Anne of Green Gables
I first met Anne Shirley, the heroine of the Anne of Green Gables series, in sixth grade reading class. Each Friday, the “gifted” students would leave the class to do their thing. One morning, our beloved Mrs. Young wheeled the TV/VCR cart in front of the class and said, “We're going to have fun too.” She turned on the PBS production of Anne of Green Gables starring Megan Fellows and I was hooked.
Later my grandmother gave my sister and I the books. They came in set of three and my sister got the first three. Of the two of us, I was the reader. I had to borrow hers to begin reading the series. I opened the books too wide and the corners got a little beat up. She was furious. I assured her that this was normal reading wear and tear, but she would have none of it. I had desecrated three books she was less likely read, but they were hers and she was mad. We took our case to our mom. Mom ruled that I needed to buy a new set to replace the damaged ones. It's still a sore subject all these years later, but that's how I came to own the entire series.
I have lost count how many times I have read or listened to the series. The stories never grow old. In this re-reading for my 4040 list, there is something really poignant about rereading it in (early) middle age while also reading it aloud with my own daughter.
Now that I've taken a stab at my own story telling, I see the book much differently. There's really not a lot of action for pages and pages, but the descriptions of everything from the Lake of Shining Waters to the little gable room above the porch makes the book come alive in my imagination. With so little plot actually happening at times, I am amazed that my third grader loves it so much, but I am so glad. We read it before bed and she enters dream land quickly as I read Anne's stories to her.
So why does this book mean so much to me? Why do I never tire of reading it? Anne was skinny and used big words and was like no other girl around her. Except for her red hair and temper, I could absolutely relate. I saw myself in her and began to think, “I can like who I am too.” She came into my life just as I was entering the pre-teen stage and needed positive reinforcement about who I was and who I wanted to become. Anne gave that to me and shored up my confidence at a time when confidence is hard to summon up for a young girl.
“And people laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas you have to use big words to express them, haven't you?” (page 16)
The Anne books gave me distinct ways of seeing and describing the world around me. They are phrases that are embedded in my vocabulary: “depths of despair,” “Kindred Spirits,” “gird up your loins,” “kerfuffle.”
A favorite passage on page 273: “We are rich,” said Anne staunchly. “Why, we have sixteen years to our credit, and we're happy as queens, and we've all got imaginations, more or less. Look at that sea, girls—all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn't enjoy it's loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds. You wouldn't change into any of those women if you could.”
Time and time again, I saw myself in Anne and felt such comfort. Anne took big bites out of life and enjoyed every bit. She was a simple pleasures girl. She had an amazing imagination. She made it cool to have one. At least to me.
Every time I read this series, I get such a cozy, safe feeling.
Now from the vantage point of an adult and having experienced more life since I was twelve, I can appreciate passages in the book in new ways. This passage from page 218 stood out to me given my goal-heavy year: “Oh it's delightful to have ambitions. I'm so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them—that's the best of it. Just as soon as you attain one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.” This passage struck me in new ways in this reading. My 4040 list and novel writing has brought out the ambition in me this year in ways no other things have. She's right. Life IS so interesting as a result.
Anne of Avonlea
Anne's story continues. And I keep finding myself in the words of this book. “There is some good in every person if you can find it.” (page 29) This is how I have lived my life. Looking for the good, and Anne was right, I find it with great regularity.
I was reading this book while I was in Montana learning that Laura Munson agrees with Stephen King about the use of the adverbs. STOP USING THEM. Laura highlighted a lot of them in my writing sample. So many adverbs, Lucy Maud Montgomery! Anne repeated things “firmly.” Jane said “decidedly.” Ginger croaked “mockingly.” You get the idea. Adverbs are all over the place. It was a great study in what not to do now in my own writing.
But I will say the author's cadence reminded me of sitting with my grandma and so my homesickness for her has spiked, but I've also been comforted too.
I had forgotten the entire story line about Miss Lavender. Rereading her story and interactions with Anne was a treat. I had to laugh at this line on page 186: “She's an old maid...she's forty-five and quite gray, I've heard.” So at 12 I would have thought 45 sounded quite old too. Now, at 40 I'm just starting to hit my stride!
Anne's a “pretender” and so am I. For instance, I'll pretend the clouds are a mountain range. I love imagining I'm traveling down some road in the U.K. when I'm blocks from my own house. How many 40-year-olds will admit those eccentricities? Anne gives the courage to be imaginative past childhood and to own it. It makes life so interesting and easier to bear on the hard days.
Anne of the Island
In this volume, Anne faces the fact that we have to grow up. That friendships and circumstances change. And she does it with grace and aplomb and the knowledge that with “just one good cry” she can carry on. I've indulged in a few good cries lately, and I always feel better. Anne was wise beyond her years.
Lucy Maud Montgomery had such a gift with describing emotions: “Besides, I've been feeling a bit blue—just a pale, elusive azure. It isn't serious enough for anything darker.” Those lines on page 44 take my breath away. I want to write like that!
It was strange to read this story as a writer this time. I had forgotten that this is the volume where Anne tries her hand at submitting her work and is published. It was surreal to read about her writing life as I was living mine. Again, Anne and Julie are twins! She discusses with her friend what she's naming her characters and the trials she's putting them through. I could relate in a brand new way.
Here's another reference to forty: “You'll feel differently about a good many things when you get to be my age,” said Janet tolerantly. That's one of the things we learn as we grow older—how to forgive. It comes easier at forty than it did at twenty.” (page 204)