Writing to Jane Austen

20161124ma_5506If you could write to your favourite author, who would you write?

For me, probably one of the first people on the list would be Jane Austen. Except, I can’t write her. Because she’s dead. 200 years dead. Yes, today is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death in 1817.

That’s when I realized that all my favourite authors are… DEAD.

Okay, that’s not completely true. I like plenty of modern-day authors. I seek out their books. I get excited when I see a new book with their name on it.

But that’s not what I mean. The authors that I’d really, really admire are all dead. Jane Austen. Dead. L.M. Montgomery. Dead. E. Nesbit. Dead. Charlotte Bronte. Dead. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Dead. C.S. Lewis. Dead. Arthur Ransome. Dead.

Okay, so what IF they were still alive? What would I want to tell them? These are the writers of the books that I love. They are the books I pick up again and again. I grew up with many of the books. Like C.S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or L.M. Montgomery. But not all of them fit into that category.

Take E. Nesbit. I discovered her books at University. Yes, they’re kids’ books. But they are magical. Same goes for Arthur Ransome. (Although, magical in a completely different way.)

So, what would I write? I guess I would want to thank them for creating stories that mean something. For creating characters that really live.

So…

Thank-you, Jane Austen, for Emma and Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility!

Thank-you, L.M. Mongomery for that feisty red-head, Anne!

Thanks, E. Nesbit, for those treasure-seeking Bastables and the Five Children and It.

To Charlotte Bronte, I love your Jane Eyre. Thank-you!

C.S. Lewis, you created a world I absolutely adore. I’m still looking for the wardrobe that leads into Narnia. Seriously, I’d like to go. (But in a time of peace, maybe.)

Thank-you Arthur Ransome for those adventures on the lake with the Swallows and Amazons!

And many thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder for explaining every detail of pioneer living! Every. Detail. I lapped it up!

So, if you could write to your favourite author… who would it be and what would you say?

Old-Fashioned Reads

20170522ma_1307I keep a list of everything I read. In fact, if I really like a book, I put a star next to it. Sometimes a happy face. And sometimes a sad/mad face.

Recently, I was searching for a book I know I had read, but I forgot the exact title. So, I went to my list. And I noticed a bunch of the books that had stars next to them. Now, some of those books were not the old. Quite recent releases, actually.

But a number of them were not. In fact they were older than me. Something many would called “old-fashioned”.

And apparently, I like “old-fashioned” books!

So here is a list of my favourite old-fashioned books… These books, despite having been written years ago, still seem relevant today. At least in my humble opinion. (Yes, they may still have a few things that show their age, but overall they have not lost their storytelling magic).

Now, I’m not going to include anything by Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott or L.M. Montgomery or Laura Ingalls Wilder… to name a few. Although they could be on this list. They aren’t, probably because they are on my other list of “Favourite Books of All-Time”.

No, the books on my “old-fashioned” list are those that seem to go under the radar… books that many people probably have never heard of. In fact, I had never heard of them! (Until I read them, of course.) They were books that I read, not knowing that they would become favourites of mine.

So… here’s the list. In no particular order:

1) Daddy Long Legs, by Jean Webster (1912)
2) Mrs. Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman (1947)
3) My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell (1956)
4) No Graven Image, by Elisabeth Eliot (1966)
5) I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith (1948)

When Books Disappear

You know what makes me really sad?

When books go missing from the library.

Now, I’m not talking about books that have been lost or books that are overdue. I’m talking about books that used to be at the library, but are no longer there… Because they have been deemed “no longer relevant”.

I’m talking about classic children’s books.

Elizabeth Enright is one such victim. I grew up with her classic The Saturdays. But does my library carry this book anymore? Nope. Why not? Well, it’s old. It’s set in the past (in the 1940s if memory serves). But so are a lot of other books written today. In fact, I’d say it’s more realistic because a modern author tends to put modern spin on a time period they did not live through.

btbh-032Another victim… Maud Hart Lovelace. Now, I did not grow up with the Betsy-Tacy books, so nobody can accuse me of nostalgia here. (I did grow up with B is for Betsy books, but that’s by a different author.) I discovered Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books in my 20s. And I loved them. They are set in the early 1900s and are marvelously written.

