Books about L’Engle, Lewis, Louisa May Alcott (who all shared a birthday.) And the new book by Karen Swallow Prior – Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Because such a good number of friends commented on a facebook post I did a week ago, I wanted to share the link here.  On Thursday, the 29th of November, I heard on PBS a truly lovely edition (aren’t they all?) of Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor.  What was so very interesting was that that day — who knew? — was the birthday of Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, and Louisa May Alcott.  You can enjoy the brief reflection and be glad for such great authors, each important in their own way.  Isn’t it a shame that there are some “Christian” books stores that do not carry these three?  (Yes, there are religious bookstores that don’t stock Lewis, even!)

And so, inspired by that broadcast, here are some great gift ideas for book lovers.

11.jpgistening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L’Engle in Many Voices  edited by Leonard S. Marcus (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) $28.00 sale price $22.00
Marcus has written other great books about children’s books and the legacy of children’s publishing (Show Me a Story and so many more) making him a perfect author to compile this wonderful set of vivid recollections.  Divided into five categories — Writer, Matriarch, Mentor, Friend, Icon — these interviews reveal great intellectual, spiritual, and artistic insight, as well as tender, biographical details.  Lovely anecdotes are shared, curious examples of the texture of her life, making this nearly a biography (in a scattered, time-traveling sort of way.)  The opening section “On The Making” describes her many influences and early career.

There are great interviews with family and friends.  Spirituality writer and Episcopal priest Alan Jones writes of her as his mother-in-law, Luci Shaw tells of their abiding friendship and roommate Barbara Braver describes some wonderful stories) but the book is more than just sentimental remembrances.  It gets at her role, her significance — in people’s lives, in the artistic world of New York, within her family, within her church and, of course, within the important world of literature, both children’s and adult, within the general market and within religious publishing.  Madeleine L’Engle really did leave a mark; even those who approach fantasy literature a bit differently, like Jane Yolen, who has a fabulous chapter, describe this well.  So many of us who have read her set of four memoirs, her Biblical reflections, her adult and children’s fiction, her poetry,, her work about the nature of books and stories (The Rock That Is Higher is a favorite!) feel as if we know her. As Margaret Edson (the author of Wit) notes, “Through we never met, Madeleine L’Engle has been a close friend for years — for decades. Her story is presented here in recollections of fifty comrades, and I gladly pull up a chair to listen in.”

Wrinkle in Time Graphic Novel adapted by Hope Larson (FSG) $19.99 Sale Price $15.99wrinkle graphic.jpg
I am not qualified to review it, but we are nonetheless really jazzed about a brand new release — the long awaited graphic novel edition of A Wrinkle in Time!  It is a heavy hardback, years in the making, and just out. (You may have known, or heard in the Writer’s Almanac piece, that the original book was turned down by 26 publishing houses; some said they didn’t approve of a girl being the main character in a science fiction story, or that it was too deep for YA readers. Ha.)  This new version in this new format has already garnered some prestigious awards and has been received great reviews.  (The prestigious Kirkus Review says “This is an adaption done right.”) The 1962 Newberry Award-winning classic has been adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson who is known in the world of young adult comics and graphic novels;  one of the best.

If you aren’t sure you want to order it, check out her webpage. What a fresh way to follow the journey of Meg and Charles Wallace, to find Meg’s dad, to see the tesseracts, to meet Who, Whatsit and Which. And maybe save the universe.

MMereXian.jpgere Christians: Inspiring Stores of Encounters with C.S. Lewis  edited by Mary Anne Phemister & Andrew Lazo (Baker) $14.99 Sale Price $11.99  We usually keep in stock nearly every book in print by C.S. Lewis.  And nearly every book about him.  This rare one is a sleeper, a book I love, and we have a few left (offered on sale, while supplies last.)  It is a very interesting and very inspiring (and remarkably informative) set of testimonials of folks who came to appreciate the work of this particular Inkling.   Some chapters are new, some are excerpted from previous books.  Some are rather short, and less so.  You can read it straight through, or dip in as you like.

(By the way, there are many great books about Lewis and several good biographies.  Here is a tremendous 10-minute video presentation by Alister McGrath telling why his rigorously researched book, to be released in 2013, offers some new material and some new insights. Filmed in the living room of Lewis’ home at the Kilns, it is well worth watching.  Of course, we’ll have the book when it releases in March.)

Included in Mere Christians are the testimonials of some well known people of faith whose lives were transformed by reading Lewis, who helped bring them to faith; what wondrous chapters these are! (For instance, Charles Colson, Francis Collins, Anne Rice, Lyle Dorsett.)

And there are others whose faith and writing and lives were significantly deepened as they read Lewis — there are great pieces here by  Philip Yancey, singer-songwriter Pierce Pettis, pastor Elton Trueblood, novelist and woman’s comedic speaker, Liz Curtis Higgs.  It is wonderful to hear how books influenced people we admire, and this reminds us all of the power of words, and the power of Lewis’ words, especially.

