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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2012
It seems as if children's book critic Leonard S. Marcus has interviewed everyone of note in the world of children's literature. This experience serves him extremely well in his latest book, LISTENING FOR MADELEINE. Madeleine L'Engle, who died in 2007 after a long illness, is probably best known to readers as the author of A WRINKLE IN TIME and many other books for young people. She also published a number of memoirs, in which (as Marcus's numerous interviews make clear) she provided a somewhat idealized portrait of her childhood, marriage and family life.

Following a detailed and comprehensive introduction to L'Engle's life and works, Marcus divides his interviews --- many of which are recast as stand-alone narratives unpunctuated by interviewer questions --- into several sections, loosely grouping his interviewees according to the nature of their relationship with L'Engle. These include "Madeleine in the Making," "Writer," "Matriarch," "Mentor" and "Friend."

Most interesting are the voices from L'Engle's childhood, through whom we learn about her distant relationship with her parents, particularly her father, and about her tendency to live her life through her imagination rather than through social relationships --- more than one interviewee describes L'Engle as aloof or standoffish compared to her peers. Marcus seems to suggest that her lonely childhood and longing for her dad contributed to the number of absent fathers in her work, most notably Meg's quest to rescue her father in A WRINKLE IN TIME. L'Engle's own role as a wife and mother is also investigated in these interviews with her daughter and grandchildren; although they acknowledge that L'Engle was often distracted and more focused on book-writing than on child-rearing, their fondness for her and their acknowledgment of the difficulties she faced (which included her husband's serial infidelities and her son's death from alcoholism) shines through as well.

Marcus also includes a number of interviews with publishing professionals who interacted with L'Engle over the years, as well as a fascinating interview with a mathematician with whom L'Engle discussed the "tesseract" form of time and space travel. Writers with whom L'Engle was friendly are also well represented, including Jane Yolen, who views L'Engle as a pioneer in the then-unknown field of fantasy and science fiction for young people, and Judy Blume, who bonded with L'Engle over their views about censorship.

Most notably --- and perhaps controversially --- Marcus closes his collection with a brief interview with Cynthia Zarin, whose polarizing 2004 profile of L'Engle in The New Yorker offered the first glimpse of the woman behind the public persona and the written works. Zarin's article opened an important conversation about one of the most well-regarded and influential figures in children's literature; Marcus's book rounds out the portrait of this fascinating, flawed and brilliant woman.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Leonard S. Marcus has given Madeleine L'Engle fans a great gift in this carefully prepared and meticulously researched collection of interviews. By choosing to interview 50 people who knew L'Engle (in addition to the author of the controversial 2004 NEW YORKER article), Marcus allows us to see his subject in all her humanness. L'Engle herself tended to sugarcoat her life according to some interviewees, while others said she simply protected her own and her family's privacy. Marcus's interviewees go into many of the paradoxes of L'Engle's public persona, from troubles at home to idolization abroad. What emerges is a full-blooded portrait of an amazing woman: indominatable, hard-working, prolific, determined, generous, energetic, deeply spiritual while unafraid to challenge sacred cows, extraverted yet inner-oriented, headstrong, kind but capable of great insensitivity, proud and clear of purpose. L'Engle gained many fierce admirers in life but wound up with some critics and disillusioned fans as well. Don't expect this book to be a tell-all, however. Marcus maintains a respectful distance from the private lives of L'Engle's family and friends. Apparently, he decided that if L'Engle didn't want the specifics of her husband's infidelity, her adopted daughter's alienation or her son's fatal alcoholism known, he wouldn't take that approach either. Only as much as was printed in the NEW YORKER article, which Madeleine and her family approved while she still lived, is discussed in this book. I found it all fascinating. I highly recommend LISTENING FOR MADELEINE to anyone interested in a more complete picture of Madeleine L'Engle, human being and author extraordinaire.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2012
As a major Madeleine L'Engle fan, who actually met her, I found this book to be quite fascinating. I couldn't put it down. It is not what I expected it to be when I ordered it, but it was a wonderful book. In the end, it gives one a good picture of what Ms. L'Engle was really like: a gifted writer who was put on a pedestal by many, but who was a complex human being, like everyone else. I highly recommend this book, especially for Madeleine L'Engle fans.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2013
Her name says it all. I have been a fan since Wrinkle in Time first came out. Always wished I'd been able to meet the author, but feel after reading and collecting all her books that I kind of know her anyway. Now this book comes along and WOW--it's as though she is sitting in my living room telling me about her life. Can't say enough good things about this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 17, 2013
I found Listening for Madeline an unconventional biography. Most biographers I suspect would have taken the interviews and crafted a typical biography. Leonard Marcus allows his sources to speak for themselves. At the same time I suspect he should be credited for making these voices so uniformly engaging. The result is a multi-faceted look at a complex woman, with lots of facts unlikely to be found in a traditional biography (for instance, she cooked with lots of garlic). A few of the contributors were people with brief encounters and one was hostile due to ideological differences (I find it unhelpful to view writers through such a lens). A notorious New Yorker magazine article comes up often, and it would've been helpful to have it included as an appendix (it is available on-line). The author of the article is the last interview, and her thoughts are helpful.

I am more familiar with Madeline's non-fiction, though I've read a few of her novels. The contributors filled in details not found in the Crosswicks journals and other semi-memoirs. I was surprised to find Madeline not regarded as "evangelical", though I suppose the definition of that term is up for debate. Luci Shaw (and most evangelicals I know) might disagree. At the same time, I think Madeline was a free-thinker, and difficult to pigeon-hole. She had a strong faith, yet with a streak of universalism (which is slowly becoming less heretical among evangelicals), and tolerance of divergent views. In spite of so many voices, Listening for Madeline was rarely repetitive and hard to put down. I read it on a snowy New England weekend that became for me a personal retreat.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2013
A must read for all Madeleine L'Engle fans. This book describes her as a whole person, from the perspectives of the many people who had encountered her. She was a very interesting individual.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2013
This is a wonderful book: so many people have given voice to their relationship and feelings about Madeleine L'Engle.
As a result, she becomes many people in this very interesting book.

Johanna Hurwitz
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2013
However creating the book out of so many different voices meant it seemed somewhat scattered by the end. She remained mysterious.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2014
I found portions of this book fascinating. At least until the last section, "Icon" which ended the book in a mean spirited tone. Coming to the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder if, rather than being an illuminating look at a rich and complex woman, it was meant to be nothing more but a defense for the New Yorker article referenced so often in the text. That the author of that piece got the last word cemented the feeling that the overarching purpose was to topple a beloved "icon."
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2013
Madeleine L'Engle opened my eyes to worlds I never knew existed. However at various times I had difficulties with her/her writing/her teachings. This book is a nuanced look at the writer - warts and all - from many different perspectives. Worth reading.
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