Monday, October 1, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

My very first post here at TMBN was a quote from one of the best children's books ever written, A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

It is hard to describe the impact that her books made on me. I read Meet the Austins as a very young girl. It wasn't hard to imagine that this household, with its joy, love of learning and music, faith and stable family life was where I really belonged. My own home life was marked by dingy and ignoble poverty, anti-intellectualism, alcoholism, and a seemingly endless stream of stepfathers, one of whom nearly soured me on religion for life with his Pentecostal-flavored beatings with a thick, black Belt.

Small wonder that the life of the imagination was my refuge, and L'Engle's books in particular offered the glimpse of a life illuminated by learning. Here I first encountered names unheard of in my house: Dante, Donne, Bach, Mozart, Frost...

Whenever we moved (which was often) I quickly found the nearest public library. My first question after "How can I get a library card?" was always "Is there a limit on how many books I can check out?" The only reading material at our house I can remember was a set of the Bible Story Books (I can still see their sky-blue covers) and I had long since devoured all of them, winning undeserved praise at Sunday School for my knowledge of the Bible. The punishment for crimes not serious enough to merit The Belt was simple and devastatingly effective: loss of reading privileges.

A few months ago I fled to the children's section of our campus library and "sought to borrow, from my books surcease of sorrow." Camped out in a carrel for a couple of hours, I re-read Meet The Austins. It's a simple book, really, but has held up well. All those memories came back, some bitter, but many sweet, of the place I had made for myself as a child.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I too am a Madeleine L'Engle fan. beginning with A Wrinkle in Time. The Moon by Night was one of hers too, wasn't it? I believe I read that one as a young adult.