Posts Tagged ‘Anne Shirley’

shoes book harvard yard

More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
I loved Colwin’s Home Cooking, and rereading an essay of hers (the titular one in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant) prompted me to pick up her second collection of food essays. She muses on cooking for kids, catering on the cheap, and the difficulties of finding good bread, with a few recipes sprinkled throughout. Light and fun.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
“Only the true fans can quote Anne lines from Windy Poplars,” Serenity told me once. This fourth book in the series is definitely underrated. I love it – from Anne’s short-lived feud with the Pringles to her musings on pens and silences, to the way she charms “the widows,” Katherine Brooke, Rebecca Dew and the rest of Summerside. Perfect for blustery autumn days (how I envy Anne her tower room!).

Something Borrowed, Emily Giffin
I’m usually a snob about chick lit, but my sister loves Emily Giffin and convinced me to give her a try. Giffin’s debut is both fluffy and compelling, though it made me feel a bit icky because it is about several people who cheat on each other ALL the time. I did like the narrator, Rachel (the consummate good girl), and appreciated Giffin’s musings on the complexities of female friendship. Good weekend reading.

Something Blue, Emily Giffin
After her best friend Rachel (see above) steals her fiance, Darcy Rhone finds herself alone, pregnant (by a different man – again with the cheating!) and at her wits’ end. She moves to London to stay with an old friend, and gradually realizes she needs to make some changes in her life. I didn’t believe Darcy could change, but she does so admirably (though a bit quickly). Fluffy and fun.

Somewhere in France, Jennifer Robson
Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford wants to make a difference in the world, but she’s constrained by her place in British society. But when World War I breaks out, she learns to drive, defies her parents, and joins the ranks of WAAC drivers, eventually getting posted to France where her sweetheart, a Scottish surgeon, is working at a field hospital. A compelling war tale (with some gory medical details) and a moving love story, though the ending was quite abrupt. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 31).

Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers
Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at a London advertising agency to investigate the death of a copywriter. He uncovers a nest of blackmail, drug-smuggling, jealousy and other fun leisure pursuits. An entertaining mystery, with lots of witty advertising wordplay. (Though I couldn’t believe nobody guessed Lord Peter’s true identity.) So much fun.

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What are you reading?

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“I wish you’d stay home, Anne. I don’t see what you want to go away and leave us for.”
“I don’t exactly want to, Davy, but I feel I ought to go.”
“If you don’t want to go you needn’t. You’re grown up. When I‘m grown up I’m not going to do one single thing I don’t want to do, Anne.”
“All your life, Davy, you’ll find yourself doing things you don’t want to do.”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery


Anne Shirley learned this lesson earlier than I did. As an orphan who was dependent on other families for her welfare, she spent her childhood caring for babies rather than playing with her friends (she didn’t have any) or going to school. Once she came to Green Gables she had more freedom and many new friends, but she still had to do the chores (such as sewing “unimaginative” patchwork squares) that she didn’t want to do. By the time she’s preparing to head off to Redmond, in Anne of the Island, she understands what it is to tackle an unpleasant chore, or to have mixed feelings about a course of action and stick to her decision anyway.

I’ve been remembering these words recently as I (reluctantly) wait on increasingly chilly subway platforms, squeeze onto crowded commuter trains, squint at my monthly budget, or deal with nagging life admin items such as doctor’s appointments. Every day, I find myself doing things I don’t want to do – which would shock eight-year-old Davy Keith. But I do them anyway – sometimes because I have to, sometimes because I know that my life (or someone else’s) will be better if I take care of this or that task. Most of the time, I try not to gripe about it, though I do my fair share of grumbling about bad weather, long lines or high prices.

Anne is one of my heroines not only because of her starry-eyed optimism, but because of her honesty about the small trials and victories of everyday life. She wasn’t complaining when she made the statement above; she was gently chiding Davy, perhaps, but she was also admitting matter-of-factly that life – even a good life – isn’t all ease and pleasure.

Sometimes, on a gray day or one filled with not-so-appealing tasks, it helps to remember Anne’s clear-eyed words, and tuck them into my pocket as I take a deep breath and tackle my next dull or irritating task. Even Anne had to do all sorts of things she didn’t want to do. And she managed to maintain a cheery and hopeful spirit – which means I can cultivate one, too.

(The cover image is from Wilfair. That’s the edition I own, though it always bothered me that Anne is wearing pink – she never wears pink, because of her red hair!)

