Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea

A Great Pairing
The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Now that Melanie Benjamin's new novel The Aviator's Wife is on sale, we imagine that many of you are discovering Anne Morrow Lindbergh for the first time, and finding her to be an incredibly complicated and fascinating woman.

If you'd like to know more, we recommend that you pair your read of The Aviator's Wife with Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea, which was first published in 1955. The 1950s seem like a lifetime ago, and if fact, they are. Anne Morrow Lindbergh passed away in 2001, not long before the 50th Anniversary edition would be published. 

Anne's daughter Reeve, already 60 years old in 2001, wrote the introduction to the Anniversary edition. As Reeve said: "I never once had the sense that my mother's 1955 book has lost its freshness, or that the wisdom contained within its pages has ceased to apply, whether to my own life or to what I have learned, over time, of hers."

It's amazing how Anne Morrow Lindbergh's wisdom still resonates today. In one of the earliest chapter of Gift from the Sea, Anne observes and draws wisdom from a channelled whelk, a delicate shell that still washes up on the shores of Southwest Florida's beaches. Anne admired the shell's simplicity and perfect architecture, unlike her own life, which was "knobby with barnacles" and a "caravan of complications." Women's lives, Anne said, are plagued by "myriad pulls" that operate against creativity, contemplation and a saintly life. As Anne herself said: "I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women." Now what 21st century mother can't relate to that?

Anne wrote another chapter inspired by a rare find, the Double Sunrise, a perfectly matched bivalve shell with two sides like the wings of a butterfly. They're so delicate, barely hinged together. Anne wonders how their "fragile perfection survive[s] the breakers on the beach." I do too. Anne compare this shell to the early years of marriage, a pure, self-enclosed world of mutuality. Already middle-aged and married for 26 years when she wrote Gift From the Sea, Anne knows the "Double Sunrise" stage of marriage doesn't last: "the tide of life recedes." But she doesn't mourn the loss. Instead, she believes you should shed the shell that doesn't suit you anymore."What is one to do - die of atrophy in an outstripped form? Or move on to another form, other experiences?" 

Thanks to The Aviator's Wife, we now know that Anne and her charismatic husband had a rocky marriage with crushing tragedies and bruising betrayals. And yet they remained married for 45 years, until Charles' death at age 72. 

If you read Gift from the Sea along with The Aviator's Wife, you'll have even more to contemplate and discuss with your book club. What a complicated couple. What a great pairing. 

Don't forget, Melanie Benjamin will be at The Bookstore on Thursday, January 24th at 7pm to discuss her new book. Hope you can make it! And by the way, your book club could win an "Aviator's Wife Gift Basket" at the event, which just happens to include a complimentary copy of Gifts from the Sea.

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