May 31, 2011

The allure of old favorites...

I remember very clearly where I was and what was going on in my life the first time I read the book Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery.
I was a writer. At thirteen, my craft was in a state of melodramatic chaos - I didn't even realize at the time that I was a writer - but I wrote incessantly for my own enjoyment and my imagination operated on a completely different plane from the rest of the world.
It was summertime - humid and blistering hot. My bedroom had east-and south-facing windows, guaranteeing hours of direct, scorching sunlight every day all summer long.
For my recent thirteenth birthday, my parents had given me a solid cedar hope chest, and if I propped the lid open the tang of cedar wood filled my whole room.
Sadly, one of our neighbors was going through a divorce, and his three children were staying with my family until the courts could settle things. Needless to say, it was a bit stressful for my mom. After lunch, she had sent us all to our rooms to read or draw for a while, since it was too hot to go outside. Both of the neighbor's girls were a lot younger than I, and both went to sleep within a few minutes. Bored and about to sunburn from being too close to the window, I started looking around for something to do. In one corner I had a box of books someone had given me, but that I hadn't really looked through before. Since I had read everything on my shelves multiple times, I started rummaging in that dusty cardboard box.
The Anne of Green Gables series was there, but I had seen the movie so the books didn't really grab me. Then I found something else: the Emily trilogy. I picked up the first one and looked at the cover. Emily of New Moon. Lovely title. And the cover design looked intriguing. I opened it to the first page. "The house in the hollow was 'a mile from anywhere'--so Maywood people said." That sounded delightful! I grabbed a pillow, scooted over so that I could lay over the air conditioning vent in the floor, and kept reading.
I have read Emily of New Moon annually for the last nine years. Most of the time it's during the summer, but not always. Regardless of the season, reading the book always makes me remember hot summer sunshine, cold air-conditioned air, sweet little neighbor girls, and the smell of cedar. And it works the other way around, too. Every time I smell that cedar tang, or walk across a hot room and feel the breeze from the air conditioner, I remember Emily of New Moon.
That's how great books are. They work their way into our hearts and become a part of us, and they're there forever. That's part of their power... part of their magic. That's part of our calling as writers: to write books that get into people's hearts and stay there, delighting them with the same allure over and over again.
What is a book that has worked its way into your heart? Or, what is a place, a season, a smell, an activity, or a sight that never fails to remind you of a great book?

1 comment:

  1. Mary, though I've never met you in person, I have the strongest feeling you belong to "the race that knows Joseph" (to borrow a Montgomery term). I love this post and the sentiments you've expressed. I've had many similar experiences. Autumn always makes me think of Lord of the Rings, for example. Writers like Tolkien, Lewis, Montgomery, Alcott, Austen, and others I find myself returning to many times.

    My hope is to one day do what you expressed--write books that move people, staying with them through the years, and remaining fresh through countless readings.


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