Posts Tagged With: Madeline L’Engle

A Week of Education


I’m just gonna do a general roundup today, because it seems like that sort of a week.

It’s the National Park Service’s 100th birthday today, and admission is free all weekend.  It makes me want to road trip SO BAD.  Joshua Tree is only an hour from us.  It’s supposed to be 93 degrees out, though.  I don’t know.  At this point, temperatures have been over 100 for so much of the summer that 93 seems doable.  We’ll see.

I had a spate of work that was all mindless adding things to the database, and so I was doing it while listening to the On Being podcast.  They’re all amazing, but I want to particularly recommend this one by Ellen Langer.  Mindfulness without meditation?  Amazing.  And her advice on “can we?” vs “how can we?” is also mind-blowing.  This podcast maybe has changed my life.

I made both Apple Lemon Lavender Jam last weekend and Watermelon Jelly.  The apple lemon is a bit tart, and the watermelon didn’t set up correctly, despite all the pectin I added.  But both are tasty, so there’s that.  I’ve made the Apple Lemon before, only with lemon balm instead of lavender, and it’s one of my favorite flavors EVER.  I just think that I should have either soaked the lemon peel or picked a different herb to put it all with.  Or maybe just added more sugar.  Next time.  And I’ve officially invented watermelon syrup – good on ice cream of all kinds. Just don’t try to spread it on any bread (it doesn’t spread, it oozes.  I may also have a B movie in my refrigerator, only time will tell).

The students come back to school in a couple of weeks.  I’m not ready.  Mostly because I haven’t even started my seasonal reading list, and that’s no small task.  I’d better get on it.  Amid all the novel writing and dissecting of my favorite books, of course.  I’m ½ way through the dissection of A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle and I feel like it’s so full of stuff I never fully realized yet still felt. I’m in love with all the quotes she uses.

I guess the point of this post (if it has one) is that it’s been a very educational week.  That’s all I have to say on the subject for now.  Have a good weekend.  I’m going to.  How do I know this?  Ellen Langer told me so.

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Spring Reading List


The students have graduated.  We were afraid it was going to rain on them, and so there were white tents all across campus.  It mostly just looked cloudy and miserable without any drops falling, though.  The students at Scripps get their diplomas amid a grove of trees, and I’ve never seen a prettier graduation.  Chapman’s is this weekend, and Brian will be working it.  The weekend after, my sister will be getting her hard-won Art degree.  It hardly seems like two years since I was up on that platform myself, but it has been.  It’s funny how life changes and doesn’t all at the same time.

There have been a bevvy of parties at my friend Emily’s house the last couple of weeks.  We are a snowball group of friends who met in high school and then grabbed kindred spirits in college and after to round us out a little more.  Most of us have a travesty of a car full of trash, attended community college, don’t have any idea what we want to do with our lives, and have struggled to pay the bills sometimes (often).  We hardly ever get together, but it has been twice in three weeks, and another party at her house this weekend.  There is never anyone like that group.  I was sitting on the couch next to my friend Lilo listening intently to the ratio of guano to ash to compost she puts on her tomatoes when she stopped mid-explanation.

“I just want to say that I’m so glad you’re as interested in this as I am, and I love you guys,” she said.  So I think we all feel it.  There’s no one quite like that collection of people for being so in sync with each other.

My tomatoes are going gang-busters, all except for one that died.  I’ll be investing in tomato cages soon, and I found out that Armstrong has navy-blue ones that would match my front door.  That may need to happen, since they’re in my front yard and all because of the gopher situation.

With graduation there comes the semi-annual posting of the reading list.  I have read a lot of smut this time, and I’m not sorry.  But I would like to remind you of our invisible non-binding pact that you don’t judge me for my reading habits.  This list encompasses February, and you HAVE to read romance novels in February (we’re ignoring the fact that some of these stretch in to May). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Anyway, enjoy:

