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Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices Hardcover – November 13, 2012
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From School Library Journal
Writer, matriarch, mentor, friend, and icon, L'Engle was a complex person, ably presented here through the voices of family, friends, and acquaintances. A children's literature star, as author of the Newbery-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels as well as the Austin family series, L'Engle was also a committed Christian, a spiritual guide to many, and librarian and writer-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Marcus has wisely chosen not to try to simplify his portrait of this complicated woman, about whom many have very strong, sometimes contradictory, memories and feelings. "L'Engle tended carefully to departmentalize her vast and many-faceted universe," he explains. After an introductory summary, he presents more than 50 deftly edited interviews, organized by the role she played. The result is more like Hokusai's collection of views of Mt. Fuji, always with the subject in focus but also revealing a great deal of the surroundings. It is this rich addition that makes this biography a standout. Readers who may not have thought they needed or wanted to know quite so much about L'Engle's life will be charmed.-Kathleen Isaacs, Children's Literature Specialist, Pasadena, MDα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
That indefatigable interlocutor Marcus, who has seemingly interviewed everyone who is anyone in the world of children’s literature, now directs his attention to the late Madeleine L’Engle and his questions to a host of those who knew her. The book is divided into six sections: Madeleine in the Making, Writer, Matriarch, Mentor, Friend, and Icon. Best known for her Newbery Medal–winning and groundbreaking A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle was also a memoirist and a writer of adult nonfiction, much of it spiritual in nature. This aspect of her distinguished work might have made another section of the book but, as it is, remains a leitmotif throughout. If the work is a focus, what of the writer herself? The interviews are chockablock with adjectives and phrases that create this portrait in many voices. She appears to have been stately, formidable, scary, regal, noble, a grande dame, a classic presence, glamorous but also occasionally otherworldly, and, by many accounts, generous, charming, and gracious, especially to her friends and many mentees. That she was clearly a complex and fascinating person makes this a fascinating book and an excellent introduction to both L’Engle and her work. --Michael Cart
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As a result, she becomes many people in this very interesting book.
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
we are actually "listening for Madeleine." But through what editorial disaster was the chapter "Icon" allowed
to end the book? Or, to be honest, included at all? When this New Yorker piece was published, it was
widely recognized as a hatchet job whose distortions vilified L'Engle. The writer was simply incapable of
doing justice to L'Engle's work. She comes across as envious of her fame. She even throws in
various unproven sneers and smears at L'Engle's family. For Marcus to include this Mean Girl scribble,
and use it to conclude the book, shows a remarkable lack of respect for L'Engle and even for his own project.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
But many interesting tidbits about Madeleine. Certainly not a rose-colored-glasses look.