Anne Shirley. Anne-with-an-E. She will always be the heroine of my childhood. And, the more I think about it, of my grown self as well.
Last week we talked about using the Facebook 10 album challenge as a writing prompt. Thinking through the most formative music of your life and sharing it, incrementally, with an element of personal narrative can serve as a great exercise in spiritual formation. Obviously, now we have to do the same thing with books.
As I think through my 10 most formative books, they are not necessarily my favorites. Some are actually books I hated, but that challenged me in some way. But first in my heart, always, is Anne of Green Gables. I remember reading most of it the summer I was 10, sitting on the back patio hiding from my then-2-year-old brother. It was the summer I learned the joy of snacking and reading at the same time. I think there is more than one ice cream stain on my well-worn copy.
It was also the summer I fell in love with Gilbert Blythe. I mean, didn’t we all, ladies? (Raise your hand and fess up if you cried actual tears with Jonathan Crombie died an untimely death in 2015 …)
But of course, my real love was Anne herself. Anne who talked too much; used too-big words; was constantly writing stories when she was supposed to be doing other things; and had a wild imagination that could not be contained by the geographical boundaries of Prince Edward Island. I was totally that kid. And while I had a couple of frisbee-playing and bike-riding friends in the neighborhood (hi, Jason!) I didn’t really have many friend friends at that point in my life … as in, people who got me. People who could listen to my endless rambling daydreams without rolling their eyes.
I found that tribe in junior high. And high school. And college. My adult life has been filled with fellow dreamers and incessant talkers. But fourth grade was lonelier terrain. Anne Shirley was my first kindred spirit (and the first to alert me to the fact that there was such a thing as a kindred spirit).While I’ve always counted this among my favorite books, I’d never really thought of it as profoundly formative until last year when a friend sent me this article about the 14 Times Anne Shirley Was Kind of a Feminist. As I read through the list of subtle and not-so-subtle ways that Anne embodied first wave feminism, I realized that, not only was she my first kindred spirit, she was also the first feminist influence in my southeastern Kentucky upbringing. At least, as such.
Anne Shirley is the reason I never shut up. The reason I happily remain “too much” in a world that wants women to be much less—but somehow, never enough.
She is also the reason that I still spend my summer days, at least in part, camped out in the backyard with a popsicle and a stack of library books. Now my kids are there too, of course. With their own stack of library books, and their own popsicles—because mom does not share popsicles. I do, however, share books. And I’m hoping beyond hope that this will be the summer my 9-year-old too-much writer of a girl will meet Anne Shirley for herself. And learn to never shut up.
If you know a girl who you hope will never shut up, get this book in her hands immediately. Meanwhile, here is my longer list, in no particular order:
- Anne of Green Gables
- Heart of Darkness (Note: I hate this book. A lot. But it’s still important).
- A Prayer for Owen Meany
- The Stand
- To Kill a Mockingbird
- The Goldfinch
- Harry Potter (V & VII. And yes, I can totally count them as one. Editorial privilege).
- A Man Called Ove
- Ready Player One
- The Great Gatsby
I will write more about each of these on Facebook each day, if you want to follow me.
Meanwhile, what 10 books most made you who you are? The “10 Book Challenge” on Facebook, such as it is, says to post pictures of the cover of your 10 favorite books. Bush league! We want details. What makes a book great? Why did it stick with you? How did it make you who you are? Let that be your writing prompt for the week (or 10 days, as it were). Don’t wait for somebody to tag you, just do it. Make America well-read again.
As you think through your list, maybe you need to re-visit some of those characters and places this summer. Preferably in your backyard. With a popsicle in hand.