And, significantly, there are included many of the best scholars in the Lewis guild, so to speak –they are mostly all here.  What a great collection of short pieces by Paul Ford, Don King, Joseph Pearce, Colin Duriez (who also talks, interestingly, about Hans Rookmaaker and Herman Dooyeweerd),  David Downing, Jerry Root, Wayne Martindale, Thomas Howard, Michael Ward, Earl Palmer, and more.

And there were his friends — from Joy Davidman to Merre Gresham to Clyde Kilby to Walter Hooper.  The foreword by Walter Hooper starts off this collection of pieces begins like this:

Shortly after C.S. Lewis died, his friend Dr. Austin Farrer said to me, “You were fortunate that the man whose writings you admired so much was as likable as his books.  It might not, you know, have worked out that way. Suppose you had been an admirer of the books of Evelyn Waugh and met him!  Waugh, as everyone knew, was a man of colossal rudeness.

Austin Farrer’s comment came to mind as I read over this fascinating book and discovered how many lives — including my own — have been enormously and permanently changed by C.S. Lewis. While reading the essays, I wondered if the l
ives of the authors would have changed as much if they had met Lewis. Would a meeting with Lewis have made any difference to what they got from his books?

Hooper continues, citing a Lewis passage from The Personal Heresy in which he explains that a book is like “a part of spectacles.”  Such a few reminds us of the power of books, the role of words and ideas and, in this case, gladly, the integrity of the writer of these words, coming to us in children’s fiction and apologetics, in literary criticism and Bible study.  Thank goodness for Lewis’ body of work.  Enjoy this collection of those who can say, alluding to Lewis’ own phrases, that reading him lead to ” A Life Mended By a Velveted Paws” and “An Imagination Strangely Warmed” or an experience “Like Waking Up.”  Three cheers for these stories, and may they point us to, as Don King puts it “a writer we can read for the rest of our lives.”

L1lw.jpgittle Women  Louisa May Alcott (Penguin Classics) $22.00 Sale Price $17.60  Every now and then, publishers do a new edition of a classic, or a set of classics.  A new visual design is often central, since the book isn’t changed. Recently, Penguin introduced a few new editions in this contemporary series, including Les Miserable, Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, Wuthering Heights and Little Woman.  Each are sans dust jacket, and have hardback art that is at once modernly hip and yet truly classic, with a look conjuring up the repeated patterns of older flyleafs.  There are ribbon markers, and a sturdy feel in the hand.  Do you know why there are scissors on this one?

Check out the two dozen or so classics with splendid packaging created by acclaimed designer Coralie Bickford-Smith, here.  We can get any of these, naturally, so do let us know if you want to order any.  Pretty neat, eh?


Bbooked-cover.jpgooked: Literature in the Soul of Me  Karen Swallow Prior (T.S. Poetry Press) $17.99 sale price $14.40  I have linked to this a time or two on facebook and twitter, and wish time permitted a major review, as it surely deserves it.  Prior has given us here a memoir, a well-written account of portions of her life, her girlhood and coming of age, her time in college and her career in literature, but she does so in a collection of book reviews.  Yes, she has most wonderfully combined the art of storytelling with the art of telling about stories.  Each chapter reflects on her life and timed, shares episodes of her life, anecdotes and ruminations on the development of her interior life as well, but grounds the telling in a parallel description of why a certain book made such an impact on her.  The title says it all.

I have read other such volumes, and a few have moments of sheer glory, but may not hold up as a memoir, or may not really tell much about the book or author.  This does both well. It really is a unique approach and we love it.  You will too.

For instance, the spectacular first chapter — about the rather wide berth her parents gave herkaren-swallow-prior-head-shot1.jpg in allowing her to read widely — is called “Books Promiscuously Read: John Milton’s Areopagitica” and it is fabulously set over and against helicopter parents at the Christian college at which she teaches who seem to not want their young adults to read anything disturbing.  I cried reading “The Life-Giving Power of Words” which is nearly a sermon on the virtues of (yes!) Charlotte’s Web.   She has a really moving chapter hinting at Gerard Manley Hopkins (“God of the Awkward, the Freckled, the Strange”) which is powerful — I wish this piece could be read by high school youngsters everywhere!  She reviews, or, better, tells about her own reading of Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Madame Bovary and more.  Her discovery of Great Expectations is in a chapter called “The Magic of Story.” A chapter on “the poetry of doubt” is called “Welcoming Wonder.”

I love the title, the cover is beautifully subtle, and the author apparently has her hands full teaching young adults to love books as she does. More power to her.  I think this lovely paperback will help us all — remind us or our lives and remind us of others.  And call us to great literature, fiction, poetry, essays.  Booked is great gift for those who perhaps don’t read classic literature as widely as they might and a great gift for those who do.   As always, T.S. Poetry Press gives us rich and rewarding books, quietly released in indie fashion.  It is very good.



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