Rebecca's Reviews > A Circle of Quiet

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle
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it was amazing
bookshelves: memoirs, writers-and-writing, absolute-favorites

I picked this up on a whim – for a quarter – from a library book sale, and I’m so glad I did. If, like me, you only knew L’Engle through her Wrinkle in Time children’s series, this journal should come as a revelation. I didn’t know she wrote any nonfiction for adults. The Crosswicks books cannot be called simple memoirs, however; there’s so much more going on. In this journal (published 1972) of a summer spent at their Connecticut farmhouse, L’Engle muses on theology, purpose, children’s education, the writing life, the difference between creating stories for children and adults, neighbors and fitting into a community, and much besides. My copy is studded with Post-it flags.

I can see these autobiographical works being especially helpful to aspiring writers. I would compare them to May Sarton’s in subject matter, with the main difference being that L’Engle has more to say about religion and family. One of my favorite parts was a brilliant full-scale example of showing-not-telling. For a while the Franklins lived at Crosswicks full-time and her husband Hugh took a break from acting to run the local general store. She could have just written “we had snooty Jewish neighbors from New York City who never fit in until their house caught fire,” but instead spins a wonderful twenty-page story out of it – and story it is; she admits she has taken liberties with the characters and chronology, but the essence is true.

Here’s a few sample quotes:

If a writer says he doesn’t care whether he is published or not, I don’t believe him. I care. Undoubtedly I care too much. But we do not write for ourselves alone. I write about what concerns me, and I want to share my concerns. I want what I write to be read. Every rejection slip—and you could paper walls with my rejection slips—was like the rejection of me, myself, and certainly or my amour-propre. I learned all kinds of essential lessons during those years of rejection, and I’m glad to have had them, but I wouldn’t want to have to go through them again.

Of course. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said, by me, ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes out through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.

[And a lovely exchange from Wrinkle about free will (the book went completely over my head as a child; I think I’ll have to read it again soon):]

Calvin: “You mean you’re comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?”

“Yes,” Mrs Whatsit said. “You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you.”
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Reading Progress

May 13, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
May 13, 2014 – Shelved
September 16, 2015 – Started Reading
September 16, 2015 – Shelved as: memoirs
September 16, 2015 – Shelved as: writers-and-writing
September 29, 2015 – Shelved as: absolute-favorites
September 29, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Quite the bargain.

Rebecca I've gotten some amazing books from library sales. It's always worth stopping by.

Natalia Iwanyckyj Rereading after many years and totally in love. Appreciate your insightful review.

Rebecca Thanks, Natalia! I'm keen to find the others in the series secondhand.

Dale Harcombe I have them all. The others in the series are just as good.

Rebecca Wonderful. I look forward to getting them.

message 7: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I'm reading this now from NetGalley, apparently a new ebook release. It really is good. I think I will have to read the Wrinkle series again too. I read them in or just after college and definitely did not look for anything beyond the surface. Nice review.

Rebecca Thanks, Sue. I noticed it was on NetGalley. I hope the others in the series will be released that way too!

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