|photo c/o Christie's blog
I’ve always heard you should write the book you want to read.
I’ve always thought, easier said than done.
I love to read everything from Virginia Woolf to Agatha Christie, but I don’t see myself following in either woman’s literary footsteps.
Today, I’m convinced the advice is solid but a little too broad. We can’t write every book we want to read, but our reading loves and our reading disappointments will point us in the right direction.
I discovered my direction when I realized how many of the stories on my bookshelves are told according to the pattern of the shifting seasons. These were some of the first books I learned to love, books like Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep which celebrates twelve months of seasonal traditions and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden in which the drama of winter becoming spring is mirrored in the lives of two children.
One Christmas, I was given the heavy yellow boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I reread every one until the spines cracked and the pages splayed, but I read Farmer Boy most frequently of all. This fictionalized autobiography of Laura’s husband Almanzo tells its story according to the seasonal rhythms of a northern New York farm. From winter’s deep snow and popcorn by the woodstove to pulling a block of river ice from the icehouse for homemade ice cream in summer, Farmer Boy made me hunger for seasons I never fully tasted growing up in a central Texas prairie town.
Today, I live in an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania, and that long-ago hunger is satisfied in snowflakes, daffodils, zinnias, and fiery maple leaves. More than that, the hunger and its fulfillment became the dominant themes of the book I wrote about our first year in this beautiful, crumbling old house called Maplehurst.
The book is Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. Here are a few more of the “four seasons” books that inspired my own:
A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell is a classic of this genre. Once, Hubbell was a married city-dweller who worked as a university librarian. In middle age, she finds herself living and working alone as a beekeeper on a remote farm in the Ozarks. These essays are quiet, contemplative, and slow, but they are also sharp, witty, and observant. I love this book because it reminds me that one of the most important things we can do in this life is to know a place, to love it well, and then invite others to see it through our eyes. That place might be a northern city or a Midwestern mountainside, but I know that I am richer for having seen the Ozarks through Hubbell’s eyes.
First published in 1967, TheShape of a Year by Jean Hersey is a vintage gem. I think I bought my hardback copy for one dollar plus shipping. It’s worth fifty times that.
Hersey was a garden writer, and this book observes the four seasons on her rural Connecticut property with curiosity and joy. This is a book all about the simple pleasures of the seasons. There is less human drama here than in Hubbell’there is always something happening.s chronicle, and some might complain that nothing much happens, but Hersey knows what everyone with eyes to really see the world around then has discovered:
I love every memoir in Madeleine L’Engle’s series of Crosswicks journals. The IrrationalSeason, ostensibly book three though these don’t need to be read in order, begins with Advent and is shaped by the traditional calendar of the western church.
I appreciate L’Engle’s commitment to asking difficult questions. What I discover in all her books – but in the Crosswicks journals most of all – is that unknowing is not a scary place to be. L’Engle shows us that we can sometimes experience God’s presence in more beautiful and more comforting ways when we take the time to sit with the questions we do not have answers for.
Also, L’Engle’s family home, Crosswicks, has been described as a “farmhouse of charming confusion.” That, right there, is everything I hope for my own home. We have the confusion down pat. The charm is a work in progress.
Christie on the Web:
These Farmhouse Bookshelves (blog feature)