again.)
In a college course on creative nonfiction, we dissected this book. We pulled apart sentences, turned verbs this way and that, and examined each well-placed comma. We studied Didion’s essays so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter I hated them and didn’t pick up this book for a full decade after graduation.
But at William Zinsser’s request (see above), I skimmed the opening paragraph of one essay and hardly glanced up until I had finished the book. Didion is a master of nonfiction, as it turns out. My professor wasn’t just making that up.
This skinny study of the book of Ruth was one of the few books of Christian nonfiction that I read this past year (how did that happen?). But it is by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Praying Life, and so I dove into it happily and was not disappointed: Miller’s writing is open, vulnerable and engaging, and the insights he offers into his own life with a severely autistic daughter give him a humbling perspective on the subject of loving those who may or may not love us back.
This book features one of my favorite jousting scenes ever. There’s not a lot of competition in that category, actually, but those of you who have read The Once and Future King are nodding to yourselves right now and chuckling, because you know which scene I’m talking about. Also, White’s interpretation of Merlyn is clearly the granddaddy of Albus Dumbledore (I am not making this up), so you have to love the story just for that.
Despite the clumsy title and the fact that this book looks like a college textbook (which it is), Alcorn is such a lively author that he makes passages on inheritance, insurance, and investment read well—so well that I found myself drawing this book out like I do with the best sort of fiction, not wanting it to end.
For a lady who was in the habit of doing battle with our budget every three months or so, this book was a blessing and it’s one I’ll revisit regularly. To say that it shaped the way I view money and possessions would be, perhaps, an understatement. To say that it shaped the way I view eternity would be closer to the truth.
This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I got all kinds of nerdy about it. The authors move through the whole century decade by decade using color palettes to note each trend. It’s history, art, social commentary and more—all in one huge and beautiful book!
There are Bible teachers who crush the grandeur and grief of a story like Noah’s into a dry, tasteless pulp, and then there are teachers who see the grandeur and grief and go deeper, drawing another layer of significance from the overlooked details of the story—the meaning of a name, for example, or the measurements of a room. Jen Wilkin is one of the latter.
I know this because I have followed her for years, by podcast and by blog, so I was quick to pre-order her book and dive into it the minute that brown paper package hit my front porch. As it turns out, she is not only an engaging speaker but a skilled writer, and she makes a well-reasoned case for why we ladies should not be satisfied with knowing the Bible secondhand but should know it well ourselves. I hope that this is the first of many books for Jen Wilkin (though I’m not sure how patiently I can wait for the next one).
Perhaps including this book is a little premature, as I am still reading it—but just barely. I’m mere hours from finishing the book and am reading it with the endorsement of a number of friends and loved ones (my husband foremost among them) who love this book and know me and assure me that I will also love this book.
And besides, I am enjoying the process of reading this ginormous but wholly absorbing, emotionally wrenching, masterfully woven tale of revenge and redemption, so even if it all falls apart at the end, I think I would still include it on this list just because the experience of reading it was so delightful. But all signs point to “It doesn’t fall apart at the end.” (Update: it doesn’t fall apart at the end!)
At thirteen, I wrote rhymed poetry and plucked away at my Stratocaster. Emily Byrd Starr wrote rhymed poetry and wandered the woodlands of Prince Edward Island, naming trees and adventuring through gardens and fields. I can’t help but think that we would have been friends had I been more inclined to read classics at thirteen and less drawn to the likes of R. L. Stine. But, alas.
The up shot is that I get to discover Emily of New Moon now, as the mother of (almost) three daughters, and the introduction is no less sweet for having been delayed.
L. M. Montgomery’s writing is pitch perfect, her stories lovely, her characters (even the smallest of them) animate in a way that reminds me of Charles Dickens, who could bring a character to life in half a sentence. Montgomery’s characters possess such a fullness, even when they grace the page for a mere scene or two, that I find myself just as smitten with the smallest of characters as I am with Emily herself.
Emily has all the makings of a classic story: a quirky, unconformable orphan finds herself in new environs, grumpy old ladies, historical house and all. These are elements you’ve seen before (even in Montgomery’s best loved work, Anne of Green Gables), but Montgomery lovingly shapes them into something original, something that you want to move into and live with for a while. One gets the sense that she loved Emily—how could she not? She’s written so thoroughly, with her flaws visible but readily forgiven. Her strengths are raw, wanting only time to temper them.
Emily of New Moon does not open easily—few stories about freshly orphaned children do—but from the opening pages I was drawn in so deeply that I hardly surfaced until I ran out of pages to read. Emily is a book that gives few hints as to where it’s going, so I won’t ruin the scenic ride for you by breathing a hint either: I would much rather rehash it with you after you’re through. (That would give me time to finish the rest of the series, anyway.)
My husband and I first got acquainted in a high school production of Anne of Green Gables, where he was a senior cast as hunky Gilbert Blythe and I, a freshman, won a speaking part as the fiery Aunt Josephine Barry after a junior dropped out of the play. All my friends thought he was dreamy, but I didn’t see what the fuss was about.
“Mitch Rosenburg?” I scoffed. “Really?”
“Ha!” said God. We married five years later.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
AFFILIATE LINKS. This blog has 'em. If you purchase anything through an Amazon or Bookshop link from this site, I receive a small percentage of that purchase amount (at no added cost to you). Thank you for supporting Little Book, Big Story!
BOOKS FOR REVIEW. Though I have, in the past, accepted unsolicited books to review, I am no longer able to do so. My apologies!
PERMISSIONS. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are my own work. Please ask before using them elsewhere (I'll probably say yes).