Madeleine L’Engle Nonfiction

If you missed yesterday’s post on Madeleine LEngle’s fiction, you might want to go check that out first.

As much as I love L’Engle’s fiction, I also adore her non-fiction. Most people would turn to her Crosswicks Journals first as opposed to her work on religion or her poetry. “A Circle Of Quiet,” “The Summer of the Great-Grandmother,” and “The Irrational Season” are great books about writing, faith, life, and family, but there’s something special about “Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage.” Part of it for me is the connection to Bach and the not-so-subtle ties between Bach’s music and the marriage of Madeleine L’Engle and Hugh Franklin. Like “The Story of the von Trapp Family Singers,” “Two Part Invention” takes you from before Madeleine and Hugh meet until “death do them part.” The story isn’t all bright and shiny, but it isn’t doom and gloom either. And L’Engle weaves in humor when appropriate.
Some examples: “When Hugh and I get angry at each other we tend to be explosive, both of us being volatile. But we never nibble and chip. And our anger never lasts beyond bedtime. When it happens, and I suspect there’s no marriage where it doesn’t, it’s a good, clean anger, clearing the air. The explosions are not physical, but they are volatility vocal. And I am reminded of one woman who, when asked if she had ever contemplated divorcing her husbad, replied, Divorce, never! Murder, yes!”
“One summer early our living at Crosswicks, a stage-designer friend came with his wife for the weekend. one morning he broke an ashtray andtried to flush it down the toilet. The result was total blockage. Hugh and I watched in awe as neighboring friends showed us how to drain the toilet, unscrew it from the floor, lift it, retrieve the china pieces of the broken ashtray, and put the toilet back together again. For a while we had a sign warning, PLEASE DO NOT PUT ASHTRAYS DOWN THE TOILET, but it was not a frequently made mistake.”
“Two-Part” also gives insight into the autobiographical portion of a number of L’Engles books, including parts of “A Severed Wasp.” I assume that the book isn’t telling the whole story, but even for a partial story, it is incredibly illuminating and something to aspire to.
A few weeks ago, at my church library, I found a book of poetry by L’Engle, “The Weather of the Heart.” It is both hilarious and heartfelt. A mix of love poems, religious poems, and science poems, as well as poems that mix some or all those elements. There’s not much else to say other than to share some poems with you.
Love Letter
I hate you, God.
Love, Madeleine.
I write my message on water
and at bedtime I tiptoe upstairs
and let it flow under your door.
When I am angry with you
I know that you are there
even if you do not answer my knock
even when your butler opens the door an inch
and flaps his thousand wings in annoyance
at such untoward interruption
and says that the master is not at home.
I love you, Madeleine.
Hate, God.
(This is how I treat my friends, he said to one great saint.
No wonder you have so few of them, Lord, she replied.)
I cannot turn the other cheek
It takes all the strength I have
To keep my fist from hitting back
the soldiers shot the baby
the little boys trample the old woman
the gutters are filled with groans
while pleasure seekers knock each other down
in order to get their tickets stamped first.
I’m turning in my ticket
and my letter of introduction.
You’re supposed to do the knocking. Why do you burst my heart?
How can I write you
to tell you that I’m angry
when I’ve been given the wrong address
and I don’t even know your real name?
I take hammer and nails
and tack my message on two crossed pieces of wood:
Dear God
is it too much to ask you
to bother to be?
Just show your hindquarters
and let me hear you roar.
Love,
Madeleine
To a Long Loved Love: 1

We, who have seen the new moon grow old together,
Who have seen winter rime the fields and stones
As thought it would claim earth and water forever,
We who have known the touch of flesh and the shape of bones
Know the old moon stretching its shadows across a whitened field
More beautiful than spring with all its spate of blooms;
What passion knowledge of tried flesh still yields,
What joy and comfort these familiar rooms.
So that’s some poetry. I don’t like it nearly as much as the non-fiction. But in interest of exposing you to everything I thought I should show it. Plus I don’t like most poetry, so I was surprised to even comprehend any of this.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote more than one book

In case you didn’t know it, the title of this blog post is true! Madeleine L’Engle did, in fact, write more than one book. She wrote or co-wrote 63 books and plays. Of those 63, I’ve read at least 31 and parts of others.