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widener library harvard convocation

When we left Queen’s we knew everybody and had a place of our own. [...] Now we feel as if the ground had slipped from under our feet. I’m thankful that neither Mrs. Lynde nor Mrs. Elisha Wright know, or ever will know, my state of mind at present. They would exult in saying ‘I told you so,’ and be convinced it was the beginning of the end. Whereas it is just the end of the beginning.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I always think of Anne’s words at this time of year, when flapping black robes and colorful hoods appear on the streets of Boston and Cambridge, when nervous almost-graduates have to answer the question “What are you doing next?” for the seventy-sixth time. Families flood into town to watch their sons, daughters and siblings walk across those stages. For weeks, you can’t set foot outside without tripping over a few knots of family-members-cum-tourists, disoriented but excited, trying to squeeze in all the sightseeing and still get everyone where they’re supposed to be on time.

I’m no longer a student, but I have never left the world of higher education. I’ve worked at three universities, and I spent a year in Oxford earning a graduate degree. Last week was my first Harvard commencement, and though I mostly watched it from afar, it thrilled me to be part of a centuries-old tradition, distinctive yet common to universities around the world.

The festivities began for us on Wednesday afternoon, with the Ed School’s Convocation ceremony under a big white tent in Radcliffe Yard. I manned the Class Gift table with two colleagues, and we watched our office’s intern, Evan, present the class gift check to our dean and then deliver her speech, perfectly poised. (She’s a class act and a fellow West Texan – which makes me doubly proud.)

evan speech convocation

The Thursday morning exercises in Tercentenary Theatre (adjacent to Harvard Yard) are always packed, and tickets are hard to come by, so I watched the live stream online with my colleagues (in our air-conditioned offices – it was 92 degrees!). But I did walk through the day before:

tercentenary theatre harvard commencement

I’ve never seen so many folding chairs or college banners in one place. And even when it was (mostly) empty, you could feel the buzz in the air.

On the day, the pomp and circumstance were such fun to watch – as were the quirky details, from President Faust’s crimson shoes to the deans all hugging Oprah (the afternoon’s featured speaker) during their brief times onstage. And the student speeches – one in Latin, two in English – were simply wonderful. My favorite quote came from Jon Murad, a New York police officer who earned a graduate degree at the Kennedy School of Government:

Here’s the secret: Everyone changes the world. Everything ripples. What matters is how we do it.

That is the excitement of commencement, at Harvard or anywhere else: the idea that these graduates will leave campus and begin working to change the world. It is an end, especially for the undergraduates – but it is also a beginning. They are leaving a place where they have become comfortable and known, but they are on the cusp of another grand adventure.

We’re settling into summer mode around here: tying up loose ends from the school year, dodging tourists with oversized cameras, shifting our attention to projects we’d been saving for quieter days. The tents have been folded, the chairs stacked and carted away. But the air still shimmers with the excitement – and uncertainty – of all those beginnings.

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Windy Poplars,
Spook’s Lane,
May 30th.


It’s spring!

tulips boston public garden

“Perhaps you, up to your eyes in a welter of exams in Kingsport, don’t know it. But I am aware of it from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes. Summerside is aware of it. Even the most unlovely streets are transfigured by arms of bloom reaching over old board fences and a ribbon of dandelions in the grass that borders the sidewalks.

blossoms charles street boston

“Everything is calling ‘spring’ to me . . . the little laughing brooks, the blue hazes on the Storm King, the maples in the grove when I go to read your letters, the white cherry trees along Spook’s Lane, the sleek and saucy robins hopping defiance to Dusty Miller in the back yard, the creeper hanging greenly down over the half-door to which little Elizabeth comes for milk, the fir trees preening in new tassel tips around the old graveyard . . . even the old graveyard itself, where all sorts of flowers planted at the heads of the graves are budding into leaf and bloom, as if to say, ‘Even here life is triumphant over death.’”

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery

pink tree boston public garden

From Anne and me to you, happy spring.

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I’ve been rereading Anne of Windy Poplars, because it’s the perfect fall comfort read. Anne moves to a new town, finds a charming tower room in a house with two adorable old ladies and their quirky housekeeper, and proceeds to win the hearts and minds of everyone in Summerside, as she seems to do everywhere she goes. And she chronicles her three years apart from her beloved Gilbert in dozens of letters, which remind me strongly of my emails to J when we were apart for our yearlong engagement.

This time around, I noticed a detail I’d never noticed before, in her first letter to Gilbert:

From the left window in the tower I can see the roofs of the town…this place where I am to live for at least a year. People are living in those houses who will be my friends, though I don’t know them yet.

