Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reading

I finished reading Rainbow Valley last night as the sun was setting and fireflies began blinking on and off and my children frolicked around the yard, telling not-so-scary tales, picking figs and eating them, and playing leap frog (and occasionally misjudging exactly how far they had to leap, ending up sitting on each other's heads (but I just ignored those cries and they managed to solve the problems on their own)).

This is the stuff childhood memories are made of. And I think it's part of the reason I'm still enjoying the Anne of Green Gables series so much. L. M. Montgomery seems to be such a romantic in her writing and I'm really enjoying that right now—Anne's attitude toward childhood and growing up and finding love and motherhood.

I particularly appreciated the love story of Mr. Meredith (a widower) and Rosemary West (an old maid by virtue of her fiancé drowning at sea). In light of a secondary love story blossoming in real life (in short, our friends' dad is getting remarried), I enjoyed the sneak peek into the secondary love story of Mr. Meredith and Ms. West, how they still love their original love but somehow found room in their heart for more love, the quibbles they had accepting this, and how cute the children were bringing it all about.

Rainbow Valley was published in 1919, shortly after the end of World War I, and L. M. Montgomery weaves a lovely analogy of the Pied Piper into her story. Walter Blythe makes several mentions to the story. "Some day," he says, "the Pied Piper will come over the hill up there and down Rainbow Valley, piping merrily and sweetly. And I will follow him...away from you all. I don't think I'll want to go—Jem will want to go—it will be such an adventure—but I won't. Only I'll HAVE to—the music will call and call and call me until I MUST follow."

It's clear by the end of the book that this is a foreshadowing of the boys being called off to war in a few years' time—specifically the very last bit of the book when Jem "[springs] up with a gay laugh...tall and splendid, with his open brow and his fearless eyes. There were thousands like him all over the land of the maple." And he says, "Let the Piper come and welcome....I 'll follow him gladly round and round the world."


Both Jem and Walter spend quite a bit of time explaining to the girls that they won't be following the piper, even though Di valiantly offers to follow the Piper as well. I thought this was odd because it seemed to me that the Pied Piper was an allusion the inevitable practice of growing up—as I'm still fairly sure it was, since she mentions the Jem was following the piper (I think) when he was studying for his exams instead of playing with the children like he used to—but by the end it was quite obvious why the boys should tell the girls that they must sit and wait for them to come back (though women played a larger role than that during WWI).

Anyway, it was fun to finish reading this book while listening to my children play out their childhood whimsies on a waning summer's night.

A while ago I came across a quote in Rainbow Valley that made me think of my sister so I jotted it down so that I could share it with her, to let her know that there is always a point to moving forward:
It is never quite safe to think we have done with life. When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.
Turning the page is always an adventure. Even though I wrote the quote down for my sister I found it haunting my thoughts this past little while as I realized—yet again—that I'm really not in control of anything. Truthfully I'm mostly okay with that because my plans are usually much lamer than what actually happens.

When I interviewed for my first job out of college one of the questions they asked me was, "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

I was engaged at the time and I frankly couldn't picture five years into the future. I wanted to give them the idea that I was a committed stable person but really didn't know what to say. Andrew had a couple of years left of his bachelor's degree. I knew we'd be around that long. But what about kids? Graduate school? Full-time employment (this was only a 30-hour position)? How could anyone look five years into the future and see where they'd be? Surely I didn't want to be there in five years but I did want to be there (what was) now because I needed a job. I'm sure I came up with a suitably idiotic answer. And they hired me.

I can't remember what I said, but I do know that those first five years of marriage took me places I had not envisioned while nervously sitting in that interview.

When we decided to move to North Carolina and attend Duke I felt like we were signing our life away. Five years seemed like forever. It was the first time that I felt I could honestly answer the question "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Before that we seemed to always never quite know what was happening...ever.

We still have three years left in this program (I realize Andrew is doing a large share of the work (like all of it) but I still prefer to use the inclusive pronoun 'we' because I feel like I'm working at this PhD, too, just in a much different way (I'm at least fully invested in it)) but I'm starting to feel like—if I squint really hard—I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

On Tuesday Andrew will defend the paper he wrote for his comprehensive exam. And then he'll get to start working on his prospectus, followed by his dissertation. Once he defends that—in like three years—he'll be finished with graduate school. Forever.

And then we'll get a job. Just like magic.

That's the plan, anyway, but I'm becoming accustomed to allowing the plan to change because, as I already mentioned, I've realized I'm never quite in control of anything and my idea of a plan is typically much more tame than what actually happens.

Life is full of surprises. Surprises like moving to Egypt for two years. Surprises like your husband walking in the door and saying, "What if I said I wanted to get a PhD?" and you responding with gusto, "I say go for it!" while your brain is trying to reel those words back in. Surprises like a baby being born two months too soon. Surprises like not having that fourth baby when you hoped you would. Surprises like...lots of things.

