Friday, October 26, 2012

Books: Mrs Miniver

I'd like to talk about books.

Because books have shaped me. Books have grown me up. Books are a road-map of where I've been, and of where I've dreamed of going. So I'm going to slowly, quietly examine the books that loom large to me. I will write love letters to the books I love best.

Starting with Mrs Miniver, of course.

Every summer my family goes to the beach for a vacation, and for a few years we stopped along the way at a big antique store in Burgaw. The old tables and rings and quilts didn't interest me much, but on the second level, in the dusty lighting, they had a selection of books and magazines. I have perfected the Bookshelf Shopper stance, which involves standing with your head tilted to the side so as to read the sideways titles of the books.

I'm not sure why I picked up Mrs Miniver. It was a rusty brown hardback with scuffed corners and water stains. The gold lettering on the spine was so faded that I flipped to the title page. I'd never heard of the book, or the author. I read the first few pages anyway.

I fell in love.

Mrs Miniver is a series of newspaper columns originally published in 1937, written by Jan Struthers. They were later published as a collection two years later, just after WWII broke out. The columns center around a seemingly ordinary, but actually quite remarkable housewife named Caroline Miniver. What makes the stories sing is that they are grounded in truth -- the Minivers are thinly disguised versions of Jan Struthers' own family.

I think books should leave you with greater understanding. When you step into a book, you should walk out a little deeper, a little broader, a little taller. Every time I read Mrs Miniver, I come away looking at my world and my people in a gladdened way. Somehow Jan Struthers helps me understand why I love certain things, or how I think of certain ideas, or even what it's like work hard and long on a hot day. Mrs Miniver as a character lives deeply and enormously in each moment.

I have a hard time explaining my love for this book. As Mr Knightley said, "Perhaps if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more." All I know is that when I read Mrs Miniver, it feels like home.