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November 27, 2010

Sarah Blake on the Gifts of Good Books and Bad Weather

Posted by Anonymous
blake-sarah_150x110.jpgSarah Blake is the author of THE POSTMISTRESS, which was published in February 2010 by Putnam/Amy Einhorn Books --- and was one of’s Bets On picks last winter. Below, she reflects on the pleasure of disappearing into a book…and reveals why bad weather can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.  
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day,” Jane Eyre happily muses when greeted by beastly weather on the first page of Brontë’s novel. For it means the chance to curl up on the window-seat, pull the red curtain across, and escape into a book, “the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day.”
Now I come from a family that frowns upon sitting indoors. But I also come from a family of readers. Though these two are not mutually exclusive, there is a certain tension between them. Nothing, therefore, was more freeing than truly bad weather. It meant you could read all day. You were home scot-free. You were absolved.
And though I didn’t read JANE EYRE until I was in high school, the picture drawn of this delighted, solitary reader --- lost to the world of her house, lost inside the world of a book --- was so familiar to me, so immediately recognizable, that I remember turning over my copy of JANE EYRE to study the pencil drawing of Brontë on the cover. She had gotten it: the freedom of bad weather; the immense joy to be had in being left alone to turn page after page, squirreled away.
For me, then, the happy coincidence of Christmas with the weather of a New England winter was ideal, and more often than not, my memories of Christmas Day are of me being flopped somewhere and getting to read a new book. But in particular, the Christmas I turned eight stands out. That day, under the tree lay not one, but the entire set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books, illustrated by Garth Williams. Even more so than a single book, a series is like a new country: vast and exciting, its borders impossible to reach for many, many hours.
It was bitterly cold that Christmas, and there was no possibility of taking a walk that day. I started THE LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS as soon as all the presents had been opened, breakfast had been cleared, and my mother was safely in the kitchen focusing on starting lunch. My brother and sister racketed around the house. My father worked on the wobbly leg of a chair. I stretched out on the living room couch and dove straight down into the Ingalls’ world: the cabin in the Wisconsin woods, the smokehouse, snow sugar, the girls’ room under the eaves that was shared with hams and apples…
I came back up for Christmas Lunch, ate, helped clean up, and then snuck back to the couch, finishing the first book, and then going straight for LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. My father, at this point, shooed me off the couch for his nap, and I just stretched out on the rug. The house carried on. The light began to go in the afternoon. My sister started singing upstairs. When I looked up again, returning from the swish of the Kansas grasses, from the sky of the High Prairie, it was dark.
That Christmas day I was given two perfect presents: a story that extended for as long and as far as I could follow it, and then the time and space to vanish fully, while still inside my house. The sweet comfort of that kind of escape is what I still long for as a reader, and it’s not too much to say that it’s one of the reasons I became a writer: for the chance to dive daily into that kind of vanishing, at my desk. But most of all, I hope it’s what my books can give.
Join us tomorrow as William Kent Krueger reflects on a well-loved gift that, over the years, has helped hold his family together.