I’m assuming that most of you know of Madeleine L’Engle and that most of you know her as the author of “A Wrinkle in Time.” Wrinkle is a science fiction/fantasy book about a pre-teen girl, Meg Murry, and the adventure she goes on with her younger brother, Charles Wallace, and a boy from school, Calvin O’Keefe. Meg and Charles Wallace are trying to save their father and all three children are being led by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which, and Mrs Who. It’s very exciting.
If you did read more of L’Engle, you probably read the sequels to Wrinkle, “A Wind in the Door,” “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” and perhaps even “Many Waters.”
But L’Engle wrote realistic children’s fiction as well, ranging from picture books to books about the complexity of teen relationships and teen pregnancy. Just as L’Engle wrote a series about Meg Murry, she also wrote one about Vicky Austin. Unlike Meg, Vicky lives a normal life, dealing with the pressures of school, family, and relationships, while dealing with her gifts as a writer. L’Engle also has an amazing talent with weaving characters between series, so at one point Vicky’s boyfriend works for a grown-up Calvin O’Keefe as a lab technician. As a teenager, Vicky was my favorite of L’Engle’s characters.
Now….well. Now I’m conflicted. Because L’Engle didn’t stop. She wrote for adults and for adults she wrote both fiction and non-fiction. So, I’ll give you tastes of four more L’Engle books. Books that you likely haven’t heard of. (If you have, please let me know!) First, we’ll stay in fiction. “A Severed Wasp” first enthralled me because it’s told in a non-linear fashion, not a simple feat for a book. Katherine is an old woman and a young woman. She is reliving her past and living with the problems of the present. Centered around the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the present and the horrors of post-WWII family life in the past, the book deals with almost every issue you could think of. Seriously. Except monsters, zombies, and the apocalypse. Homosexuality, fertility, marital disputes, the dark arts, drugs, child abuse, cancer, prosthetics, music, concentration camps, death, pregnancy. It’s in there. And it’s delightful. Primarily because it’s not at all predictable.
“A Live Coal in the Sea” is one L’Engle book that I believe I tried to read when it came out and my mom had checked it out from the library. I was 13. My mom wouldn’t let me. Now I understand why 🙂 It’s the sequel to “Camilla,” one of L’Engle’s teen novels, but is much darker and deeper than “Camilla,” and written 41 years later. Again, it’s told by an old woman looking back on her life. But her story in the now is much less a part of the plot than in “Severed Wasp.” Instead, it focuses much more on the story of her relationships and her marriage and her family. Not at all the typical family, but in some ways easier to relate to than Katherine’s in a Severed Wasp. For Camilla is not a professional pianist in post WWII, but an astronomist in today’s world. As a mother she’s struggling with getting her Ph.D. and being a mother. With being a preacher’s wife and being a scientist, in a place where science isn’t taken seriously by the congregation. (L’Engle and her positions on church and science deserve a WHOLE different post. So I’ll save that for later.) But again, L’Engle has made a plot and characters who are not predictable. And every time I read “A Live Coal in the Sea,” I somehow think that they might change their minds and do something different, because they seem capable of that.
This post is getting long, so I’ll turn this into a multi-day L’Engle Extravaganza. L’Engle’s non-fiction is up for tomorrow. And if you’re in the Twin Cities and want to borrow any of these books, let me know. I have about 15 of them (including the two named above and three of the Austin books) at home.

What I’m reading

These days I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food. Checked out from the library I have Food Matters by Mark Bittman and A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. In addition, I’m also in the process of reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

A Homemade Life is a collection of stories and recipes. The stories are memories and the recipes are the associated tastes and foods of those stories. Molly started as a blogger (http://orangette.blogspot.com) though due to the book and her husband’s pizza restaurant, hasn’t been blogging much lately. But reading her stories today made me go back in the archives, and, following a couple of links, I found this gem: Shortbread Waffles. I’m making those this weekend FOR SURE!. Mmm.

A Homemade Life, in some ways, could be my story. She sees things very much the way I do, so while my family, friends, and obsession with a country may be different (her’s France, mine England-where food is not the forefront mostly) our ideas about food are much the same.

Here are some passages from the book:
“Like most people who love to cook, I like the tangible things. I like the way the knife claps when it meets the cutting board. I like the haze of sweet air that hovers over a hot cake as it sits, cooling, on the counter. I like the way a strip of orange peel looks on an empty plate. But what I like even more are the intangible things: the familiar voices that fall out of the folds of an old cookbook, or the scenes that replay like a film reel across my kitchen wall. When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that’s what we’re often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells.”

“Every girl needs a little incubating from time to time, especially when she’s about to become someone’s wife. She needs ten days with her mother, a solid supply of baguette sandwiches, some well-aged cheese, a lot of chocolate, and some old-fashioned, fat-rippled, devil-may-care eating, which, for future reference, is immensely fortifying.”

How could you not love a book like that? Especially when each chapter is attached to a recipe like Custard-Filled Corn Bread or Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges and Creme Fraiche. Molly even manages to make her recipe for Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon sound appealing…and that’s a feat.

Go find a copy and immerse yourself in it. My copy came to me courtesy of the public library, but I may have to go and buy one soon. It’s back to the book for me though, I need to read about pickling. And then it will be on to my next tome: Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I need to get some pancetta or bacon made this summer to participate in Ruhlman’s BLT challenge.

Obsessions

I’m a strange person. For many reasons, but one of them is the way I treat new things. If I download some new music on iTunes, say the semester of choir music, I almost instantly become very attached to one of the pieces. I listen to it multiple times in a row, multiple times a day, for a few weeks. Then I’ve worn it out and go on to a new thing.

The thing could be a book, a piece of music, a musical artist or composer, a food, a blog, or a tv show. Recently some of these obsessions have been the song Popular from Wicked (music), Unicornis Captivatur by Ola Gjeilo (music), chocolate milkshakes, Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton (book – but his blog Roots and Grubs is a previous obsession), and The Girl Who Ate Everything by Robyn Lee (blog).

The music obsessions are the easiest and are usually cured with $.99 on iTunes and about 4-8 listens per day, usually on the bus. The blogs are the hardest because I can spend whole weekends going through archived posts. The book obsessions are odd, because usually I’ll only read the book once, but then I’ll reference it a lot and tell other people about it. Or, in the case of Hungry Monkey, I read it, then cook from it, tell people about it, AND watch all the press about it. (Tonight I made Yeasted Waffles with candied bacon a la Joy the Baker)

But one of the interesting side effects of this is that encountering the obsession at a later date brings back strong memories of the time of the obsession. Hearing Stan Rogers or Da Vinci’s Notebook brings me back to my dorm room in college, Gordon Lightfoot and the Cambridge Singers remind me of my parents’ house, and Kate Rusby of spring break in 2004 wandering around Europe. Nachos and ice cream sundaes are spring semester Senior year of college. Madeleine L’Engle with the spring of Junior year of High School when I read 30 of her books in a month for a “research project” at school.

So that’s a little insight into me…