Literary Criticism, Little Friends, and Shameless Self-Promotion

AnneI’m not usually influenced by literary criticism. My reading has a more capricious slant—a year spent exploring the space program or delving into the Anne of Green Gables books, which I somehow missed when I was young, thinking myself, mistakenly, too sophisticated to enjoy them.

This, however, wasn’t always so. During my years as a young adult and reference librarian, I read millions—perhaps a slight exaggeration but fairly close to the truth—of reviews, knew what books were the popular, as well as literary, darlings, and could answer countless questions about current literature.

But I left all that behind when I switched careers. Now I drift from book to book, happy in my ignorance.

So it came as a surprise when I encountered the controversy swirling around Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (see: Why the backlash against Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ was so extreme by Douglas Perry of The Oregonian). The Goldfinch was, of course, on my too-read list, along with dozens of other books, but I had no idea it carried such dissension on its spine.

The critics, however, can keep their wordy quarrels and objections. Age and attempts at writing–with my own book, Blood Stitches, coming May 12 from Lyrical Press— have mellowed me.

Mr. Perry’s article reminded me of another Donna Tartt novel, The Little Friend, and the many happy hours I spent between its covers, lost in a fictional world so realistic I wouldn’t have been surprised to see one of the characters walk through the door. My time with The Little Friend whirled by much too quickly, and I fell into a slight depression when I arrived at its final pages.

Because of this, I’ve decided to devote part of my blog this year to revisiting old literary friends, whether the critics liked them or not, and to the occasional blast of shameless self-promotion for my own writing, which I hope the critics will love. But if they don’t then I’ll fall back on what I’m sure Donna Tartt is thinking–any publicity is good publicity.


What book(s) have you loved but the critics hated?

Literary Cures: Anne of Green Gables Conquers the Common Cold

AnneLast fall, while visiting my mother, I came down with a dreadful cold. Chilled and miserable, I banished myself to the basement bedroom. Leafy silhouettes framed the windows and I could just make out the bottom of fence posts. The subterranean setting—usually a wonderfully dark and quiet place to sleep—didn’t improve my mood; however, directly across from the bed sat rows and rows of built-in cabinets filled, almost to bursting, with books.

Classic editions of Jane Eyre and Kim nestled up next to volumes of Idaho history and Mexican travel books. Runny nose forgotten, I selected Anne of Green Gables, a book that I somehow never read when I was young. Of course, I knew the story, had even seen the mini-series starring Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst, and Richard Farnsworth, which I highly recommend.

But I wasn’t prepared for how much the book would affect me. I could see, almost smell and hear, all the sights and sounds of L.M. Montgomery’s Prince Edward Island. Soon I forgot about my cold with one foot in my basement bedroom and the other in Green Gables.

It reminded me of how many times I have found a literary cure, whether it be listening to Barbara Rosenblat read an Elizabeth Peters mystery while recovering from the flu or making worries disappear through Persuasion (or any book by Jane Austen).

I found myself malingering a bit, not wanting to leave Anne and the rows of bookshelves. The sun splashed through my basement window and a leaf fell to the ground. I read, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” Anne was right—it was time for me rejoin the world and enjoy autumn.

Anne of Green Gables had conquered the common cold.