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Posts Tagged ‘rereading’

anne's house of dreams book cover sea pei north shore

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I drove up to Prince Edward Island, for a quiet, blissful stretch of days (our third) on the Island’s north shore.

We first visited PEI a few summers ago, but I have known and loved it for a long time: through the beloved books of L.M. Montgomery, who introduced me to such heroines as Jane Stuart, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, and – of course – Anne Shirley.

My mom handed me the first three Anne books when I was a child, and I read and reread them until the corners of the paperbacks were worn soft. I later did the same with the remaining five books in the series, and I still have most of my beat-up Bantam copies (though I had to replace the first one after it went missing). I’ve picked up various beautiful editions of several Anne books over the years, and I’d love to buy the entire set in the recent lovely Sourcebooks and Tundra incarnations. But when I want to find a particular passage or dive into a whole book again, I always reach for my childhood copies, their heft comforting in my hands.

I took a stack of books to PEI. This is typical vacation behavior for me, but it’s especially tempting when we drive, because luggage and space limits aren’t a problem. On our first trip to PEI a few years ago, I tucked a couple of Anne books into my suitcase on a whim. I hadn’t reread them in a while, but I thought I might want to flip through them while I was there.

What I hadn’t quite expected: I hardly wanted to read anything else.

Montgomery is a master of the elegant description, and her love for the Island comes through in the voices of her heroines – all of whom are deeply rooted in the Island’s rust-red soil. The green fields with their soft red furrows, the glimpses of blue sea around so many corners, the fields and woods and rolling hills, the rocky and sandy beaches of the north shore, were at once entirely new and utterly familiar to me.

I spent hours on that first trip rereading passages from a couple of Anne books and Jane of Lantern Hill, and I did the same thing when we went back last summer. This time, I dove straight into Anne’s House of Dreams, and I didn’t even regret ignoring the other books sitting in my tote bag. (I suppose I should have known this would happen – but I couldn’t not bring them. Just in case.)

house of dreams page sea pei north shore

For three days, I was right where I wanted to be: on the Island’s north shore in body and spirit. Sinking my toes into the sand, wading in the surf, and also walking and talking with Anne and Gilbert, Leslie Moore and Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim. I pictured Anne and Gilbert’s little white house of dreams, with its glorious garden, more vividly than ever before. And I watched the sky and the waves and the sunsets with as much love as Anne herself, I feel sure.

There’s magic, sometimes, in reading a book in the place where it’s either set or was written. I have read A Moveable Feast in a Paris hotel room, Gaudy Night in Oxford parks and cafes, Daphne Kalotay’s novels while learning the particular Boston streets she describes.

There can also be magic in utter escape from your current reality: I’m too fond of Harry Potter and Jodi Taylor’s time-travel series not to know that. But when you visit a place you’ve loved for so long, and the real, physical truth of it is just as wonderful as you imagined, it can be lovely to luxuriate in being right where you are, on and off the page.

Have you ever visited a place just because you’ve read about it – or purposely matched your reading material to your location? I’d love to hear about it, if you have.

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Although I am an Anglophile, a bibliophile and a fan of young adult literature, I spent several years as a Harry Potter skeptic. I first heard about the books when a family friend, a school superintendent, read the early ones and praised them. But I wasn’t sure I’d really like them – wizards? Spells? Some kind of game played on brooms? Sounded a bit too fantastical for me.

During my first semester in Oxford, several friends were thrilled to tour Christ Church because its dining hall serves as the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. Privately, I scoffed at their excitement. Didn’t they love this elegant, historic building for its own sake? (Yes, I know. I couldn’t stand me, either.)

Finally, Valerie convinced me to give Philosopher’s Stone a chance. “Just try it,” she begged, pushing it across her coffee table on a hot August afternoon. “If you hate it, I swear I’ll leave you alone. But if you love it, come back and you can borrow the rest of the series.”

harry potter series books british editions

Two days later I was back on her doorstep, holding out the book I’d just finished and begging to borrow the next one. I finished Prisoner of Azkaban the following week, sitting at Val’s kitchen table, and as soon as I read the last page, I leaped up and pounded down the hall to her bedroom, to squeal and exclaim and discuss. I had enjoyed the first two books, but the last 80 or so pages of the third one break the plot wide open, forcing readers to reexamine many things they thought they knew. Suddenly, this story was  bigger and deeper – and darker – than I could previously have imagined. (Val, bless her, never so much as said “I told you so.”)

Recently, I spent a couple of weeks immersed in what I think is my sixth reread of the series. And I love it more than ever.