  1. How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman – Goodman has experience living it all, and her personal insights were fascinating and invaluable. I was left with a massive appreciation for simple modern things.  It’s not often I can’t put a non-fic down.
  2. The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro – Why are the jerks in romance novels always amazing in bed? I liked this one.  It had a mystery component, beautiful writing, and Degas.  The mystery was predictable, but it still felt tense.  Good beach smut, 4 ½ stars.
  3. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley –The story didn’t feel important, but it was fun to see the characters I knew. I found myself wanting to keep reading so I could be in the forest with them.  Also, Marion kicks ass.  That’s awesome.
  4. Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer – Exactly what I was expecting, although the brother is a bit annoying and I wish there was more romance (they ignore each other until she’s not his ward anymore). But fun, if you can put aside their first meeting.
  5. Venetia by Georgette Heyer – Supposed to be one of her best, and I enjoyed it A TON. I wish I could just slice out that first meeting of the two main characters, though. Otherwise the book is perfect and I enjoyed it heartily. Okay, more than heartily.
  6. The Diviners by Libba Bray –Naughty John gives me nightmares, and everything just gets creepier the farther into the book you go. But Evie is delightful, incorrigible and the 1920s slang is perfection.  I can’t stop thinking about it.
  7. What to Expect Before You’re Expecting – I’m sure this is full of good advice, but I’m cranky with the cutesy terms. We’re all adults, for God’s sake.  We can have sex.  We don’t need to be TTC (wink!) or do the Baby Dance.  Please say I’m right.
  8. The Ultimate Guide to Writing Persuasively – for work. Filled with a lot of branding stuff that might have been helpful for a less well run fundraising machine (we have it handled at Scripps), but the letter writing portion was useful.
  9. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – Good, because how can a Rowell novel not be good? But this one left me heartbroken.  Eleanor’s family life is SO messed up, and watching her try to deal while falling in love hurt so much.
  10. Paris In Love by Eloisa James – A series of social media snippets refined and divided into chapters about her sabbatical in Paris. Easy to read and put down, sweet enough to pick up again.  I wanted to live in Paris forever, I didn’t want it to end. Also, may not be able to stop reading her books.
  11. Duchess In Love by Eloisa James – A cute premise, and it quickly turns into a crazy farce in a country house where you aren’t totally sure how it will all turn out. 4 Beach Smut stars.
  12. The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James – Although the book was definitely good, I felt like it wasn’t quite up to James’ usual standards. The kidnap scene in France at the end wasn’t my favorite thing.  But altogether worth it.  I would say 3 1/2 Beach Smut stars.  Okay, maybe 4.
  13. Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James – Not as X-rated as it sounds. The heroine’s name is Xenobia.  But I liked it especially for that, and for Xenobia’s independence.  She’s my favorite of James’ heroines so far.  5 Beach Smut stars.  Okay, maybe 5+
  14. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins – A sweet novel set at a high school for Americans in Paris. Has a dreamy boy named Etienne, rocking friends in Atlanta, and lots of France.  Nothing too unexpected, but solid and well written.
  15. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins – I’m IN LOVE with Lola. She’s hilarious, with the best fashion sense.  Her story is unusual, her boyfriend the perfect jerk, and Cricket next door the perfect complement to her.  Better than “Anna,” and it’s tough to be better than “Anna.”
  16. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins – These just keep getting better and better. “Isla” was my favorite by far.  Loved the Barcelona bits and Josh too.  Sexy painting scenes.  Go read it.  That’s all I have to say.
  17. Potent Pleasures by Eloisa James – Oh man, I can’t stand the name. The novel was generally good and fun, with a good premise.  But the hero exhibits some scary, angry tendencies that made me balk a little.  Still good Beach Smut.
  18. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz – a re-read. There is peeing on buttons for authenticity, a Civil Wargasm, and much spooning.  Not to mention the horrifying ham… Brian asked me to stop laughing, because I was shaking the bed.  I think it might even get funnier the second time.
  19. The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale – Oh, I love her so much. The ending wasn’t what I thought it would be, in the best way.  Miri trying to adjust to life in the swamps, and Peder’s pursuit of her, the secret even the sisters don’t know… the whole thing was absolutely right.
  20. Rags and Bones by Various Authors – A collection of tales you know (fairy and common short stories), re-told by awesome people. They’re weird.  Like, really weird.  Like gave me nightmares weird.  I’m not sure I liked it, but I can’t stop thinking about them.  So that says something, right?
  21. The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones – Nice to be back in Chrestomanci Castle again, but I can’t say I thought it was as good as Charmed Life or Christopher Chant. Gammer is hilarious, though, and so is Nutcase the cat who walks through walls. Worth it if you like Chrestomanci stuff.
  22. A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James – I can’t tell you why I loved this book, but I did. Probably it was those horribly behaved purse dogs.  But it might also have been the dresses, or the prince in the castle or the fireworks.  It was practically perfect and gets 5 Beach Smut stars.
  23. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer – Unexceptional although not one of my favorites. It’s hard to say the heroine is dumb when she concocts such good schemes, but she is a bit.  Freddy has to save her most of the time.   I also didn’t feel real passion on either of their sides, just friendly affection.
  24. Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle – I fell in love with A Ring of Endless Light when I was younger, and it was nice to know there were more stories about the Austins. A sweet book about 1950s life in a big family.  It reminds me a little of LM Montgomery’s “Anne” books in tone.
  25. The Moon By Night by Madeline L’Engle – Nice to be camping out in the world of the Austins, but it was my least favorite book of the bunch so far. I didn’t like Zachary, and I felt like the message of the book was largely unrealized.  I wasn’t sure what it was About (with a big A).  I still enjoyed being in the world with the family, though.  Can’t beat a wedding!