Fortunately, I own a few of them in paperback. About a year and a half ago, I read Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown to my nieces (aged 8 & 9 at the time). We loved it. The horseless carriage. The theatre production. The secret revealed at the end.

Now, here’s the sad part. I went to my library and asked: “Could you please get these books? They have brand-new released versions for sale! It’s not like they’re out of print.  These are wonderful reads and kids deserve to read them! I want my nieces to read them!”

Maybe I picked the wrong librarian. She was probably in her 20s. Her response to me was: “Have you tried inter-library loan?”

For kids?! Really? I wanted my nieces to be able to get these books out for themselves. How realistic is it for them to jump through all the hoops in order to use inter-library loan!

Here’s the thing. I didn’t just come to the librarian with my request that the library buy the  Betsy-Tacy books. There were quite a few other titles on the list (other books I wanted to read but noticed that my library still had not ordered). These other books  were written more recently. Actually, within the past 2-5 years. Like Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (by Wendelin Van Draanen), and Spy Camp (by Stuart Gibbs). And there were at least three more books on my request list (but I can’t remember the exact titles any more).

And you know what? They ordered every single one of those books. But, they did not order a single Betsy-Tacy book.

Now, I like Van Draanen. I like Gibbs. I like modern authors.

But what about Maud Hart Lovelace? What about Elizabeth Enright? What about the other authors that have disappeared into the library’s discard pile? Now, I don’t think every book ever written should be made untouchable. Remember B is for Betsy (the other Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood)? My library does have that one. I picked it up recently. Unfortunately, B is for Betsy has not aged well. I would not classify that book as classic. As an adult, I couldn’t even finish it. Not even for nostalgia’s sake. (Please recall that I have fond memories of reading this book as a child.)

No, the books by Maud Hart Lovelace and Elizabeth Enright are in a different category entirely. They belong with the Jane Austen books. And L.M. Montgomery books. And the C.S. Lewis books. And the Beatrix Potter books.

It made me sad to realize that these librarians couldn’t recognize a book worth keeping.

And when they disappear, I think we miss out on some wonderful literature.

P.S. So far, my library still has many of the books by E. Nesbit (like The Treasure Seekers) and Edgar Eager (like Half Magic). I fear these books might end up like the Betsy-Tacy books. I try to make it a point to take these books out every now and then. Just to show those librarians that people do want to keep the classics alive.

A Beginning After the End

20170530ma_1382“People have forgotten how to tell a story. Stories don’t have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning.” – Steven Spielberg

I recently came across this quote and thought, do I agree with this? Is it true? Is it not? Is it partly true?

The more I think about it, the more I do think that it’s true. The end of a good story is never really the end of the story, is it? Even “And they lived happily ever after” implies that something does happen after the book is closed for the final time.

The same goes for the Epilogue. It will summarize what happens next, but still it doesn’t actually finish the story. Unless, maybe if the main character dies.

But even if the main character dies, the rest of the story world continues. Other characters still live on.

Just as in real life.

And the stories that touch us the most have to have some part of real life in them. That’s why I think we’re drawn to such stories. Now this is not true for every story or book. I’ve read my fair share of books where the characters and plots are, at best, just “okay”. Others could be better described as dull and lifeless (and perhaps even trying too hard, but not succeeding). These stories, we’re probably glad to see the end of.

But for good books… For the stories that stick with us… These are the stories where the end of the book is really just another beginning.

It’s a beginning that comes after The End.

 

Reading Pride and Prejudice Backwards

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I’ve read it many times over. It’s one of the books that I’ll just pick up and “spot read”.

I don’t know if anybody else does this, but for me “spot reading” is when I re-read my favourite parts of a favourite book.

Pride and Prejudice definitely qualifies.

This time I started near the end… when Elizabeth first reads Jane’s letter about Lydia and Wickham. I got so engrossed with the story, that I just kept on reading to the end of the book.

That’s when I started to read the book “backwards”. I went back to read about how Elizabeth and the Gardiners first go to visit Pemberley. When I reached the Jane’s letter regarding Lydia, I went back further to the part where Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

It’s certainly an interesting way to read a book. I wouldn’t recommend for any book other than one you’ve already read countless times before.

And for me, that’s Pride and Prejudice.