I had always blithely assumed, in my previous reads, that Anne had planned to spend those three years in Summerside before Gilbert finished medical school and they got married. But reading that phrase (italics above are mine), I realized: she didn’t know, at the outset, how long she’d be there. The fear of resigning at Christmas (when the Pringles plagued her life out), or at the end of a year, was very real. And her musings on a new life with an unknown end date struck a deep chord with me -  since I, too, am living in a new life with an unknown end date. We’ll be here a couple of years yet, but I am not sure what lies around the “bend in the road,” either in Boston or after we leave it.

This is one reason I love rereading – noticing these details for the first time, and feeling an entirely new kinship with a character who has long been a good friend. (And, of course, it was deeply reassuring to read about Anne’s three years in Summerside and watch her build a rich, full life there.)

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I admit I was a little reluctant for fall to come this year.

You see, we had such a long winter last year, and a cold wet spring – so I’ve been savoring every bit of sunshine, every warm day and golden sunset of summer and Indian summer. But fall is undoubtedly here in the Northeast – and I do love it, so I’m now entering into it with gusto.

The season's first apple, and my jaunty red accessories.

Besides, I’ve got quite a few falls to make up for. In my West Texas hometown, “fall” often lasts for about a week between the blistering heat of summer and the whip of winter winds across the plains. I’ve sweated through many a football game in a wool band uniform, wishing it were cooler – and then shivered my way through many a Christmas parade, my flute icy against my lips. So I’m soaking up every moment of crisp autumn air (and trying not to think about the coming winter – surely it can’t be as bad as last year?).

Here’s how I’m falling into fall:

1. Eating apples (and planning to go pick them very soon)
2. Savoring the very last batches of summer produce
3. Making and freezing pesto, while I still can
4. Planning local trips – up to N.H. to see the foliage; a return to New York to see Allison; a day trip out to the Boston Harbor Islands and another to Portland, Maine
5. Making pumpkin scones and pumpkin bread
6. Savoring the last of my summer teas and planning to stock up on fall/wintry ones
7. Eating lunch outside as often as possible (storing up sunshine)
8. Buying new leggings (a steal!)
9. Rediscovering my scarf collection
10. Lining up a little seasonal reading: Anne of Windy Poplars and some new fall releases by beloved authors
11. Urging far-away friends to come savor the New England fall with us
12. Enjoying seasonal flavors: pumpkin, cinnamon, apple cider, caramel, chai

How are you falling into fall this year?

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After a trip, such as my lovely weekend in New York (complete with children’s lit tour), “normal” life can seem a bit staid, a bit dull, a bit – well – ordinary. Especially when you live in a place that’s no longer new – when you’re more inclined, perhaps, to take things for granted than to see them with fresh eyes.

Last fall, we had just moved to Boston and I was delighting in the Northeast fall – the changing leaves, the crisp days and chilly nights, the apple picking (and apple cider), the cafes and bookshops explored on long golden afternoons when I had nothing to do but wander around my new city.

This fall, I have a day job (and it’s been raining a lot lately), and I am, if not jaded, not always so attuned to the daily wonders of browsing at the Brattle or walking across the Common on my way to work. Sometimes the days can start to seem rather commonplace, or to run into one another with their commutes and errands and to-do lists.

But after a frantic day of emails and meetings this week, I remembered a bit of wisdom from our favorite red-haired heroine, when she arrives home to Ingleside after a trip to Avonlea:

“This is no common day, Mrs. Dr. dear,” [Susan] said solemnly.

“Oh, Susan, there is no such thing as a common day. Every day has something about it no other day has. Haven’t you noticed?”

Anne of Ingleside

Which made me think of a similar exchange between Emily Byrd Starr and her teacher, Mr. Carpenter:

“Stick to facts for three years and see what you can make of them. Leave the realm of imagination severely alone and confine yourself to ordinary life.”

“There isn’t any such thing as ordinary life,” said Emily.

Mr. Carpenter looked at her for a moment.

“You’re right – there isn’t,” he said slowly. “But one wonders a little how you know it.”

Emily Climbs

Good words to carry in my heart, for those not-quite-so-common, never-ordinary days.

May you have a delightfully not-ordinary weekend.

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“Our library isn’t very extensive, said Anne, “but every book in it is a friend. We’ve picked our books up through the years, here and there, never buying one until we had first read it and knew that it belonged to the race of Joseph.”

Anne’s House of Dreams, L.M. Montgomery

This is another reason I love Anne Shirley so much – she’s hit on the perfect reason for buying a book, and the perfect way to curate a library.