  26. The Young Unicorns by Madeline L’Engle – I haven’t gotten to A Ring of Endless Light yet, but this book gave me SO MUCH hope it would hold up now that I’m older. It was great.  Blind Emily is capable, and it’s a mystery that thickens because everyone is trying to protect everyone else.  At times the scenes felt too unreal, but it was suspenseful and well written.
  27. What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Murkoff – I was hoping to wait until I had a kid to edit Revolution where the main character has a 6 month old. But in the place of experience there is research.  Well-written and helpful for what many things with an infant should look and feel like.  I’ll have to rely on babysitting and imagination for the rest.
  28. The Sh!t No One Tells You by Dawn Dais – Read this for ditto the reason of above. It was fhilarious, but it wasn’t very helpful for research as it dwelt a lot on the modern mother’s experience and not on child development. Still, I enjoyed it even while I cringed (in a good way?).
  29. The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern – A re-read. I forgot how much I liked this book.  I’ve seen the movie so many times that it feels so familiar, while also feeling so much deeper and more intricate.  And funnier.  I’m a fan.
  30. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle – It holds up way better than I thought it might. In fact, I’m as in love with this book as ever.  I was more frustrated with Zachary this time, and more upset that Vickie didn’t put him in his place sooner.  But everything about this book speaks to my adolescence (in tone, not fact), and it’s GOOD.
  31. Troubling A Star by Madeline L’Engle – I felt like Adam became a different person in this book, and someone I liked less. I also didn’t love the flashback structure where we know from page 1 that Vickie is on an iceberg dying, but not why.  But the writing was beautiful and the story suspenseful.  Would ultimately recommend.
  32. Four Nights with The Duke by Eloisa James – Pretty great, really. I liked that Mia was a writer, and the relationship the Duke had with her nephew – so funny.  I did feel like the crisis at the end was a little quick and predictable, but otherwise great.  Beach Smut Rating: 5 stars.
  33. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchet – This book is just about the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Their swords go blue in the presence of lawyers.  And Tiffany Aching!  Such a great, strong heroine.  I couldn’t get enough.  I’ll definitely be getting more Discworld books.
  34. Lives on the Boundary by Mike Rose – About teaching people labeled as remedial. Very interesting perspective, and reads like a memoir.  I found it fascinating, especially because he showed so adeptly that “mistakes” in a lot of cases were people seeking to grow and not knowing how.
  35. Up The Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman – So great, and so interesting in the way it was narrated through school paperwork. You got to really love the kids, and really hate the inept administration.  But it was lovely chaos.  Lives up to its reputation for sure.
  36. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchet – I do love Tiffany. The other girls in the wannabe “coven” are sort of awesome, and so is Miss Level (all two of her).  I liked Wee Free Men better, and wasn’t as horrified as the Hiver as I’m sure I should have been.  But I’ll 100% download the next.
  37. Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale – A re-read.  Oh, I love this book so.  I am trying to figure out why, and it might be that Charlotte’s neuroticism matches my own.  Or maybe it’s her hilariously quippy Inner Thoughts.  But put murder and fake Jane Austen together, and it’s magic.
  38. How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis – So good. I couldn’t put it down, and now my TBR list is gigantic because there are heroines in there that I didn’t know.  She and I felt so differently about many of the books, but that was interesting too.  A lovely wade through literature.
  39. Enchanted Glass – This book is just so ordinary, and that’s what I love about it. There are computers and trainers, and motorcars that get stuck in ditches.  But there’s also the weredog, and all the black figures in the garden, and so much everyday magic.  I’m jealous.  And I want to live there.
  40. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchet – I’m not 100% on board with the sentient cheese, but I loved everything else about this novel. I lost it in a fit of giggles when the Feegles freak out about Tiffany’s disapproval.  It’s nice to see her older, and Jack Frost is such an awkward beau.
  41. My Faire Lady by Laura Wettersten– Predictable story line, and more like what working at a summer camp is like, not a Renaissance Faire (I know, I’ve done it). But I couldn’t put it down, so that says something.
  42. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower – Lovely, slightly salacious and VERY interesting, but with a touching quality too. It makes presidents seem like humans, and even covers the Obamas, which surprised me.
  43. Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat – A re-read. I NEVER get tired of this book.  Mowat is hilarious while also being touching about lives and ecology.  His description of the wolves is also just great.  They get to seem like people, or maybe adorable pets, even while they’re not.
  44. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner – Such an odd book. Things don’t really ever happen in it, but it’s nice just the same.  The excitement happens at the very end, when the devil shows up.  I enjoyed it and would recommend it, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.
  45. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett – Cute, and I really love Esk a lot. Why is Pratchett so hilarious? It reminded me of Ursula K. Leguin’s A Wizard of Earthsea a bit, but not entirely.  The gender banter was especially good, as was the old person romancing.
  46. The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen – A cute book, and unusual. Ella is obsessed with a fictional (but handsome) dead guy, trying to move past a horrible scar on her shoulder, and full of spunk.  About secrets, and dealing with them, or being one.
  47. The Last Train Home by Renee Wendiger – It was alright. The writing was simplistic, and the asides in parenthesis were distracting.  But the topic was so fascinating that neither seemed to matter all that much.  Orphan trains might be my new obsession.
  48. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett – I felt like the epic quality of the prophecy and things was lost in the shuffle of crazy. I enjoy the shuffle of crazy in Pratchett novels normally, but this crazy didn’t seem to serve the story as well as in other novels.  Still amusing, and a good read.
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Book Reviews: Madeline L’Engle’s Austin Family Books

