A couple of weekends ago I ran some errands. I bought Ball jars for a weekend pickle project I had planned. I replenished our booze (vodka! bourbon! red wine! white wine! rosé, too!). Near the discount liquor store is an antique/tag sale warehouse that gets new things in every week. I like to go and just… browse. I walked out of there with a new typewriter for my collection. I have quite a few typewriters. This one’s a black Corona, circa 1930-something, in nice shape. I also nabbed a Harcourt, Brace, and World first edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (which is not the one that’s worth beaucoup bucks, sad to say). And I got an illustrated copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Let’s talk about Little Women, shall we?
I wasn’t an Anne of Green Gables girl. I don’t know why. I’m pretty sure I didn’t read A Wrinkle in Time until I was an adult. I know I read Judy Blume, but for whatever reason, her books didn’t resonate with me. I was a mother myself by the time the Harry Potter books came out. But Little Women? That book spoke to me. I read Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys multiple times as a kid.
About 15 years ago I was in Concord, Massachusetts, and visited Louisa May Alcott’s grave. I shed some tears and left a rose. Then about ten years ago I was in a book group and I suggested we all re-read Little Women. I was shocked, when I started to read it again. I actually put it down and didn’t continue. It was so religious. It was so didactic and preachy and fusty. I thought, “Why did I love this book so much?!” I thought, “What was my Little Women love affair actually based on?” And then the other week I bought this new, old copy of the book.
My life has recently been a bit overwhelming. I’m not going to go into it here, but suffice to say I needed something soothing to my soul. Something familiar. Something that would provide solace. And there, on my kitchen countertop, next to my beautiful black Corona, were Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. I picked up the book and dipped in. And stayed with it. When I got to page 90 I remembered exactly why this book spoke to me.
For those of you who know Little Women, I’m sure it’s no surprise that Jo was the sister I strongly identified with. Probably many of you reading this blog did. For those who haven’t read the book, she’s the one who’s the writer. She’s the one who’s sort of queer. She’s the one with the big mouth and the temper. I sure saw myself in Jo March.
Alas, 40 years later I’m Mrs. March’s age and still wrestle with my demons. It’s not specifically having a temper, like Jo speaks of. Louisa May Alcott’s Jo and family instilled something in me when I was a young girl though. It was hope. It was the idea that one could spend a lifetime endeavoring to be a better human being, and that is a worthy endeavor. It was that it is ok to keep trying—to aspire—to be good. That it’s a process. That it’s a journey. Can you tell I’m really enjoying reading this book again?
Sometimes a book can come into one’s life at a particular time when it makes a difference. And then later it doesn’t. And then it can again. Little Women is one of those books for me.
So keep writing, my friends. We writers can impact people’s lives. Children’s literature writers can make a huge difference for a young person—a difference that can last a lifetime—that can give hope and comfort, even when all grown up.