Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Becoming Madeleine


Becoming Madeline is a biography of the author Madeleine L’engle, written for middle-grade readers by her granddaughters Charlotte Jones Voiklis and Léna Roy.

Like most people, I first encountered L’engle through A Wrinkle in Time. I was in the 7th or 8th grade and it was unlike anything I had read before. The small book was weird, comforting, wise, and life-affirming in a way that was at the same time both familiar and radical.

Over the next few years I devoured most of her work. Discovering L’engle during my middle and high school years had a tremendous impact on my outlook on life.

Alike and equal are not the same thing!

Your greatest faults can also be your greatest gifts!

In the end, all will be well!

When I took a trip to New York in 2007, I visited the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where L’engle worked as writer in residence for several years.



My grandmother, a librarian, was also a fan of L’engle’s writing.  When I would buy and read a new book I’d lend it to her and we would discuss it. After she passed away, I took her copy of Bright Evening Star and found an inscription on the first page, a testament to the impact L’engle’s words had on her.

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I approached Becoming Madeleine with excitement and yet was sure that I would find nothing new here. Madeleine L’engle wrote a number of autobiographical works, so I wasn’t sure what else could be said about her life that I hadn’t already read. However, by telling L’engle’s story in chronological order, rather than through the random snippets as they are presented in her own work, allowed me to see her story in a different light. Anyone familiar with L’engle’s work knows how important time, and the order one experiences it in, can be!

Of particular fascination to me was the inclusion of Madeleine’s diary entries. Not only was it intriguing to get a look at her private writing, but it also allowed the reader see how the themes that permeated her work (time, love, God, faith, science, and the horrors of war) were at the forefront of her thinking, even at a young age, and were always evolving.

The biography stops just after the publication of a Wrinkle in Time. This was disappointing, as I would have liked to have seen how Madeleine moved through her later years. However, the book is written for middle-grade readers; therefore, the story focuses heavily on her younger years when she was the same age as the intended audience.

Voiklis and Roy have written a loving and satisfying account of a writer that has impacted many people and continues to impact more each day. If you are a long-time L’engle reader or just discovering her work, this is a book you won’t want to miss.  


–Sunday, February 11th, 2018

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Why We Write by Meredith Maran

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Why We Write by Meredith Maran is a collection of twenty essays written by published novelist on the topic of why (and sometimes how) each author goes about the crafting fiction. Each essay is preceded by an introduction of the author and a “Vitals” bulleted list of highlights about the author (born, education, where they live, complete list of works, etc.). Each essay concludes with a “Wisdom for Writers” section, a bulleted list of take-away points the author made in his or her essay.

A portion of the proceeds of the book are given to support 826 National, a youth literacy program.

The editor pulled together a diverse collection of authors. Some of them include Sue Grafton, David Baldacci, Gish Jen, Armistead Maupin, and Terry McMillan. Not only are they diverse in gender, sexual orientation, culture, and race, but they are exist on various points of the “literary vs entertainment” spectrum of publishing. This topic comes up in a number of the essays. Some authors embrace the literary or entertainment camp to which they belong, others take the opportunity to bash the opposing side.  More than a few authors dismiss this continuum as a marketing or hegemonic device designed to pander to a certain demographic. The later essays were the most interesting.    

While the book presented a diverse collection of viewpoints, I couldn’t help but notice that certain genres were left out. There were authors from “mainstream” literature as well as the mystery and thriller genres. However, there were no authors of speculative or YA books.  Why We Write was published in 2013, during the time when these genres were rapidly gaining in both popularity and recognition as quote-unquote “serious” forms of literature. It could be that the author reached out to some of these authors and they weren’t interested or couldn’t fit a contribution into their schedules. However, I can’t help but feel that including authors from these backgrounds would further round out the book and the discussion of why individuals feel compelled to write fiction.

The twenty authors in the book state a wide array of reasons behind why they do what they do. However, one central theme crops up in each of their responses: Writing sucks, but not writing sucks worse; one never feels that a piece is completely finished, but having written is a wonderful feeling.

As someone who dabbles in writing and is always looking for more time to complete larger projects, I completely agree. And, in it’s own dark way, it is comforting to read twenty writers state that they belong in the same mental hell that is being a writing human. I think I’ll keep the book on my desk for inspiration and comfort the next time I find myself banging my head against the wall when writing gets difficult.