It’s fascinating to reread a series from the beginning after I know the end (though it was fun to wait with bated breath for the sixth and seventh books, with millions of other fans). I can glimpse Rowling’s grand design from the first pages of Philosopher’s Stone, and I know to look for the signs and hints she weaves into the buildup of Harry’s story. I notice the repetition of certain symbols, key phrases, even verbs. These books are full of action, and the verbs “seized,” “bellowed,” “roared,” “dashed,” get quite a workout.

I love tracing the familiar, twisting path from number four, Privet Drive, to Hogwarts and back again, learning about the wizarding world alongside a wide-eyed Harry, taking in the delights of Diagon Alley and meeting the Hogwarts students, staff and ghosts. I love the flashes of humor that pop up regularly (often in the form of Fred and George, whom I adore). From Zonko’s to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to various clever spells, it’s obvious Rowling had so much fun creating this magical world. And Dumbledore had it right: the heart of the series, the great secret that gives the story its power, is love.

Harry has grown up mostly ignored by the Dursleys, but his mother’s love and protection thrums through his veins in his very blood. Somehow, his years with his relatives haven’t erased his compassion: he is kind, loyal and honorable, although he has a temper and a stubborn independent streak (he is no angel, but rather endearingly human). His parents’ love saved his life, and his love for his friends saves more than one life throughout the series, as the stakes rise higher and higher, and more people are forced to risk their necks for those they care about.

I love the Order of the Phoenix, how these wizards from varying backgrounds band together to fight against Lord Voldemort, though for all they know, it might be a losing battle. I love how the Weasleys take Harry in as another son, how the members of the DA stand up for him and for each other, how Ron and Hermione stay with him until the very end. I love how the story keeps growing in depth and scope, until it becomes truly epic, a battle for the very future of the world we all hold dear.

Every once in a while, I get a hankering to return to Hogwarts, to spend a week or two in this world filled with magic (of various kinds). The best rereading combines the comfort of familiarity with new moments of insight each time, and Harry’s story provides both, in ample measure.

Do you reread favorite books or series? Have you read the Harry Potter books?

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As an inveterate rereader, I’ve regularly spent time with some beloved childhood heroines – Anne Shirley, Betsy Ray, Sara Stanley – as an adult. But until last winter, I hadn’t reread any Laura Ingalls Wilder books in at least 15 years.

Then (you may recall) it snowed and snowed and snowed – so I picked up The Long Winter, both to remind myself that the Ingalls had it far worse than we had, and to see if I could glean some of Laura’s and Pa’s “We’ll Weather the Blast” spirit. Rereading that book (and then reading the Laura-fan memoirs The Wilder Life and My Life as Laura) made me want to revisit the whole series, and I finally got around to that last month.

I didn’t keep detailed notes as I reread, but several things struck me:

First and foremost: these books are as magical as they ever were. This is the secret of a good children’s story: to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, the truly good books from childhood hold up well in adulthood. From the first “Once upon a time, sixty years ago” to the last “Golden years are passing by, happy, happy golden years,” these books had me in thrall as much as they did when I was seven or ten or twelve. I read avidly, sometimes finishing one a day. And I welled up multiple times – on the T, over lunch, in the privacy of my own home.

I reveled in the relationship between Pa and Laura. I know he loves all his girls (like my own sweet dad), but I loved watching her help him, watching them work hard and savor the pioneer life and keep their chins up together. She’s his favorite. They both feel stifled in the prairie towns and would be happy to keep going west, following their wanderlust to the very edge of the world. I can sympathize a little (as can every girl who ever fell in love with Laura). And his fiddle is always there to cheer and comfort, whenever things grow dark.

I remembered the early books – Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek – most vividly from my childhood readings. But this time I found myself drawn to the middle books, especially By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter. Laura is on the edge of so many transitions here – from pioneer girl to town girl, tomboy to young lady, child to woman. And yet she’s still free, free to ride black ponies with Lena and explore the high prairie and go ice skating with Carrie in the moonlight. She’s not yet quite bound to spend all her time either helping Ma or making money to send Mary to college. And the prairie itself is still fresh and new – vast and wild and ready to explore, with so much to be discovered. The middle books are all about possibility.

I was struck as I always am by the simplicity of the narratives. Laura’s language isn’t fancy, and there are few big, climactic events – but it doesn’t matter. Her descriptions are spot on and often breathtaking, and her characters quietly compelling. I love the Garth Williams illustrations, and the many songs she quotes from (I think we need a Little House songbook), and the family warmth and love that permeates the books.

Do you make a habit of rereading childhood favorites? What do you find in them now that you didn’t find in them as a child?

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