Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Gentle Read

Recently I needed a new book to read before bed. Something simple that wouldn't be too gripping that could ease me to sleep. I have a shelf dedicated to old favorites from childhood/YA years, and I saw Madeleine L'Engle's Meet The Austin's. "Hey, that would be fun!" I thought. "I haven't read that since I was a kid!"

Oh my.

Um, it was kind of annoying. The Austins were L'Engle's concept of the perfect family. Two parents and four children in New England, with strong morals and high intellects. They spend their evenings singing psalms and quoting Shakespeare. Sometimes they fight, but gosh darn it, they love each other despite it all! The oldest one is building his own space suit. One of the girls wants to be a doctor and performs operations on her dolls. Their grandfather lives in a stable that he converted into a library (okay, that part is cool). They call their parents "Mother" and "Daddy", even the sixteen year old son. But when a young orphan named Maggy comes to live with them, she disrupts everything with her spoiled, selfish ways. Oh noes!

I loved the Austin books when I was younger, and read them over and over, but  I read them all out of order, and when I finally picked up Meet The Austins I distinctly remember not liking it as much as the others. This is the one where the narrator, Vicky, is thirteen, and doesn't do much more than talk about her awesome family, complain about Maggy, and crash her bike. In the other books she's a teenager, and there is Romance and Mystery and Intrigue. This book is merely the introduction of the world's nicest family, who always say grace before dinner and listens to classical music. My Reader's Advisory class at library school would probably classify this as a "Gentle Read."

A small part of me wants to re-read all the Austin books and blog about them, but I feel like snarking on L'Engle crosses a line somewhere. I have a feeling that even re-reading the books I liked might cause great amounts of snark, because I'm pretty sure that although Vicky gets more interesting and has Love Triangles, a lot of her teenaged angst has to do with whether God really exists and if we're just alone in this crazy universe. Just to be clear, I identify as an agnostic (I don't know what's out there after we die, and I don't think anyone else does either), but the heavy Christian overtones don't bother me too much since this was written in the 1960's and I consider it to be part of the time period. That said, goddamn, this one is preachy!

I grew up loving L'Engle's work, so I might leave the Austins and revisit the Murrys. The Murry/O'Keefe family traveled through time and space and even biology (the world of mitochondria!). However, I still might write a snarky review of Meet The Austins if there is popular demand for it.

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