Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Bookprint

When I turned eleven, what I really wanted for my birthday was one of those ridiculous stuffed troll dolls, dressed as a pirate, or a cheerleader, or some other such nonsense.

What I received instead literally changed my life. An equally bookish friend gave me the complete Anne of Green Gables box set. I have always been a reader and at the time was grateful to have something new to read. However, I had no idea how much the books would consume me. I had heard of the story but knew nothing about it. I didn't even know there was a movie version (which, while excellent, is of course far inferior to the books).

So, after getting over my birthday disappointment--having purchased a troll with my birthday money--I plunged into the Anne saga. I don't know at what point I got hooked, but somewhere along the way, I became an Anne fan for life.

I'm not sure exactly what drew me to the spunky redhead. Our childhoods were vastly different. I grew up in a loving two-parent household, in twentieth century America, far from a nineteenth century orphanage in Prince Edward Island, Canada. I hate to admit that I didn't posses a "scope for imagination," at least not in the same way as Anne, for I was--and still am--a rule-follower, not having much of a penchant for "getting into scrapes." I was much more of a Jane or Diana, actually.

But, I suppose, like millions of readers, I recognized a kindred spirit. As I continued to read through the series, I felt as if I actually knew Anne. I became part of her world and she, mine. I recognize how cheesy that sounds, but it's true. And a real testament to Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery and her ability to paint such vivid characters. The only other author I can think of who does that just as well is Jane Austen. It should come as no surprise that I compared the two in a paper I wrote in high school.

It wasn't long before my life began to emulate Anne's. It really wasn't that much of a stretch, for we are/were interested in a lot of the same things, like literature and writing. What was unexpected, however, was how subconsciously my imitation came about.

The Anne books are some of the only books I've read multiple times. There are so many books in the world that I simply don't have the time to read the same thing over and over. But I keep returning to Anne. Each time I read, I connect in a different way, and I've found that as I move through each stage of life, there's an Anne book right there with me.

The first couple of reads through the series, I related most strongly to the young Anne and her schoolgirl stories. School was important to me, and like Anne, I constantly strove for the top. I even fabricated rivalries amongst unknowing classmates, well aware of my standing in the class in comparison to others, Anne vs. Gilbert-style. I also began participating in speech competitions, just as Anne repeatedly was asked to "recite" as an elocutionist.

Everything after that first book was projecting into the future. As I grew older, I found myself living out the story of Anne's college days while I, myself, was in college. Anne of the Island quickly became my favorite of the favorites. Like Anne, I had a wonderful relationship with my roommate(s), and once again, school was at the forefront. Her greatest strength is in English, which happened to be my major. Anne even dabbles in writing; I continue to dream of publication. I know I'm really making myself sound like a colossal nerd here, but it's something I've come to accept--and embrace--about myself.

My favorite part of that book, however, is the romantic tension between Anne and Gilbert. I, of course, couldn't relate to that aspect of the story at the time, but it certainly shaped how I perceived romance. In fact, I truly expected that I would initially hate my future soulmate before having a life-changing epiphany that I had loved him all along. Perhaps that is why it took me so long to realize that I did indeed love Jon without hating him first. Whoops.

After college, my Anne connection went out of order slightly as I regressed into the second book: Anne of Avonlea. I was at the cusp of my first teaching job and felt great solace as I recalled Anne's failures, jubilation in her successes in the classroom. No, I didn't teach in a one-room country schoolhouse, but teaching is teaching. Interestingly enough, a lot of Anne's teaching philosophies are quite progressive, evidence, I suppose, that the pendulum in education philosophy/theory/reform constantly swings back and forth.

My life continued to parallel Anne's in ways I could never have expected. While I never hated him, I did fall in love with my best friend. Like Anne and Gilbert, we were separated for quite a while.

Anne of the Island ends with Anne and Gilbert's relationship, and originally, the next book picked up with their wedding three years later. L.M. Montgomery wrote Anne of Windy Poplars several years after the publication of the series to account for the time lapse. In this late addition to the story, Anne moves to a new town to teach while Gilbert toils away in medical school. Each maintained an independent existence, yet their relationship blossomed through written correspondence.

Throughout Jon's and my time apart, we also relied on written communication, dating via e-mail, if you will. It may not have been ideal, but having to talk to one another without the luxury of going out to dinner or a movie or a ballgame like most couples really forced us to be honest with one another. I truly believe that we grew closer in those ten months, and it should come as no surprise that our reunion contained a marriage proposal.

Book five in the series, Anne's House of Dreams, relates Anne and Gilbert's newlywed days. This book had new meaning for me when I read it for the first time after being a newlywed myself. The couple finds themselves in a new locale as they create a new life for themselves, which is definitely something I can relate to, having moved halfway across the country days after getting married. I understood the joys of setting up a home, making "his" and "hers" into "ours". I knew what it was like to make new friends while missing those who were far away. We've been married for several years now, but I am still in this stage in my life.

The remaining three books in the series--Anne of Ingleside (another late addition), Rainbow Valley, and Rilla of Ingleside--focus on Anne and Gilbert's family. We're not there yet, but perhaps someday when I re-read the Anne books again for the umpteenth time, I'll discover new connections.

*I had a profound revelation about my Anne-ness one day, which prompted this post. Providence intervened when a link to the following article showed up (from the Anne of Green Gables Facebook page, of course) in my Newsfeed shortly thereafter: This article led me to Scholastic's "You Are What You Read" page: What's YOUR Bookprint?

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