When I feel like I have figured out the path my life is taking, when I feel like I've figured out "my story," that's exactly when the story changes. In my experience, this has been a good thing (a hard thing, to be sure, but a good thing). Life is full of uncertainties—"in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes," so says Benjamin Franklin (and a few other people).

Tangentially related to this post, I thought I'd take up Aunt Becky's 10-influential-book challenge here rather than on Facebook because I think I want to use far too many words.

1. The Anne of Green Gables series. Somehow I missed reading this until I was an adult. And then somehow I thought I'd skip the off-shoot books that were more about her kids than about her but, guess what? I found out that I love her kids as much as her, so... I just started Rilla of Ingleside and felt little pangs of sadness for Anne talking about her children getting so grown up. Just yesterday they were playing in Rainbow Valley!

2. The Harry Potter series. Andrew had to convince me to read these books and I'm so glad that he did. There are so many lessons in J.K. Rowlings books. They do get a little dark and scary later in the series (when I'm thinking about my little Rachel reading them) but life can get a little dark and scary, too. And in the end good triumphs over evil, which gives me hope on my darkest days.

3. Ella Enchanted. I read this book over and over again as a young teen. I just love Ella. She taught me a lot about being a cool-headed heroine (not that I am a cool-head heroine, but I imagine that if I ever were to become one I'd share quite a few traits with Ella).

4. The Little House on the Prairie series. My mom read them to me as a child, I read them as a child, I've read them to my children, and my children have read them (at least those who can read at that level—so, Rachel...Rachel has read them). I love the kind of series that takes a single character through so many stages of life. I can relate to Laura when she's little and I can relate to Laura when she's older. And I've learned quite a bit reading them over and over again.

5. The Marmawell Trilogy. These books were written by my young women's leader when I lived in High River. I remember thinking (a) they were charming tales and (b) I know her! There were two published authors in our ward and I though it was the coolest thing and have always had a secret desire to sit down and write a story and have that story be published but I haven't had the gumption to do it yet. I don't have a copy of these in my house, but I'd love to get them one day so my children can read them (and so I can reread them). Also, Keturah and Lord Death (same author, different name).

6. The Chronicles of Narnia. I read these books for the first time on my honeymoon. Because that's what couples do on honeymoons, right? Read a series of books together? I thought so. Anyway...the reasons I love them are probably the same reason anyone loves them. It's a good story and there are several life lessons woven throughout.

7. Number the Stars. Like almost any child in my generation, I was fascinated by WWII (I'm not sure my children will have the same fascination). One of my best friends suggested this book and I'm so glad she did. It was a fabulous tale of bravery. This is the part where I ashamedly admit that I've never read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I really ought to.

8. Shadow Spinner was a gift from my mom years and years ago. The moment I started reading it I started dreaming of visiting the Middle East. I should probably read it out loud to my kids, actually. They'd probably enjoy it because they love dreaming about visiting the Middle East as well (we read a copy of We're Sailing Down the Nile and they were just eating it up). My Anastasia got me dreaming about going to Russia...and I eventually did go. When we first got married (but after we'd already been to Jordan) I read The Painted Veil and warned Andrew that I was dreaming of going to China so he'd better watch out. We haven't been to China. Yet.

Rachel was doing a writing assignment and her prompt was, "What's a place you like to visit?" (or something like that) and she said, "I don't know how to answer this question because the only place I really like to visit is books but that's not a good answer because a book isn't really a place."

We settled on "the library" as a location because she loves to read books and imagine she's going all the places in the books.

9. Grapes of Wrath (and really just Steinbeck). I haven't read a ton of Steinbeck but I've liked what I've read, even if it is a bit heavier than other things I like to read (like Anne of Green Gables). I read Grapes of Wrath in high school for my American History class and scenes of the book have never left me (like the desperation and kindness shown in the very end of the book when Rose of Sharon "helps the starving stranger," to put it as delicately as Wikipedia. I studied Of Mice and Men in school as well. And I read East of Eden for book club recently, which I also loved.

10. Nineteen Eighty-Four. I read this in Egypt, which was a very interesting place to be reading such a novel. I think I'll throw The Hunger Games in here as well, since we're talking about dystopian societies. I read that series concurrently with Nothing to Envy, which was seriously eye-opening. Dystopia is not always non-fiction.

So, those are my ten (or ten-ish) influential books. If anyone wants to make a list of theirs, I'd love some good book suggestions (I'd tag Crystal or Bridget but you two are so good at always writing up book reviews anyway, so...Mom?).

2 comments:

  1. I find it hilarious that The Painted Veil made you want to go to China. It's about cholera!!! I hope you watched the movie, too - I thought it was better.

    I guess I need to read the Anne off-shoot books. I didn't read AOGG until adulthood, either. Better late than never!

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    1. Cholera, yes. But the mountains, Bridget! THE MOUNTAINS.

      And I did see the movie (and liked the ending much better than the book).

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