Our Reading Lives

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES Gave Me Life When I Didn’t Know I Needed It

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A few months ago at my local library, I had one of those experiences where a book I’d always wanted to read just sat there on the shelves, waiting to be plucked.

Anne of Green Gables is one of those books I’d heard a lot about off and on over the years, but I just hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I picked it up along with Little Women, another classic I’d never gotten to. For a few glorious weeks in September, I read them both back to back.

anne of green gables

About 20 pages in, I fell in love with Anne Shirley, the fierce redhead orphan who hates her hair color but loves just about everything else. As someone who works with kids for a living, I thought Lucy Maud Montgomery perfectly captured both the awkwardness and the unique charm of growing up.

I also realized, as I was about halfway through, that Anne’s eternal optimism was literally giving me life in the midst of a hard and troubling year. Observe these gems and see if you don’t feel the same:

“Anne reveled in the world of color about her. ‘Oh, Marilla,’ she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with her arms full of gorgeous boughs, ‘I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill—several thrills?’”

“It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.”

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

“Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it…yet.”

“If you can’t be cheerful, be as cheerful as you can.”

The book surely isn’t perfect. It’s not diverse, and there are some troubling notions about gender expectations and roles that are the product of its time (the book was published in 1908). But the novel was very progressive and feminist in many ways. Anne chafes against and defies nearly every convention society sets for her. She winds up changing the minds and the expectations of many of the stuffy men and women she grows up around.

I was on the subway home one night, reading Anne and laughing out loud like a maniac, when I realized that this was the sort of book I needed in my life right now. There’s been a lot of hardship and a lot of pain, and reading Anne of Green Gables felt like a much-needed breath of air.

And in some ways it felt like the perfect antidote to all of the crazy, messy, everyone’s-always-angry-about-something world that we’ve built here, mostly through the help of social media. Anne always finds a way to see the best in everyone (except Gilbert Blythe, but even that resolves itself eventually) and even though she’s had an extremely hard and difficult life, sees the world as a magical place worth waking up in every day.

I needed a character like Anne to come into my life this year. And I felt that maybe a lot of other people did too. It made me think about the power of literature to unite and uplift, and I was grateful that I found this 111-year-old classic just when I needed it. Sometimes you find that you read a certain book and it speaks to the exact moment that you’re in in life. You know that if you had read it at another time, it wouldn’t have the same effect.

For the record, I loved Little Women as well, but in an entirely different way. Perhaps that’s for another post at another time…

What books have you read that you found you desperately needed at the exact time you needed it?