This Book Is so Completely Great


Chestnut and I had a small
set-to the other night, wherein she wanted me to read You Be the Jury and
I wanted to read The Secret Garden. I've got nothing against We the
Jury, it just wasn't as interesting to me. But then again, it was Chestnut's bedtime, not mine. We went back and forth and compromised on one story from Jury,
a few pages from Garden.

I figured this was the end of our Secret Garden reading, because now that I had
outed myself as totally partisan she would drop it like a hot potato,
but lo and behold, two nights ago she asked me to read some more of it.
Then last night, another chapter. And WOW.
That book is just so amazing. I'd forgotten, somehow, though the scenes
themselves stayed firmly in my mind. Mary waking up to meet Martha, who
asks her "Cana tha' dress tha'sel?" The broad lonely moor, the rain
lashing the windows. And Mary is so
pinched and disagreeable, which makes her all the more sympathetic,
even with all her racism, nastiness, imperiousness. The book makes you
so willing to take a chance on her, and on it, and the feeling of that
just echoes everywhere—the frightening moor, unpleasant Colin, sharp
unpleasant Mary. Once you take time with them they flower (just like
the garden itself), which makes it such a hopeful and reassuring thing to
read. No matter how small and unhappy we are, there is the possibility
of us opening beyond ourselves. It was Diana who gave me this insight
into it. Not that she was it was hopeful. Instead she said that each
one of them is a secret, just like the garden, and that's what she
liked about the book.
And reading it again now, oh my, how I love it. It's one of those books in which you read three words and then whoosh, the words disappear and you're there inside the story, until something happens to knock you out of it. Such a pleasure to read at all, and such a pleasure to read with her. It's one of those things I hope I can keep in mind, when I'm thinking about how my life is. It makes it all seem good.

12 thoughts on “This Book Is so Completely Great

  1. I don’t know why I have never “gotten” the Secret Garden. I tried to read it a few times at different ages, and I think I even gave it a go as an adult at one point, and I could never get through it. Those boring, nasty people! I know it’s beloved and I wish I could get on the bandwagon.
    Ah well, that’s what makes horse races.


  2. This was my favorite book as a girl, and I love Diana’s interpretation — exactly. And I have to say that the movie made a while back is actually wonderful — the closest approximation to what I had conceived as I could imagine.


  3. I never got into it as a girl, but as a teacher in training I was told to read it to a class as their read-aloud. It was so good, so good. I will put it on the to-be-read list for my daughter who is loving Mary Poppins right now. Thanks for the reminder!


  4. reading this book to my daughter was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. As an erstwhile actress, I threw myself into the Yorkshire accent (hard to read to yourself when you’re only 6) and the two of us followed Mary on her magical journey.
    Plus, my Maggie even planted her own garden! It “dies” every winter, but comes back with crocus, tulips, and hyacinths in spring.
    This year she read “A Little Princess” on her own and I was really sad to be left out of the telling. Still, she loved it just as much, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?


  5. I love Diana’s insight into the book. Actually, when I think of that book, I have a lot of warm memories, but one of the things that stands out to me was really how much about the book I didn’t undertand. Not the plot, per se, but a lot of the language and the subtleties of her attitudes to everyone and even words like “sallow.” And they didn’t make the book any less enjoyable to me; rather, it was like this book must be a window into some other world I hardly knew. At the same time that I want to choose books my kids can follow and ensure that they enjoy them, it’s a reminder that there’s value in things we have to work to understand.


  6. Funny you should mention this! Just last night I rediscovered a beautiful annotated copy I was given for Christmas, and thought, gosh I really don’t want to forget to reread this soon. Maybe I should start now.
    I also loved this as a girl–and, like Kendra, didn’t pick up on everything–but it was still magical all the same. Your daughter is so insightful, too. I’ll remember what she said when I pick this one up again.
    So–is The Little Princess next? I read that at the same time, I think they were both in a set, and loved them in equal measure.


  7. Lovely post…I’m another lover of The Secret Garden. Even though my mom named me after Sara Crewe in A Little Princess, it’s The Secret Garden that’s my favorite.


  8. It’s beautiful and one of my favorites. I love the Hallmark movie version of it so much more than the film that came to the theaters. If you haven’t seen that one, rent it. It is fantastic. I love this author and the book and movie are just magical.


  9. I love the first 3/4 or so but I always have a hard time at the end, when it stops being about gardens and starts being about “the Magic.” It’s not that change is mysteriously happening–it’s that no one can shut up about how change is mysteriously happening. (I recently read her adult novel The Shuttle, about an American heiress who rescues her sister from an evil English lord and restores the estate, and that too was overstuffed with mystical stuff about The Hand of Fate. Because it’s for grownups you can tell Burnett is reading Theosophy and eugenics and other contemporary woo-woo stuff.) But the beginning with the epidemic in India is one of the best and scariest things ever.


  10. Brynn and I tried to read this, but she was thoroughly freaked out by the beginning and would wake up in the middle of the night and run into our room screaming to make sure we hadn’t died in our sleep. Too young, I suppose. But you don’t know until you try.


  11. My favorite was always A Little Princess, but I loved The Secret Garden as well. I had the Tasha Tudor illustrated books and her pictures were simply amazing – those are the ones I always recommend to people. I wonder if other people are as tied to certain illustrated editions of books as I am. I can’t imagine Burnett’s books without Tudor’s illustrations, for instance; other illustrations seem really wrong to me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.