Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On not reading "Anne of Green Gables"

Spending all my time in the library isn’t great for my blogging, and
it gets a bit mentally overwhelming too. In search of some escape
other than Chinese TV documentaries, I’ve found some free English
books online at a site which offers a few of my childhood favorites,
including several of the Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting, and a
handful of the Anne of Green Gables books by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
These were so beloved by me as a child that I was completely beside
myself when my father’s bagpipe band’s competition schedule took them,
and thus us, to Prince Edward Island for the weekend of my tenth or
eleventh birthday. This weekend was memorable for a number of other
things, including the Great Family Clam Chowder Debate (“whole or
chopped?”), a trail ride that delighted my horse-loving soul, and a
terrifying thunderstorm in which choosing a campsite on a bluff
overlooking the salt marsh suddenly seemed far less picturesque. But
visiting PEI was something I’d always wanted to do, and I remember
drinking it in deeply.

I don’t always remember why I loved particular books as a child; I was
a prolific reader, more of a literary gourmand than a gourmet, and had
more or less read through the entire collection of our small-town
public library, whose robust collection of Edwardian young-adult
fiction probably influenced me more than I’d prefer to admit. I cared
about good writing, I do remember that, but usually there was more to
it than that. Re-reading Anne of Green Gables, I realize now that one
of the things that drew me to these books in particular was their
powerful love of place. The stories are sweetly humorous, if
sometimes rather moralizing, but overlying everything is an abiding
and deep love for rural Prince Edward Island as a place, with its
fields and farmhouses and woods and the sea always nearby. In the
character of Anne Shirley, the author has created a figure who I think
must share her own love of the island; otherwise it is hard to imagine where the
deeply affectionate (and affecting) descriptions of the woods and
hills in all their seasons might come from. As described by Lucy Maud
Montgomery, it is a place not unlike where I grew up, and Anne as a
young girl occupies its fields and orchards in a way not unlike my own
relationship to the land in childhood. This makes it hard to read,
because of course my choices have taken me very far away from that
place; at the moment, so far away that if I went further I would begin
to grow nearer. And that, of course, may be where the story goes next
- but in the meantime I have to be careful not to read too much Anne,
for fear of homesickness.

1 comment:

Mari said...

Kate, when my mother was in her last years she would sometimes not talk for days, but then suddenly start in on a long vignette or story. At first I thought they were memories from her childhood, but then realized they were stories from childhood reading, including Ann of Green Gables. I got a few of these books and read them aloud to her a chapter at a time. This was my introduction to the feisty orphan genre. I'm glad you have these stories as part of your childhood memories and were able to visit Prince Edward Island.