Over my winter break I re-read Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, a childhood favorite–starting on Midwinter Eve, as the book does, and finishing January 2nd. I was prompted by a Twitter readalong hosted by the writer Robert Macfarlane, though I didn’t participate on Twitter. On the final day of the readalong, Macfarlane tweeted a message from Susan Cooper, who wrote, “Writer, reader, when our imaginations speak the same language, we can change each other’s lives.”
Did The Dark Is Rising change my life? I don’t know, but it does feel to me like one of those childhood books that helped make me who I am, that speak my language in a very deep way. Such books feel like part of me; when I reread them, a small part of me may be critical, but mostly I feel as if a puzzle piece is clicking into the place prepared for it in my mind, my heart, my soul. When I tweeted about this experience, Victoria Janssen commented that these are books that made grooves in your brain.
They’re different from favorites. There are books I loved and read over and over as a child (some of which I still revisit) that I don’t think of this way: the Little House books, for instance, or Anne of Green Gables. And many, many more. Maybe they shaped me too, in ways I’m less conscious of, but I don’t experience that “click” when I read them. There are books I discovered later in life that mean a great deal to me, but that isn’t the same either.
I think all my brain groove books are fantasy, which is odd, as it’s a genre I rarely read now. They’re about good and evil, dark and light, quests and power.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that some of these books are by fellow Anglicans. I approach my faith in the same (perhaps childlike) way I approach these books: as a collection of words, images, symbols, ideas that provide basic meaning to my life. There’s something Jungian in the way their archetypes form part of the basic framework through which I view the world. (I can’t seem to find a more precise–or less grandiose–way of saying it).
Some of my brain-groove books:
- The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
- A Wrinkle in Time and A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle
- A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
- No one book, but parts of the the Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis
It’s a pretty predictable set–but maybe that’s a sign of the power these books have for many readers.
One other that profoundly shaped me in a different way: Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. Would I have gone on to do a PhD in English without its delight in words? Maybe, but who knows…. Cause and effect are hard to unravel here. Would those archetypal fantasies have shaped my own moral architecture had I not also been a church-going child?
Do you have brain-groove books? I’d love to hear about them if you want to share.