Authors

They Changed My Life

You’ve often heard books praised as life-changing. And every book we read must inevitably change our lives, for good or ill. We can’t measure the impact of a book and books that outwardly have no effect may be the ones that cause internal seismic shifts, unfelt.

However there is a handful of books I’ve read in the past few years that had a very definite effect on my daily life.

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The Lost Traveller by Antonia White. Reading Antonia White’s Clara quartet was a vindicating experience: just to see emotional and situational territory I’d felt alone in expressed so precisely in printed words. But one passage from The Lost Traveller gave me insight into my daughter, rather than consolation for myself. Clara never tells her mother how much she longed for siblings, especially brothers. I’d never been able to quite kill the hope that I might have another child or more children, a sibling for my daughter. Reading this passage, I was able to fully recognize my own maternal desire, for another child, yes, but also for the blessing a sibling could still be for my firstborn. This passage silenced the inner voice that was always droning “too late.”

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The Far Cry by Emma Smith. It was a quote from dialogue on the very last pages of this book that dried up my discouragement toward the beginning of this year. I won’t quote it because it gets its full impact from everything that comes before. But I was able to accept a failure that threatened to cripple me with remorse and instead use that dead body as a stepping stone into a new pattern of life. What was this new pattern? I will say that another book that helped me into it was The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd.

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A truly life-changing read from several years ago was Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculee Ilibagiza. This book was one of the catalysts of a new founding at a point of profound personal crisis. It helped me make, with painstaking care, a new synthesis of life directed by the Virgin Mary. The Seven Sorrows rosary was key in that reconstruction. And this book made me *want* to pray it.

-Mrs. Aldertree

Mark Helprin’s Swan Lake

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When I was about twelve, my mother checked an interesting book out of the library. She returned it unread but not before I’d opened it and read the magical first paragraphs about a god-like white horse wandering loose through the snowy streets of New York. I did not read the book all the way through until I was a graduate student but in the earliest hours of the morning, through the years, I’d find myself half-dreaming that opening scene. The book was Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.

Long before I returned to Winter’s Tale however, I came across another Mark Helprin book at a house where I was babysitting. During the kid’s naptime, I lost myself in a lyrical, luminous retelling of Swan Lake illustrated by Chris van Allsburg. On a pad of paper in the kitchen, I copied my favorite passage, about places and how vastly they can differ from each other, about “charged landscapes that can put together broken hearts or at least keep them from shattering to pieces.”

The book was a storybook but it was also wisdom literature, not afraid to digress and effloresce, offering proverbs and asides that resonated among my own inner musings, making music there. To escape the cage without breaking it. Watchers of the sky and riders of horses. Love for all is love for none. Those who are pure. Those who suffer. Those who wait. Hippopotamuses and pins. The pictures were both crisp and misty, magnificent and simplified. Their unexpected perspectives set butterflies of delight dancing in my stomach, like pans in an IMAX theatre.

A sad tale’s best for winter. Helprin’s Swan Lake had a regal dignified sadness that I appreciated as I moved out of childhood. The indestructible love that can exist between parents and child against all odds was theme I was later to find repeated in his fiction for grown-ups. But I read Swan Lake at the perfect time for me to read it. It helped me understand the delicacy of escaping the cage that threatens to close around a child without breaking it. And so helped me to make that same so important escape.

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-Mrs. Aldertree

4 (more) Things To expect From an Anita Brookner Novel

10 Things to Expect from a Brookner Novel  and 4 (more) :

1.Alice-like protagonist.

2.Yearning for offspring.

3. The rewards of solitude.

4. The unpredictable.

1. Alice-like protagonist. Anita Brookner does not write fairy tales. She could even be said to write anti-fairytales. However her novels are anti-fairytales the way Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is an anti-fairytale. Like Carroll’s Alice, Brookner’s female protagonists/heroines have heads full of rules and meet situations in which they don’t seem to apply, characters who betray no awareness of the codes that they hold sacred. They are well-brought up little girls trapped in Mad Tea Parties, conscientious people blandly trampled by sociopaths. Like Alice, they scold themselves. Like Alice, they doubt themselves. The dynamic that results when people with principles too vaguely grounded run up against an unprincipled world is one of the main sources of interest in Brookner’s fiction. The obscure frustrations, the repetitive situations endured by her heroines have the dream quality of a mundane Wonderland.

2. Yearning for offspring. Anita Brookner does not write fairytales. However, the archetypal yearning for a child that begins so many fairytales is at the marrow of her fiction. The women she writes about have husband, lovers, friends, mothers, in various combinations. And, yet, those without children (almost all of them) are in a state of constant longing (more or less conscious) for a child. There is a profound recognition of the good that motherhood is for a woman, a good so fundamental to her that no other earthly good can substitute or compensate for its lack.

3. The rewards of solitude. Though Brookner makes no claims, explicit or implicit, that the rewards of solitude are equal to the rewards of motherhood, she does acknowledge them. Each of the Brookner books that I have read contains at least one lyric passage in which the experience of the details of ordinary life, without losing a jot or tittle of its ordinariness, in fact because of that very ordinariness, becomes a source of wonder. A person, a woman, in solitude, has a sudden access of freedom and becomes her true self. Becomes a child. These moments are delicately, all but imperceptibly, entered into and easily passed out of. But they verge on the mystical.

4. The unpredictable. Anita Brookner’s novels are never boring. They’re often characterized as books in which nothing, or very little, happens. But, within the limited “claustrophobic” scope of her fictional situations, nothing that happens can be clearly anticipated. What her characters think, say, do and fail to do continually surprises, while it almost never — and never gratuitiously — shocks. You observe human life as if watching the chaos at work in sunlit dust motes. You are fascinated by chaos held in a deeper, greater, obscurely intuited order.

-Mrs. Aldertree

 

 

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