Monday, September 7, 2009

A Narrative Compass

I just finished writing a review for The Children’s Literature Association Quarterly of a fascinating book, A Narrative Compass: Stories That Guide Women’s Lives,
edited by Betsy Hearne and Roberta Seelinger Trites.

The guiding idea of the book is that many of us – most of us? – have what Hearne and Trites call “a narrative compass”: some central story that has shaped us, motivated us, guided us through sorrow and joy. Hearne and Trites have gathered a collection of nineteen essays from women scholars from a range of disciplines: children’s literature, of course, but also health policy and management, history of religion, anthropology, Chinese language and literature, American studies, agricultural history and rural studies, linguistics. The authors are at different stages in their careers: graduate student, assistant professor, occupant of a named chair at Harvard, professor emerita. They are African American, Asian American, Latina American, Native American, white; straight and gay. What they have in common is what all of us have in common: stories have changed their lives. Indeed, some particular story has changed each individual woman’s life. Every single essay in the book is a gem of remarkably candid self-disclosure and a moving tribute to the enduring power of stories. The books featured as narrative compasses include Little Women, the Bible, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, Alice in Wonderland, A Passage to India, The Teachings of Don Juan, and many more, each one celebrated and honored here.

Writing the review made me wonder what my own narrative compass has been. It’s hard to pick just one. I guess mine would have to be Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, by Maud Hart Lovelace. I so identified with Betsy as an aspiring writer, Betsy enthralled by her first visit to the children’s room of the brand-new Carnegie Library, Betsy determined to create a life for herself given meaning by her identity as a writer. My own books echo Lovelace’s prose style. I try to write books that some child reader somewhere will love as I loved hers.

And you: what is your narrative compass? What book has most shaped who you are today?

1 comment:

  1. Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle... Amanda