Austin Family Books

When I was a teenager, I pretty much fell in love with “A Ring of Endless Light” by Madeline L’Engle.  I read it a thousand times, until I knew passages off by heart.  Vicky felt like I would have about things, and the summer on the beach in a grandfather’s house was so similar to my own experience, despite the sadness and death.  The poem her grandfather has on the wall of their attic bunk space still holds so much, even though I’m older.  I think it’s nondenominational.  After all, isn’t this also just meditation?

If thou couldst empty all thy self of self

Like to a shell dishabited

Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf

And say this is not dead

And fill thee with Himself instead

But thou art so replete with very thou

And has such shrewd activity

That He will say this is enou’ unto itself

T’were better let it be

It is so small and full there is no room for me

I knew there were others of the series, but I grew up in the dark ages before there were e-readers.  If it wasn’t in stock at Borders, or the school book fair, I wasn’t likely to be able to get ahold of it.  So I loved the fourth book and didn’t worry too much about the others.

Fast forward, and I found that I can get them now!!  All five of them!  So I had a little binge reading.  While I don’t think that any of the books really stands up to “A Ring of Endless Light,” they were mostly enjoyable.  I’m glad I read them.  Breakdown of the books is below.

Meet the Austins:

There wasn’t really anything in this book that seemed profound, but it was a lovely universe .  It was as if Anne of Green Gables or Little Women had moved to the fifties, with all the lamentations of growing up included.  You end up rooting for Aunt Elena and Uncle Douglas to get together, for terrible Maggie to get to stay, and for Dad to get to eat dinner just once.  I enjoyed it.  Especially the nights under the stars and the Muffins picnic.  In a way, this is the best of what the Austins have to offer – real life introspectively.  It’s from Vicky’s 12 year old perspective, so it’s not terribly deep.  But it’s nice.

The Moon By Night:

Dad has taken a job at a research hospital in New York City, so to bridge the time the family goes on a cross-country road trip while camping along the way.  I mostly really loved this book.  The family dynamic feels more real than in “Meet the Austins,” and it’s sort of fun to see the boys all react to Vicky and have her be sought out.  I didn’t like Zachary, though.  He’s a huge part of the book, and I don’t know why Vicky doesn’t see that his desire to scare her isn’t desirable.  Or, I mean, I sort of understand it.  Because when you’re fourteen it’s nice to be noticed by a boy and that sort of overshadows the fact that the boy himself may not be that nice.  But I didn’t find it any less annoying.

Another big thing that bothered me was the earthquake that happens in the last part of the novel.  I had to read the passage again and again to make sure that it happened, and it wasn’t something I misread or something out of a dream.  It felt so unreal, just as Zachary’s protestations that he would become good were.  Perhaps it’s because I had already read book 4 so I knew he doesn’t, but it all seemed a little surreal.

