I'm afraid there was rather an unladylike ripping open of the package when it arrived because I'd really been looking forward to this one.
A Narrative Compass - Stories That Guide Women's Lives edited by Betsy Herne and Roberta Trites.
It's such a finely tuned book and though it has emerged from the Academy and this is women scholars talking of the impact that a story read in childhood had on their lives, I think it's easy enough for all us non-Academy women to relate to the premise and look at our own narrative compass alongside theirs.
In the words of the great man of the fairy tale, Jack Zipes
'Never before have I read such insightful and unique accounts about the power of books in determining the paths that we have taken in our lives. These extraordinary stories are counter-narratives to the dominant male discourse of academia, revealing how academia has benefited from stories that it has sought to exclude.'
It's a lesser known fact that some years ago I started and quickly abandoned an MA in Childrens' Literature knowing that I had gone in the wrong direction completely, but I was on the trail long enough to discover the writing of Jack Zipes.
I had decided to adopt Jack as my readable and accessible critic for the duration, every student needs one of those.
In a fit of wild abandon and enthusiasm I had bought all his books (and I mean all) when I started the course and in a fit of guilt I quickly sold them all again when I pulled up the stumps after one module, so sadly I have no Jack Zipes to fall back on now, but I think that accolade from him speaks volumes about the literary merits of A Narrative Compass.
I fear I'm often off on a frolic of my own with my reading, but this is all given some substance as A Narrative Compass highlights the importance of storytelling as a means of conveying emotions, gathering and processing information and the need to break down the barriers between the professional and the personal. In this case the editors gave permission to a varied cohort of scholarly women to write from the heart, and the results are as fascinating as they are profound as the women strive to describe their academic work in first-person narrative form with reference to the childhood story which may have unwittingly governed their thinking.
Interestingly a book which has been on my shelf for years was cited as a forerunner, Writing a Woman's Life by Carolyn Heilbrun
Many of the women felt vulnerable and unsafe with the idea of storytelling per se and very far from their comfort zone of academic jargon and the language of theory and quickly reverted to it, others clearly just spread their wings and flew with the writing and the chance to write about themselves, to insert their real self into the narrative and I could tell as I read who had done that.
Roberta Seelinger Trites with her wonderful essay Journeys with Little Women jumps in with both feet and gives an impressive account of her life with Jo and Amy,
'I have known and loved Jo and Amy for more than thirty-five years. I have learned much from them, and they have followed me throughout my career - or more accurately, I have followed them...the story of my academic journey, then, is a tale of conventionality and nonconformity, of renunciation and reward...'
There is a good range of stories and authors covered here among them, Alice in Wonderland, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Beauty and the Beast, E.M Forster's A Passage to India and many more.
I think you might all have to read this book for yourselves to place yourself in a schema of your own making and with reference to your own childhood reading but it's made me think with increased clarity about mine, What Katy Did, Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden.
In the interests of balance, don't miss what Hilary Mantel thinks about Little Women and What Katy Did either, it's not all sweetness and light and good news, but for me A Narrative Compass has been a catalyst to some very interesting thoughts of my own if not a timely reminder that the Mariner's Compass is another quilting narrative that remains unfinished.