Monday, July 30, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

            I remember going to the circus several times as a kid. Surprisingly, the most memorable was also probably the most uneventful.
We lived in Philadelphia at the time. I must have been about 11 or 12 years old and I was really excited. We had been to the circus before and I knew what was coming! I was anticipating the elephants, the acrobats, the clowns and the cotton candy.
We left on a cloudy afternoon to search for this circus somewhere outside the city limits. I am pretty sure my mom had no idea where we were going. And it started to rain. Then it started to pour. After what seemed like forever, we finally arrived at the circus and I remember having to tromp through a huge mess of mud to get to the arena. But when we got to the gates, the circus was closed. It had been shut down due to the rain.
I remember being totally devastated. I was angry with my mom for dragging us all the way out in the middle of nowhere for nothing. I had looked forward to all of the magic the circus had to offer only to have my hopes crushed.
            “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern invoked all of those feelings of wonder and anticipation that I had about the circus. The descriptions of the sights, the sounds, and the smells that you can only experience in a carnival atmosphere really made me feel like I was right there.
            The book does not tell the story of any ordinary circus, however. This is Le Cirque des Reves, a magical circus that arrives without warning. Within its tents, the stage is set for a fierce competition—an impossible battle of skill and imagination between Celia and Marco, who have been trained in magic since they were young. Now is the time for them to show what they have learned. However, this encounter can end with only one of them standing.
            This book is part fantasy, part romance, and part intrigue. There is no one category that could define this book. It was fun, and I wanted to find out what happened in the end. The cast of colorful characters was fun to get to know, and it was devastating to lose some of them.
            Morgenstern’s descriptive prose was so intense that I could picture in my mind exactly the way everything looked and felt. I still have those pictures in my head. “The Night Circus” left me wanting to go to that magical place. I want to find that circus, or any circus or carnival for that matter, so I can experience everything that goes with it.
            Unfortunately, circuses are few and far between. Their live performances have been replaced by screens. We are so inundated, as a society, with computer-generated imagery, that illusions and circus magic no longer impress younger audiences. 
But nothing can replace a good book. Your imagination is always more brilliant than anything that can be produced on a screen.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Column 22

Madeleine L’Engle is an author you may know from your childhood. She wrote “A Wrinkle In Time,” “A Ring of Endless Light,” “Troubling A Star,” and numerous other books for youth.
            Madeleine L’Engle was also of woman of great faith. She believed in the sanctity of marriage and of family. She lived a fascinating life. You can read about her life through her memoirs, a four-book series entitled “The Crosswicks Journals.”
            My favorite in this series is without a doubt “Two-Part Invention.” In this memoir, L’Engle explores her relationship with her husband. She begins by talking about her childhood and then her young adulthood. She quickly moves to meeting her husband, actor Hugh Franklin, and their courtship.
            Theirs was a chaste and atypical courtship in that they did not rush things or make flippant moral decisions as did others who ran in their circle. They were “theater people,” which meant that most of the people around them did not blink an eye about “sleeping around” and moving from one partner to the next without qualm. Both of them decided to stay chaste until marriage, despite the pressures around them to the contrary.
            When they were married, they were hopelessly devoted to one another. Never giving up his dream of acting, Hugh continued to work on Broadway and eventually in television, where he landed a long-time acting position as Dr. Charles Tyler on the soap opera “All My Children.” This was his most well-known role.
            L’Engle supported her husband in his often difficult career. She never asked him to sacrifice his dream. She became a mother and homemaker while keeping her career as well. She wrote many successful books and had an acting career too.
            In this book we see the ups and downs of their marriage through humor and stories that only L’Engle could make funny and interesting. When Hugh gets cancer, we see her undying devotion and the love and passion she has for her husband, even after many years.
            This has to be one of my favorite books of all time. I have read it three times. Each time I get something new out of it. Each time I read it I gain a personal strength that makes me know that, although marriage is tough, it is worth all of the pain. Your spouse is your best friend. Your spouse is the person with whom you want to share everything.
Through her intimate thoughts and memories, L’Engle shows the reader that a perfect marriage is possible. A perfect marriage is your own marriage if you work to make it that way. As L’Engle puts it: “Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe—these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”
L’Engle and her husband are no longer living, but their amazing example lives on in her immortal pages. I know that even though this was my third reading of “Two-Part Invention” it will not be my last.