Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: A Circle of Quiet

A Circle of Quiet
By Madeleine L'Engle
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux 1972
246 pages
From my shelves

A Circle of Quiet (Crosswicks Journals, Book 1)

Beloved author Madeleine L'Engle reflects on her life as she balances being a writer and a mother, faith and family, and living in a small town. I realize that the synopsis I just typed sounds terribly boring. That's really not the case. While this book may be slow and meandering, L'Engle keeps our attention with her strong opinions and insightful observations about life. The incredible thing about this book is that it was published more than 40 years ago. But her musings on so many things feel incredibly relevant to today.

When I read a book, I tend to treat it very nicely. I don't usually dog ear pages or underline passages. However, I broke all of my rules while reading this book. I couldn't help but fold the corners of so many pages because I wanted to read them again and again.

Let me give you some examples:

On language: "I love anything that is going to make language richer and stronger. But when words are used in a way that is going to weaken language, it has nothing to do with the beautiful way that they can wriggle and wiggle and develop and enrich our speech, but instead it is impoverishing, diminishing. If our language is watered down, then mankind becomes less human and less free..."

On the artist and originality: "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."

On technology (four decades ago!): "We can't absorb it all. We know too much, too quickly, and one of the worst effects of this avalanche of technology is the loss of compassion."

On literature: "Juvenile or adult, War and Peace or Treasure Island, Pride and Prejudice or Beauty and the Beast, a great work of the imagination is one of the highest forms of communication of truth that mankind has reached. But a great piece of literature does not try to coerce you to believe it or agree with it. A great piece of literature simply is."

There are books that are simply good for the soul, books that confirm your thoughts about love and relationships, work and art. This is the sort of book you can read again and again, a chapter here or a snippet here. The language, as always, is beautiful. Best of all, L'Engle's tales of her life are recognizable to us as writers, artists, believers, mothers, spouses, and human beings.

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