I read voraciously, fast and often, and my reading speed outstrips both my book budget and my storage space. Aside from those practical reasons, I don’t actually want to own every book I’ve ever read. I’d rather own the ones I love, the ones I turn to again and again for comfort, wisdom, laughter or helpful information, the ones I want to lend to friends. And, of course, the ones that hold sentimental value – whether they were picked up in a special location (like the copies of 84 Charing Cross Road and The Two Towers I bought at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris) or passed down to me (like the copy of No Children, No Pets and the set of My Book House tales, given to me by my grandmothers). (These book treasures, heirloom and otherwise, may feature in their own separate post. I’ve got quite a few of them.)

This is why I didn’t keep all my college textbooks, even the novels I read for my literature classes – if I didn’t love it or hadn’t been profoundly affected by it, out it went. This is also why, in my new gig as a reviewer for Shelf Awareness, I end up passing on many of the ARCs I receive – because I (honestly) don’t love them all, and because I (seriously) don’t have room for them all.

This is why I rarely buy books without doing a bit of research first – looking up the author’s website, reading an excerpt online or flipping through it in the bookstore – though I’ll buy anything by a few treasured authors. This is also why, sometimes, after checking out a book from the library, I go to the Brattle or the Booksmith and see if I can find a copy – because it made me laugh (or cry) or touched me so deeply that I want it for my own. (Recent examples of this phenomenon include Alice Bliss, Maisie Dobbs and the Valentine books by Adriana Trigiani.)

I believe – deeply – in buying books, real books, because those books are the lifeblood of the publishing industry, and I want to support those authors who are working so hard (and who sometimes, graciously, come to town to give readings and signings and talk to their fans). I believe in buying those books at real bookstores, because I want those places to be around for years and decades to come.

But I also believe in the beauty of a medium-sized, thoughtfully edited, well-curated library. I want the books on my shelves to be friends of mine. I want to look at my shelves and see the progress of my literary journey, but I also want to see familiar faces, wise elders helping me find my way, warmhearted friends who will let me spend a few hours in their world, and wordsmiths whose work delights me down to my toes.

How do you curate your library?

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“I intend to get up extra early tomorrow morning, for I’ve ever so much to do,” said Anne virtuously. “For one thing, I’m going to shift the feathers from my old bedtick to the new one. I ought to have done it long ago but I’ve just kept putting it off…it’s such a detestable task. It’s a very bad habit to put off disagreeable things, and I never mean to again, or else I can’t comfortably tell my pupils not to do it. That would be inconsistent. Then I want to make a cake for Mr. Harrison and finish my paper on gardens for the A.V.I.S., and write Stella, and wash and starch my muslin dress, and make Dora’s new apron.”

“You won’t get half done,” said Marilla pessimistically. ‘I never yet planned to do a lot of things but something happened to prevent me.’

-Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery

For once, Marilla’s gloomy prediction comes true – as her readers know, Anne’s planned productive day turned out quite differently than she imagined (though it was certainly memorable).

In the middle of my constant to-do lists at work and at home (which never do seem to get done), it comforts me to know my red-headed heroine didn’t have it all together, either.

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Recently, while rereading Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, I realized how many of my favorite literary heroines are writers, or aspiring writers. This surprised me, actually, because I’ve read or heard somewhere that books about writers aren’t very interesting.

Now, that statement probably came from an article or book urging writers to get out and live life, instead of living in our own heads all the time – sound advice. But I disagree with the statement itself – because I find all these writer girls utterly fascinating. Here are my writerly heroines, inveterate scribblers one and all:

1. Betsy Ray, who writes on tablets from her father’s shoe store, with “a real theatrical trunk” for a desk
2. Anne Shirley, who writes “pretty, fanciful little things” (after she graduates from tear-jerking Story Club tales)
3. Jo March, who frequently “falls into a vortex” and scratches away in her garret
4. Cassandra Mortmain, who sets out to “capture the castle” and writes her way through a very exciting summer
5. Emily Byrd Starr, whose “Jimmy-books” are fascinating collections of miscellany
6. Penelope Wallace, who daydreams for quite a while but finally gets down to writing
7. Juliet Ashton, who finds a book idea – and love of all kinds – on Guernsey
8. Julie Wallace, who writes for her father’s newspaper, scribbles poetry at odd moments, and fights for what she believes in
9. Harriet the Spy, whose notebook is both hilarious and honest

Did I miss any? Any writerly heroines you adore?

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