Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Tyranny of Books

I think I must get the books in my life under control. Early in the summer, I was happily re-reading this favorite. A light read? Maybe. Except when Mr. Colt drifts into discussing his disjointed family, his parents' unhappy marriage, his grandmother's insanity, and the sense of loss, failure and regret he feels at losing a home that has defined and sheltered them in a multitude of ways, for 100 years. Light reading indeed.
But I stopped reading about Mr. Colt's house. Another book arrived on the scene, from Sandra: Living Beautifully Together.  It's a favorite of hers, a regular read, a help in life. I won the give-away, and it arrived in the mail. I started it, and ruminated on only its first few pages. Stoddard tells me that I need to find time alone for myself, to center myself, find inner balance and peace, before I can minister to others. Meanwhile, Mr. Colt's book continued to growl at me from my bedside table.
And then, as you know, Mrs. Voskamp came into view. I finally got her book at the library, and its study has been a labor of time. The other books fell to the side. She also has interesting things to say about a woman's place in the world. Voskamp tells me to give thanks, and to keep an eye out for beauty, every minute of the day. But in a way, both she and Stoddard seem to indicate the same thing:  the focus is on self. (I do not mean this in a negative, selfish way.) Voskamp is clearly laser-focused on her own emotional recovery from decades of intense inner pain, and she is zealously pursuing the activities that will bring healing to her soul. Stoddard is not so desperate; her book is to help others find the peace and calm she's found already.
And then.  Anne Lindbergh arrived on my doorstep, just yesterday. This is a small, unassuming book. The copy I bought from Amazon is dainty, hard-backed with a smooth dust jacket. It's clean and simple, but I'm taking Pom-Pom's advice and I'm underlining and writing in it. Debbie says she's done this too, and she's read Gift from the Sea nine times! I am already half-way through it.
Lindbergh is an elegant writer, much moreso than Stoddard, and more mature than Voskamp. With a little shock I realized this morning (while soaking in the bath and trying to have calm time alone) that I am exactly the age that Lindbergh was when she published this book. I don't know how old Stoddard was when she wrote hers, but I think she also was in her late 40s.
Is that why Lindbergh's book resonates so with me? Her advice, like Stoddard's, is to remove oneself from society, from family too, at times, and re-center. She visits the seaside and writes as she examines the ways a woman can shift less painfully from one phase of life to the next. At least, she doesn't say it precisely that way, but I think that's what's happening with me. Without exactly trying, I've somehow left behind my "career" of teaching high school English. I loved it so. We've moved often, too often, and I left the best house I'd yet been able to form into a home. We lived there when our four children were at their most mature and active, and yet still children. Now three of the four have left for college. My husband has at last started the career he's always longed for.

And where am I? I'm at the sea, which I love. I have one sweet child still at home. I have loads -- absolutely loads -- of time on my hands. Little house work to do, little cooking.  All this reading, all this thinking.  Writing I should be doing, but somehow it's not time yet. All these voices -- Colt, Stoddard, Voskamp, Lindbergh -- in my head also, whispering their versions of what is best, what is wrong and what will fix it.
Each morning, I read a bit of this too, along with the Best Book.
In the mail very soon will come this book by Edith Schaeffer:
I think hers will be the last voice I add to this inner discussion. The women tend to tell me that the best place for me to re-focus myself is in the home. There, my inner design and the duties and activities around me, are best in sync.  There, I have time alone. From there, I reach out best to others. I hope Mrs. Schaeffer will lend the best voice to this subject matter, and help me chart a pleasant course for the years to come. And by the time autumn arrives, hopefully I'll have put these books to rest!


  1. Oh, I love the way you think, MK! AND the way you communicate!
    I ordered Gift from the Sea electronically because I didn't want to wait to reread it. Both you and Debbie caused me to want to think about AML's words once again. I went to some sort of women's forum years ago where the focus was this book and it was lost on me. I reread it later and it meant more and I went on to read an autobiography or biography of Anne.
    Last night when I was lying in the quiet, listening to the girls snooze, I remembered how I love her words and her perspective. So good. Thank you for encouraging us to pick it up again!
    I LOVED Stoddard's Living a Beautiful Life when I was younger. I liked all the loving suggestions for preparing a place for our families. It no longer moves me in the same fashion.
    Now, The Hidden Art of Homemaking? Spot on!(We're all Englishwomen now because of our blog friends and the Olympics, right?)
    Edith tells the truth.
    Yes, I am thinking about school. I never want to go back when summer wanes, but I learn so much there. It's my teacher.
    I have some quiet right now, so I'm going to "the sea" with Anne.
    Bless you.

  2. I'm so glad you're reading Gift From the Sea. It spoke to me this last reading in ways it never has before. Wouldn't you love to write a book like that? I would!

    I loved The Hidden Art of Homemaking when I was a young wife and mother. I was recently asked by a few young mothers to name my favorite 'mothering' books, and I listed this one. I'm going to reread it soon and see how it speaks to where I am now.

    I'm not planning on reading 1000 Gifts, because I can't even get through all Ann's blog posts! They're lovely and well-written, but something about them weighs down my spirit.

  3. Pom -- enjoy your time with Anne! Her style is so elegant and simple, simultaneously. It's almost like a visit to the sea, isn't it?
    Debbie, it's interesting what you said about Voskamp's blog posts. I stopped reading them a while back. I meant to resume, while I'm reviewing her book, but I just don't have time. There's something rather cloying about her writing, not just the style, although that's part of it. There's a syrupy sweetness in a way. I'm not expressing it well. I do think she has wonderful things to say, and so many people really respond to her. For some reason, I'm just not one of them, but that in no way means that i don't value what she's doing. Perhaps b/c her early years were so dark, her writing is also still tinged with that?


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