Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reading For a Too-Sudden Spring: The Enchanted April

It's May as I write this, and the dust of this drought-stricken state is already rising in little puffs about my feet as I walk my dog along the parched canal.  When breaking out the shorts and the sunblock, it seems wise to cherish what has already been: The most beautiful April in recent memory.  Everything came into flower at once at my house--the crab apple trees shown in the picture at left, the plum trees out back, the lilac and the tiny white stars of red-twig dogwood.  Unusually for Colorado, no sudden fall of snow struck spring dumb.  The kindness of the season has an ominous undertone--we all know that it's not normal, but as my younger son observed just last night, "It's hard to view sunny days as a natural disaster."  His tone seemed to imply that if anybody could do so, however, it would be his mother.

He reminded me, in those few words, of a character straight out of Elizabeth Von Arnim.  Just so did she  skewer her most lovable people--with a comment that revealed far too much of their souls.

She's an author most people no longer recognize, although some would recall the 1992 movie made from her best-known book, The Enchanted April.  I sat through it in a dream of sun-kissed scent, but I'm not going to talk about the movie here--the book is so much more rewarding in its acute celebration of human foibles, human hope, and the terribly human need to be loved.  The time is the early 1920s; the subject is the dreariness of post-war England and the compulsion to escape; and the alternative is a remote and lovely castle on the Italian coast.  Von Arnim sends four women of varying ages and degrees of personal desperation there for a month.  Having got them under her writer's eye, she turns each of them inside-out, with a delicacy and finesse unequaled since Jane Austen.

If summer arrived too soon in your town, too, this year--try The Enchanted April.  Short of buying a ticket on impulse for Portofino, it's the most delicious escape I know.


Friday's Child: The REACH Literacy Conference

So as my sons head off for their final exams this week, I'm thinking about the teachers I'll be talking to on Friday at the 2012 REACH Literacy Conference here in Denver.  The conference is intended for "educators, administrators, parents, middle and high school students, and literacy advocates who want to explore and understand the value of early reading readiness; embrace culturally relevant literature; and gain knowledge, insight and access to useful curriculum resources to create a richer learning experience."  It's being held over two days--May 31 and June 1--at the Kenneth King Academics & Performing Arts Center, on the Auraria Campus.

I'm a bit terrified.  I'm not a trained teacher.  I write novels for adults, not kids.  I know next to nothing about the challenges of literacy in the United States.  All I can do, therefore, is talk about how writers become writers--by starting life as readers.  We're all the sum of our stories, both the ones we read as kids and the ones we write every day.  And we're the end result of a lifetime of teachers, too--both bad and good.  I watch my own boys grow, and know how critical stories are in their lives.  Stories are maps discarded on the road by those who've walked ahead, clues to the terrain, routes for navigating existence.  We'd be lost without them.

Think of me Friday morning.  Introduce yourself, if you're there.  We'll swap a few tales.