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Posts Tagged ‘Anne of Green Gables’

Definition of kindred spirit:

“A bosom friend–an intimate friend, you know–a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my inmost soul. I’ve dreamed of meeting her all my life.” – Anne to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomerie

Theodora Goss recently wrote about soul mates, and when I read her post, I recognized what she was talking about. Her idea of the soul mate is my idea of the kindred spirit. And when we use either of these phrases, what we’re really talking about is connection.

I really like the idea of practicing being a kindred spirit, both to yourself and to others. Because if you are not a kindred spirit, how can you expect anyone else to be? And being your own best kindred spirit plays right into the idea of loving ourselves, which is incredibly important.

And there are so many different kinds of kindred spirit. One of the things I like about the Anne books is that we get to see Anne discover many different types as she grows up. There is the romantic kind, the kind we’re most likely to think of when we say soul mate. And there is the best friend kind, in whom we are perhaps most likely to confide. But there are many other kinds as well, just as there are many different ways to support and appreciate each other.

Some of them run deep, right through the core of who we are. Others (like Mrs. Josephine Barry in the Anne books) are closer to the surface but still marked by the hallmarks of a kindred spirit: a sense of understanding or kinship, along with a sense of appreciation for who the person is. What this sense of understanding revolves around and how widespread it is will vary from relationship to relationship.

It interests me that with many people, we never have the opportunity to share our entire souls, or even a large portion of them. But we often have the opportunity to share a piece of our soul, to shine a ray of ourselves or open one of a hallway of doors. Even if it’s a very little door, its opening still has meaning as it creates its feeling of connection.

I wonder if this is why we sometimes think it’s harder to make friends as adults. With old friends that you’ve known since childhood, we share the understanding created through a shared past. When we make friends in school, it is often also through a shared context and experience (taking place during a period of transformation, oftentimes), which can persist for the rest of our lives. When we’re adults, we have to work harder to find that shared understanding, but it is often still there if we decide to go looking for it.

Of course, now I know many kindred spirits with whom I’ve bonded because of writing. A shared passion can be a powerful magnet. Shared passions or interests, shared past experiences, shared personality traits, sometimes even shared social groups can be enough to light the first spark. I even have my blogging kindred spirits: Rahul Kanakia and Theodora Goss. I rarely get to speak with them in person, but I often talk about their posts here, sharing my own thoughts on their ideas.

One thing that most of my kindred spirits have in common is that they LISTEN. Some of them are better at it than others, but at least some listening on both sides is key. That is the only way to create the necessary understanding. It is the only way to actually get to know someone, and we can only truly appreciate someone if we know at least some part of them. Similarly, we can only be a kindred spirit to ourselves if we learn to listen to ourselves and pay attention to what we hear.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” -Anne in Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomerie

What does being a kindred spirit mean to you?

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Some of my favorite novels are ones in which nothing much happens. That’s not to say that nothing at all happens, or that the stakes aren’t sometimes raised, but the story unfolds in a leisurely, unrushed sort of way, allowing me to feel like I’m really getting to know the characters and being allowed to inhabit their lives. In fact, I’m so fascinated by the characters and the setting, I feel wrapped up in a different world and don’t feel the slightest bit bored.

My favorite example of this kind of writing is (no surprise here) Anne of Green Gables and sequels, in which we basically get a window into the life of Anne Shirley and get to watch her grow up. She has victories and struggles, sadness and happiness, and a penchant for getting into scrapes, but there are no real antagonists or villains, no sweeping natural disasters, no explosions. There is the occasional gentle mystery, but that’s about it. I find reading these books to be profoundly restful.

Other examples include the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace and much of Jane Austen’s oeuvre, Little Women and even Jane Eyre. I wonder if Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day could also fall in this category; indeed, perhaps that is part of the reason why I love it so much. Dramatic events happen but there’s plenty of time for the build-up to them and ample space to discuss social events, meals, and daily life.

