Anne Shirley and the Pleasures of Reading for Pleasure

Berthe Morisot_icon

Berthe Morisot. Jeune fille sur un banc (1872).

Almost a year has passed since I last read or wrote for pleasure. Those conveyor-belt days were spent worrying, wrapped up in busy nothings or passed in the comforting monotony of turning pages, writing notes, typing essays. When summer began and my schedule relaxed, I was too burned out to pick up a book of my own volition. I seriously feared that my genuine enjoyment of reading has been left behind somewhere, struggling to catch up with demands for decoding, analyzing, close reading, and synthesizing text, text, and more text. I had started to trivialize the pleasure of reading a book for its own sake. If I couldn’t map out its narrative structure or engage with theory, how was I applying my knowledge? In an attempt to become a more educated reader I ceased to read at all.

Then, Anne creeped into my thoughts to save me. I picked up my edition containing the first two books of the series and — need I say it? — was liberated, free to rush through the words with abandon. And such words! Anne, and I feel L.M. Montgomery herself, was a kindred spirit: so close to my own inclinations, so dear and so real, though painted in words only and conjured in my head. She embodied the much needed reminder that fancies and dreams are as necessary to furnishing a life as practical concerns. I cannot convey how much I craved her company and the validation for imagining things just because, as a way of being. Anne became a bosom friend, she snatched my love before I could give it, just as Lizzy, Jo, Jane Eyre, and Margaret Hale had done before. The bountiful garden of fiction was blooming for me once more, and I did not have to labour to taste its fruit.

“But she had long ago learned that when she wandered into the realm of fancy she must go alone. The way to it was by an enchanted path where not even her dearest might follow her.” (L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea)

The near, if not altogether familiar, setting of Prince Edward Island, Canada and the enchanting landscape of Avonlea whisked me away from Toronto and transported me into a land of forests and lakes with magical names, a place where secret gardens and quaint stone houses waited round the bend, a world where Romanticism did not always get one in trouble and sometimes infused reality with its soft ethereal glow. I was at home.

Now that August arrives in its sun bronzed cloak, I am setting out for an adventure of my own and returning to scheduled readings and the familiar prison of word counts and double-spaced lines. This time I’ll remember that sticking to the straightest line hinders my freedom, and that singularity is achieved through difference. Like Anne, I can accept my multitude.

“There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.” (L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)



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