THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

I was in a bad temper and talking ill of folk and she turns around to me and says ‘Thou doesn’t like this one and thou doesn’t like that one. How does thou like thyself?’

Next year, I am determined to read more classics. When I find myself thinking, ‘Have I read this already? I can’t remember.’ Those are the books I want to intermix with my other readings next year. Since I currently have a few classics on my bookshelves and am also participating in @theunreadshelf’s 2020 challenge to read the books we already own, I should be able to tackle some of the classics I have on hand. I’m excited for the people and places I’ll meet along the way!

[sidenote: There are many English and Scottish phrasings in this book. If that makes it more difficult to read, I highly suggest getting an audio recording of this book. It was the perfect way to listen to this classic.]

My initial (modern day) reaction to this book (written in 1911) was that there was some very sketchy parenting going on! Children being forgotten or left to fend for themselves. (If I were a child reading this, however, I’m sure I would think that was super cool!!)

Mary Lennox is a sickly, unwanted 10-year-old that is left orphaned after both her wealthy parents died from cholera. Even before their death, however, her parents didn’t want to interact with her so they left her to be raised by servants who did whatever she asked – leaving her a very spoiled and unlovable child.

Mary is sent to live with her wealthy uncle who is, himself, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. Archibald Craven travels frequently, leaving Mary on her own once again. Living in Yorkshire, England now, Mary wanders the property – initially hating the moor near which her uncle’s grand home was built. In the process of looking at the gardens (and hearing of a secret garden that no one knows how to get into!), she befriends a robin who daringly follows her on her walks and quickly becomes her first friend ever.

Mary’s world begins to drastically change as spring begins to show in the gardens – and especially after the robin leads her to the buried key that unlocks the secret garden.

One of the characters in this book is a weak and ill-tempered hypochondriac little boy named Colin who has overheard adults saying all his life that he was going to die soon. He lies in bed, afraid to walk, afraid to be seen by others, afraid to go outside his room – until he meets Mary and her secret garden. Just as being out in nature made a dramatic difference to Mary, Colin also begins to trust in others and believe in his own future of health.

Amazingly descriptive detail was given to the garden and surrounding English countryside. The temper tantrums and kids-as-bosses added lots of flair in creating the images of the central children of the story. Once these initially spoiled children began thinking about others and how to bring their secret garden back to life, their minds were filled with things other than their own fears and selfish desires. What a beautiful book for a child to read.

Truly, what an important book for an adult to revisit. Are you living your fullest life? Are you being brave when others around you are doubting your strength? Even more difficult, are you being brave when you doubt your own endurance? What treasures are out there, waiting for us to discover if we’d only step outside our self-built boxes and walk into the fresh air of new possibilities.

Give this book a try, friends. You might be searching for A Secret Garden in this stage of your life. A garden you didn’t even know you needed.

MIDNIGHT AT THE BLACKBIRD CAFE by Heather Webber

It was a nice…quiet…weekend. I participated in the Instagram book challenge from @thebookishglow and @catebutler. We read Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber. #TheCozyBookishWeekend⠀

What an easy, enjoyable read laced with the magic of family and hometown and enduring friendships. (Imagine the undercurrent of Sweet Home Alabama but with pie.)⠀⠀

Anna Kate returned to bury her beloved Granny Zee, owner of the Blackbird Café. She intends for it to be a quick trip home to Alabama before she begins medical school in the fall, but the ties that bind begin to unravel as they simultaneously grow stronger. Anna Kate learns about her own heritage and as a result, grows into the person she was always meant to be; the past making its impact on the future. (Are they ever not intricately and gloriously tied??) ⠀

This was a cozy, heart-warming book that could easily explode into an ongoing series. I enjoy reading a story touched with unexplained whimsy and magic. It makes me more aware of it in my own everyday life. ⠀

Also – because I try to be an authentic and all-in #bookstagrammer, I felt it was necessary to eat pie after finishing the book. I mean. I’m JUST that dedicated, folks.

LET’S JUST SAY IT WASN’T PRETTY by Diane Keaton⠀ ⠀

I listened to this book on Audible and now I can’t imagine reading it in its physical form. Diane Keaton’s narration made it all the more wonderful.⠀

Let’s Just Say…, Keaton candidly discusses non-conventional beauty, aging gracefully (and not-so-gracefully at times) and embracing the person you truly are. She offers encouragement and support for women who want to push back against the normative definitions of beauty.⠀

Diane also dishes about her complicated relationships with men like Jack Nicholson (hint: he’s still a very dear friend), Warren Beatty and Al Pacino to name a few.⠀

With wry wit and self-deprecating humor, Keaton reminds us that the best beauty tip we can embrace is to enjoy a life well-lived.⠀ I highly recommend this book for all of us that have a wonky sense of style, desperately desire to wear amazing wide-brimmed hats and have settled into a comfortable place of beauty as defined by our own standards. This will be a book I return to often for encouragement and gutsiness.

POET X by Elizabeth Acevedo

“The pages of my notebook swell from all the words I’ve pressed onto them. It almost feels like the more I bruise the page, the quicker something inside me heals.”⠀

Poet X is about Harlem high school student, Xiomara Batista, discovering the art of slam poetry. Batista doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in her world but instead lives within the words of her journals and poetry. An attentive English teacher at her school convinces quiet Batista to join the slam poetry club. After much hesitation, she finally joins and finds not only friends and acceptance but ultimately finds her voice. And once she has discovered this liberating method of communication, she will no longer be silent.⠀

As Batista emerges from her shell, she eventually finds new love in Aman. “Every time I think about Aman, poems build inside me. Like I’ve been gifted a box of metaphor Legos that I stack and stack and stack. I keep waiting for someone to knock them over.”⠀

This book is replete with thrilling word imagery. Acevedo manages to take our shared human experience and make it sing. “When she asked how I was doing, the words trip and twist their ankles trying to rush out of my mouth.”⠀

I listened to the audio version of Poet X. There is only one other book I would suggest people listen to the audio over the written word: Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg. Poet X is enhanced by listening to the author’s reading of it. She reads it in an almost spoken word style. It is melodious and inspiring. I cannot recommend it highly enough.⠀

I am a fan of the performance art of spoken word. Many decades ago, my mother ‘gave readings’. The art of performing words is unique and celebratory and deeply moving. My mother (a career, 7th grade English teacher) was often asked to perform her pieces and I was honored to give one of them at her funeral. Poet X brought back many happy memories and increased my appreciation of such a compelling method of communication.⠀

One final quotation of personal interest. I am referred to a ‘g’ by my friends so imagine my delight at her own nickname reference:

“X. I love this new nickname. How it’s such a small letter but still fits all of me.”