These books are in stark contrast to the plot-driven fast-paced novel that is currently in vogue (at least in my part of the literary world). Cut cut cut, the advice for writers says. Every scene has to move the plot forward. Commercial fiction needs an antagonist, or maybe even a series of antagonists that lead up to the final Big Boss. I can read a screenwriting manual like Save the Cat! and find it completely relevant to novel-writing because so many novels feel at least somewhat like long-form movies, except instead of fancy cinematography they have ripples of beautifully garlanded prose. Meanwhile, these slow-paced books I’m talking about? They’re made into mini-series and too many versions of artsy costume films.

I want more of these books I love. I want to read books that have a plot but aren’t raising the stakes every five minutes. I want to read books that don’t have predictable plot twists because there aren’t so many plot twists to fit in, and that don’t have cliffhangers at each chapter ending because they are relying on enchantment rather than adrenaline to keep you reading. I want to read books that, while they don’t go off on hundred-page-long tangents like Hermann Melville is famous for doing, meander a little bit on their way to the ending. I want comfort food books in which nothing too awful happens, or at least, not too terribly often. I want more Agatha Christie novels in which, inevitably, justice is served in the end, and even in the face of brutal murders, characters carry on having dinner parties and taking care of their mustaches. I want more screwball comedies like To Say Nothing of the Dog in which the main character can’t remember what he is to do, takes a lazy trip down the Thames, returns a cat, and has to engage in some complicated matchmaking. Sure, the stakes are that the entire fabric of time could unravel, but did anyone feel really worried that such a thing would actually happen? I know I didn’t.

I don’t know if this desire makes me old-fashioned or out of touch. I’d like to think that somewhere out there is a cohort of readers who want the same things I want, who sometimes like to take a break from the page-turners and convoluted plot machinations, or the implausible series of misunderstandings and caricatured character flaws that so often characterize a less plot-driven novel. I’d like to think that this is why novels like Pride and Prejudice are still so popular.

But don’t mind me. I’ll just be curling up by the fire with A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. Or maybe Among Others by Jo Walton, which is my new comfort book find of the year.

Have any comfort reading recommendations? Think I’m crazy to not always want the stakes raised? Please share.

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I’ll be at World Fantasy Convention in San Diego for the rest of the week, so if you’re also here, please feel free to find me and say hi! I’ll be participating in the Crossed Genres reading on Sunday at 10am (suite number not yet announced), so if you want to be able to say you witnessed my very first reading ever, you know where to be.

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Last week my husband and I drove up to Ashland, Oregon to attend their Shakespeare Festival for the first time. I’ve been wanting to attend this festival since high school, and it did not disappoint. Also, it’s good to know that I can watch eight plays in four days without burning out on theater.

Ashland was a charming place, and my favorite part was the plethora of bookshops that grace the downtown, including at least two “Books and Antiques” shops. Those two shops were my bookstore dream come true. Both of them had old books in bookshelves all over the shop, surrounded by assorted strange items: a brass urn, a large wooden Noah’s ark, aggressively sparkly jewelry, antique scissors complete with scabbard. One of the shops had an entire section devoted to “Banned Books” throughout the ages, and they threw in a free “I read banned books” pin with my purchase. I could have spent hours in those two stores, and the only reason I didn’t spend more time was the danger of buying more books than would fit in the car for the drive home.

There’s something about old books, isn’t there? I don’t usually notice the smell of books, having a notably poor sense of smell, but in a used bookstore even I notice the musky scent of aging paper. And those old hardbacks feel so weighty in the hand, and lacking the slickness of the modern dust jacket, they seem more mysterious–anything could be lurking behind the slightly battered covers. I was reminded that, however much the world may move towards electronic books, and however many of them I will purchase myself, there is something inside me that will always be enchanted by the book as a physical object.

So I decided to share that enchantment with you by showing you photos of my book haul from these two lovely shops.

These are my three nonfiction selections. I love English history, and after having just seen Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2, I was particularly inspired to get a book on the British Monarchy. Short sketches of famous women in the Renaissance? Equally interesting, with possibilities of awaking some story ideas. The top book is about the home life of Theodore Roosevelt and his family at the turn of the century (19th to 20th), which is a time period I’m quite attached to (think Anne of Green Gables and the Betsy and Tacy books).

My bouquet of paperbacks. I’ve only previously read the middle one. I really wanted to get Virginia Woolf’s On Being Ill, but neither shop had that one, so I got this one instead.