I liked the book over all, though.  There is something about being with the Austin family that makes the other things seem worth it.  I was worried at this point, though, that the rest of the books were of this superficial quality and that “A Ring of Endless Light” wouldn’t hold up to my memory of it.

The Young Unicorns:

This book assuaged my worries about the rest of the series.  It was GOOD.  A little bit too unlikely thriller, but still good.  I liked how the whole premise of the thing rested on how no one was willing to share information with each other because they wanted to protect the others.  I also think that Emily’s blindness was handled really well.  She’s super-capable despite.  In fact, she saves the day, and that’s nice to see portrayed.

There were two things I had trouble with.  Okay, well, three… but the first was that the family didn’t seem its usual close entity in New York.  I think that’s probably by design, so I’m not sure it counts.  I still missed it since that’s what I loved so much about the first two novels.  Number two was that the plot line was so unlikely, it was like something out of a fantasy.  I know… it’s Madeline L’Engle so what was I expecting?  But the Austins live in an otherwise normal universe, so it felt like the crisis must have some element of normality about it.  It didn’t.  The last thing was that, after being in Vicky’s head for the other two novels, this one jumps around in perspective quite a lot.  It took me a bit to fall into the rhythm of it, although I got there eventually.

Still, the writing became so much more mature than the other two, and I couldn’t put it down.  An A+.

A Ring of Endless Light:

Oh the best book of this series by far.  It held up to my expectations of it, and more.  I was still annoyed by Zachary, but this time I think I was supposed to be.  And I could understand more why Vicky might agree to spend time with him despite his crazy.  I would really like to sit down with this thing and ferret out what L’Engle’s doing and why with all the death metaphors, and see if the structure is something I can learn from.  It’s so complex, in a way that feels real.  The only thing that doesn’t feel likely is Vicky’s easy telepathy with the dolphins and her ability to use it also with Adam.  But dolphins are a little otherworldly anyway, and her abilities with Adam create some very intimate moments between the two of them that I thrilled at.  Reading the rest of the series made the story all deeper somehow, and I didn’t think that was possible.  But I felt echoes of the previous books in the images in this one.

I spent a lot of time in my grandfather’s beach house when I was growing up, piled into tiny spaces with my family and loving every minute of it.  This book feels just like that did, where you know you are home and safe, but there really isn’t any home or safe anymore and you know that too.  Although none of the things happened to me that happen to Vicky, she is still 16-year-old-me’s patronus…

I’m so glad it held up.  I will treasure this book forever.  It was a life-changer.

Troubling A Star:

I don’t know what to say about this book, because I felt so betrayed at the end of it.  But I don’t think it was a bad novel.  I just think I was expecting other things from it.  And I believe that L’Engle set me up to expect other things for it.  Although maybe I’m being over dramatic because what I thought was going to happen didn’t.  It’s so hard to know.   It’s very like “The Young Unicorns” in spirit, so if you liked that one you might like this as well.

The book was well written and suspenseful.  It’s another crime drama, and it revolves around Adam’s Aunt Serena who gifts Vicky a trip to Antarctica to visit Adam during his internship.  It starts with that gimmick where the main character (Vicky) is  in peril (stuck on an iceberg and probably dying,) and then you get the rest of the book to discover how it happened.  I thought the continuing story of her saga on the iceberg kept suspense through the novel well, but I don’t think that the suspense ultimately paid off.  The ending just wasn’t big enough for all the nail-biting that preceded it.  No one is very certain what’s going on, it could be drugs, or it could be nuclear waste, or… but it looks like Adam’s in trouble, and therefore Vicky is too.

The thing is, the jacket description made me think it was going to be about Adam and Vicky figuring out their relationship.  I was looking forward to L’Engle saying something profound about the nature of romance, and that never materialized.  I also felt like Adam became a different person in this book.  He goes from being this man full of joy to being, well, not anything much at all.  It’s revealed that he’s this rich kid with an Arctic Exploration heritage, and then he’s just gone for the rest of the novel.  Even the letters he sends Vicky aren’t him, they’re Shakespeare quotes.  There is no mention that any of the experiences they shared in “A Ring of Endless Light” have changed either of them, or that this telepathic bond they’ve created still holds.  That’s really what angered me, I think.  It’s like the events in the previous book, events that really changed me as a reader, didn’t matter to the characters in the book at all.  I felt betrayed.

But I can’t really hold my own disappointment against the book as a whole.  I would say it’s well written, and there are charming moments when the Arctic ice is so pretty, and there are seals and penguins galore.  It just didn’t do what I expected it to.  I shall try to forgive it.

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