Old Favorites

You have them, I’m sure – books that you’ve read time and again for their perfect insight, their captivating story, the way the author puts words together.  You’ve felt a need to revisit characters who happily step back into your mind like old familiar friends.

I took up one of my old friends last night late, after finishing Stone Arabia, Dana Spiotta’s thought provoking novel about the fulfillment of creativity.  I got out of bed, tiptoed downstairs in the relative darkness, and reached onto the bottom shelf of my oldest and most disorderly bookcase, knowing exactly where to find the three volumes of the Crosswicks Journal, Madeleine L’Engle’s lovely trilogy about writing and family and being.I have no idea why the books were calling me last night, but within the first few minutes of reading these gentle, introspective pages, I was transported to the time in my life when I first read them (the mid 1980’s), and into the life of this beloved author.

L’Engle, who is perhaps best known for another trilogy, The Wrinkle in Time series, writes about a time when she was filled with doubt about her life as a writer.  It was her 40th birthday, and her publisher had rejected her latest manuscript.

This seemed an obvious sign from heaven. I should stop trying to write. All during the decade of my thirties I went through spasms of guilt because I spent so much time writing, because I wasn’t like a good New England housewife and mother. When I scrubbed the kitchen floor, the family cheered. I couldn’t make decent pie crust. I always managed to get something red in with the white laundry in the washing machine, so that everybody wore streaky pink underwear. And with all the hours I spent writing, I was still not pulling my own weight financially.

So the rejection…seemed an unmistakable command: Stop this foolishness and learn to make cherry pie.

I covered the typewriter in a great gesture of renunciation. Then I walked around and around the room, bawling my head off. I was totally, unutterably miserable.

Suddenly I stopped, because I realized what my subconscious mind was doing while I was sobbing: my subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.

I uncovered the typewriter. In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that’s what it was. I had to write. I had no choice in the matter. It was not up to me to say I would stop, because I could not. It didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent. If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.

And so….perhaps these paragraphs were one of the reasons I was drawn to Circle of Quiet after  reading Stone Arabia, a book which is all about a man who was compelled to practice his art, to live wholly and completely within his imagination, no matter that no one in the world knew or cared.

The power of words working some magical alchemy in my mind on a late summer night, one woman’s thinking leading me to another woman’s words from years in the past.

Now tell me, what are some of your old favorite reads, and what calls you to them?



6 thoughts on “Old Favorites

  1. I always take my copy of “Genius: A mosaic of 100 Creative Minds” by Harold Bloom, off the shelf, to remind me of the world of literature out there, which I may never get around to perusing, but which contains 100 stories about giants of world literature. For those who are not familiar with Harold Bloom, please be forewarned that he has strong opinions about nearly everything in the universe. For an example of how Bloom has affected his readers, see “The Shakespeare Wars” by Ron Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum’s book “Explaining Hitler” is also very much worth reading, but see “The Shakespeare Wars” to read how Bloom the literary critic has affected his readers.

  2. For sheer comfort reading, I either regress to childhood with Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse or Lucy M Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe, or reach for my copy of Susan Hill’s The Magic Apple Tree. I suppose that the one thing they all share is a sense of timelessness and peace which is always welcome in this high speed world where I constantly feel like I’m playing catch up.

  3. I loved the first of these, which I read several years ago now. I very rarely reread books, but in times of need, I return happily to Agatha Christie. She constantly gives her readers something to think about, and her style is so easy, and a happy ending such a certainty that no matter what the trouble, I can lose myself in her stories.

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