Okay, how exciting is this stack? The H.G. Wells omnibus on the bottom is particularly well made, but all four of these books make me hungry for reading. And my favorite three books of the Anne of Green Gables series all in one volume? I couldn’t resist.

I love this old edition of Dicken’s A Christmas Tale. My husband and I read this story together every December. Look at that art! It reminds me of the old books my mom saved from her childhood.

I’ve saved the best for last. I saw this book and I knew I had to have it.

Yes, it is indeed leather-bound. And it has golden gilt on the edges of the pages. I’ve been looking for the perfect edition of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for quite some time now.

The end papers look even better in person: a shiny, orange gold color with a pleasing texture.

And it is illustrated. And it has a golden ribbon to keep your place as you read. How elegant!

I adore this book with all my heart, both its outer form and the story it tells.

We obtained many, many books in Ashland. I can’t wait to start reading them!

Too bad my to-read pile already takes up several shelves….

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A few weeks ago I was asked to write an essay, and the only requirement was that it should be inspirational. At first I wasn’t too worried: People had told me they found my essays inspirational in the past, so it was obviously something of which I am capable. Then I started to overthink and wonder if I could be inspirational on command. And finally I was given a more narrow topic (kindness) and the rest is history.
In that middle stage of overthinking, I asked myself what I find inspirational. And the first thing I thought of was one of my favorite books, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
I want to be Anne Shirley (the protagonist) when I grow up. I’ve wanted to be her since the first time I read the book, which I received on my ninth birthday, and I imagine I will always want this. Possibly one of the biggest compliments someone could pay me would be to compare me to Anne. (Not that this will ever happen, since people don’t tend to go around comparing people to fictional characters. Except for Fred from the TV show Angel. I get that comparison a lot.)

Why do I love Anne? She’s wildly imaginative and creative, she’s intelligent and ambitious, and she always has good intentions. But she’s not perfect; she makes mistakes all the time, and she has character flaws that she struggles with (her temper, her vanity, her tendency to look before she leaps, an imagination that is occasionally a little bit too good). Her imperfections make her human, make her someone I can aspire to be. Perhaps L.M. Montgomery included so many faults because of the conventions of that era’s children’s literature to include morality lessons, but to me it never comes across as preaching.

At the beginning of the first book, Anne’s had a really hard life. She’s a poor orphan who has spent all of her life in and out of various dysfunctional foster families and institutions. Her schooling has been irregular, and she hasn’t been treated particularly well. She has every reason in the world to be hard, bitter, distrusting, and unpleasant. No one would blame her if she felt depressed or discouraged. But instead, Anne reframes her own life and takes control of her own story. She uses her imagination to create her own best friends and to make her world more beautiful. She notices and appreciates the little things. She has a warm open heart and the ability to find kindred spirits everywhere she goes, even when the world doesn’t initially appear very friendly. She bravely learns from her mistakes and keeps moving forward. She rises above her initial circumstances and goes on to create a life for herself filled with love, friends, scholarship, and beauty.

Through Anne’s story, we get a glimpse of a better world. One of the recurring plots in the first three novels (those are the ones I’ve read over and over because I can’t quite handle the idea of Anne grown up after college) is how Anne affects the people around her. She meets people who at first glance are difficult and curmudgeonly, and she influences them for good. She has such an open, kind heart herself, and she spreads it to the people with whom she interacts. She charms people with her refreshing sincerity and genuine good will, and she brings out the best in them. In the world of Anne of Green Gables, kindness and good intentions prevail.

I don’t believe that this idealized world is the one we actually live in. But it is the world that I wish we lived in, and my vision of it inspires me to do my little part in bringing it closer to reality. I want to be like Anne, bringing hope and beauty wherever I go and lighting up the world with my presence. I want to emerge from adversity still in touch with the joys of life and determined to learn from my mistakes. I want to inspire others the way Anne (and through her L.M. Montgomery) inspires me.

What’s the first thing to come to mind when you think of inspiration? What are the books or movies, characters or real-life people who drive you forward? What inspirational influences do you think have been especially critical for you?

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