Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
Buy from

Rate this Book

Sonderbooks 80
     Previous Book
    Next Book

        Previous Book
        Next Book

Young Adult Fiction
Children's Nonfiction
Children's Fiction
Picture Books

2005 Stand-outs
2004 Stand-outs
    Previous Book
    Next Book

2003 Stand-outs
2002 Stand-outs
2001 Stand-outs

Five-Star Books
    Next Book

Four-Star Books
Old Favorites
    Previous Book
    Next Book

Back Issues
List of Reviews by Title
List of Reviews by Author

Why Read?
Children and Books
Links For Book Lovers
Book Discussion Forum

About Me
Contact Me
Make a Donation

I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


*****A Circle of Quiet

The Crosswicks Journals, Book 1

by Madeleine L'Engle

Reviewed June 23, 2004.
The Seabury Press, New York, 1972.  246 pages. 
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #1, Nonfiction Old Favorites

I reread A Circle of Quiet in honor of my 40th birthday.  I had entered a writing contest for unpublished authors of middle-grade novels, for which they were calling the winner on my 40th birthday.  I knew that ones chances of winning a contest are never too high, so just in case I didn’t win (and I didn’t), I decided to shore up my spirit by rereading this book.

Among other things, in A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle tells how she got a devastating rejection on her 40th birthday.  She decided that it was an obvious sign from heaven that she should stop trying to write and learn to be a good housewife.  Then, as she covered her typewriter, crying and renouncing writing, she noticed that her subconscious mind was busy working out a novel about failure.

“I uncovered the typewriter.  In my journal I recorded this moment of decision, for that’s what it was.  I had to write.  I had no choice in the matter.  It was not up to me to say I would stop, because I could not.  It didn’t matter how small or inadequate my talent.  If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.”

Of course, Madeleine L’Engle went on to win the Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time, and more than 40 years later, is a beloved author of numerous books.  She didn’t make that failure the end.  “What matters is the book itself.  If it is as good a book as you can write at this moment in time, that is what counts.  Success is pleasant; of course you want it; but it isn’t what makes you write.”

This isn’t the only theme in A Circle of Quiet.  It’s a meditative book, a book about life, about writing, and about being.  One thing I like about it is that my copy is full of pink highlighter, from the pen I used when I was in college.  I must have been 19 or 20 when I first read this book, and it was already full of meaning for me, even though at the time I wouldn’t have imagined that I would ever get to 40 and not be already published.

There’s lots to inspire in this book, and mine nicely stands out in pink.  A few examples:

“The concentration of a small child at play is analogous to the concentration of the artist of any discipline.  In real play, which is real concentration, the child is not only outside time, he is outside himself.  He has thrown himself completely into whatever it is that he is doing.  A child playing a game, building a sand castle, painting a picture, is completely in what he is doing.  His self-consciousness is gone; his consciousness is wholly focused outside himself.”

“I was timid about putting forth most of these thoughts, but this kind of timidity is itself a form of pride.  The moment that humility becomes self-conscious, it becomes hubris.  One cannot be humble and aware of oneself at the same time.  Therefore, the act of creating—painting a picture, singing a song, writing a story—is a humble act?  This was a new thought to me.  Humility is throwing oneself away in complete concentration on something or someone else.”

“The problem was really that I put two things first.  My husband and children came first.  So did my writing.  Bump.”

“During those difficult years I was very much aware that if I lost my ability to laugh, I wouldn’t be able to write, either.  If I started taking myself and my failure too seriously, then the writing would become something that was mine, that I could manipulate, that I could take personal credit—or discredit—for.”

“I made the mistake of thinking that I ‘ought’ not to write because I wasn’t making money, and therefore in the eyes of many people around me I had no business to spend hours every day at the typewriter.  I felt a failure not only because my books weren’t being published but because I couldn’t emulate our neighboring New England housewives.  I was looking in the wrong mirrors.  I still do, and far too often.  I catch myself at it, but usually afterwards.  If I have not consciously thought, ‘What will the neighbors think?’ I’ve acted as though I had.”

“If I accept the fact that I, ontologically speaking, was born a writer, was named Madeleine, am an inextricable blend of writer, wife, mother, then my virtue, or talent, is quite aside from the point.”

“I think that all artists, regardless of degree of talent, are a painful, paradoxical combination of certainty and uncertainty, of arrogance and humility, constantly in need of reassurance, and yet with a stubborn streak of faith in their validity, no matter what.”

“I haven’t lost any of my past, and am free to stand on the rock of all that the past has taught me as I look towards the future.”

“Joy is always a promise.”

“A great painting, or symphony, or play, doesn’t diminish us, but enlarges us, and we, too, want to make our own cry of affirmation to the power of creation behind the universe.  This surge of creativity has nothing to do with competition, or degree of talent.  When I hear a superb pianist, I can’t wait to get to my own piano, and I play about as well now as I did when I was ten.  A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write.  This response on the part of any artist is the need to make incarnate the new awareness we have been granted through the genius of someone else.”

“I loved Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales; and I loved George MacDonald, beginning with The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie.  Like all great fantasists, he has taught me about life, life in eternity rather than chronology, life in that time in which we are real.”

“A book that is only for grownups, or only for six-year-olds, or adolescents, may serve a purpose, but it is a limited purpose, and is usually bounded by its place in time and culture.  The most exciting books break out of this confinement and can be read at any period in time, in any country in the world, and by a reader of any age.”

“We tend, today, to want to have a road map of exactly where we are going.  We want to know whether or not we have succeeded in everything we do.”

“I am still every age that I have been.  Because I was once a child, I am always a child.  Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be.  Because I was once a rebellious student, there is and always will be in me the student crying out for reform.”

“A great work of the imagination is one of the highest forms of communication of truth that mankind has reached.  But a great piece of literature does not try to coerce you to believe it or to agree with it.  A great piece of literature simply is.”

“I wish that we worried more about asking the right questions instead of being so hung up on finding answers.”

It’s not quite fair for me to take all of these quotations out of context, though I’ve always found Madeleine L’Engle eminently quotable.  This book is still in print, and it’s well worth picking up a copy and absorbing this wisdom for yourself, reading the thinking that leads up to these nuggets of wisdom.

Reviews of other books by Madeleine L'Engle:
The Summer of the Great-Grandmother:  The Crosswicks Journals, Book 2
The Irrational Season:  The Crosswicks Journals, Book 3
Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, with Carole F. Chase
Glimpses of Grace, with Carole F. Chase
Walking on Water
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time audiobook
The Joys of Love

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

-top of page-