Thursday, June 11, 2020

Revisiting Old Favorites--The Secret Garden

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Last week, an English friend on Facebook posted a link to a video tour of the gardens at Great Maytham Hall in Kent, which is best known as the inspiration for the novel THE SECRET GARDEN by the English/American author Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

 

Burnett lived at Great Maytham for almost ten years, but it was only after she returned to America that she wrote what would become her most famous novel. 

I was very intrigued by the fact that just after Burnett left Great Maytham, the gardens were redesigned by the famous Arts and Crafts architect Edward Lutyens, and planted by his friend, the garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. I did a great deal of research on Jekyll when I was writing A BITTER FEAST--the gardens at Beck House are based on Jekyll's designs, and Beck House itself was (fictionally) built at almost the exact time Lutyens was restoring Great Maytham. 

Burnett, like Jekyll, was quite the character, eccentric and forward-thinking. She was also prolific, writing more than fifty popular novels, mostly for adults. It's unlikely she would have expected to be remembered for a children's book.

Of course, after seeing the video, I had to hunt up my copy of the book--which turned out to be not mine, but my daughter's, inscribed to her by her paternal grandmother on her 11th birthday. It had been years since I'd read it, and I picked it up more out of curiosity than a real desire to reread it, but after the first few pages I was hooked. I barely put the book down until I finished it the next day.


It's a simple enough story. Ten-year-old Mary Lennox, orphaned by a cholera epidemic in India, is sent to her widowed uncle's grand house on the Yorkshire Moors. Unloved and unloveable, Mary is left to her own devices, but she soon discovers a gate leading to a secret and neglected garden. Mary, her invalid cousin, and a local boy, Dickon, hatch a plan to bring the garden back to life, and in doing so, Mary and her cousin are made whole.

The prose is so lush, evocative, and joyous, and the children's emotional journey so compelling, that I hated for the book to end. My daughter's copy is a bit tattered, so I ordered my own, to read whenever I need a boost and a little escape from the present day woes.

So, dear REDS and readers, are you finding any classics a comfort these days?

 



82 comments:

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  2. “The Secret Garden” is one of my favorites, too, but “The Velveteen Rabbit” is usually my go-to “raise my spirits” book . . . .

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  3. I’ve just reread the Lord of the Rings. Affirmation that good triumphs in the end

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    1. Rhys, when you told us you were rereading Lord of the Rings I thought, what a GREAT idea. However, my New Year's resolution was to read Reds, and I've been doing that instead. JRW books have lifted my spirits throughout this crazy time.

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    2. Like Rhys, I have often reread Lord of the Rings, but during the last couple of months I've been revisiting the Harry Potter books, listening to them on Audible every night in the bath. Jim Dale's narration is so wonderful that you completely lose yourself in the story. I am only on The Prisoner of Azkaban, so have a lot of books to go! Yesterday I was looking in the shelf where I keep the Harry Potter books and discovered that I have the first five books on CASSETTE TAPE! I don't even own anything that plays cassettes any more. I wonder if someone collects these? They were very expensive, too, how many ever years ago.

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    3. Just curious if anyone has ever listened to the audio version of Lord of the Rings?

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    4. I am tempted to do that.
      The summer Jonathan turned 5, I read him The Hobbit as the bedtime story. It took most of the summer. When we finished, I told him there are 3 more stories, much darker and with more frightening situations and scary characters, but I'd read it to him if he wanted me to. "Yes." It took the entire school year reading before bed every night, but he loved it. Most nights, Irwin came in a listened, too. It's such a great memory.

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    5. What a great experience, Judy. And don't you think that books that are read aloud make a deeper impression?

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    6. Loved the HARRY POTTER novels, though I was not interested at first. LOL. It took a 9 year old relative to convince me to give them another try! Regarding audio version, I only read books on tape IF they are UNABRIDGED so that I can listen to the words and read the book at the same time to train my hearing brain to listen for different words.

      Diana

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    7. What a great idea! My cochlear implant is scheduled for July 20th. I will use this method to help my hearing brain assimilate.

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  4. I reread some middle grade mysteries in March and April, but I have run into a few longer books and haven't had the time since.

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  5. No, I rarely re-read any books, with my towering TBR piles and looming ARC deadlines in mind.

    The only exception would be that I have been browsing COOKBOOKS that I have not opened in years. But I am trying NEW recipes from these books and not remaking fave dishes.

    Two of these books are: The Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman and Goldy's Kitchen Cookbook by mystery author Diane Mott Davidson.

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    1. Grace, I just downloaded a copy of Goldy's cookbook, which I had not known existed before last week. She had so many great recipes that I have been keeping her books with my cookbooks. Now I won't have to.

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    2. Karen, although I enjoyed reading all of Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Schulz books, I only own 4 of them. So when I saw the Goldy's Kitchen cookbook in a B&N a few years ago, I knew I had to buy it. Besides having all of Goldy's recipes, I like that the book is also a memoir of her journey from cooking novice to best-selling author/recipe creator. Hope you find some great recipes to try.

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    3. Grace, I'm a big fan of Deb Perlman and I have The Smitten Kitchen. During the lockdown in New York she's been doing some Instagram videos, cooking in her tiny kitchen with her sons. Great fun to watch.

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    4. Ooooh, I did not know that Deb P. did videos, Debs. Thanks for the tip! I rarely use Instagram but will search for those videos. I get the Smitten Kitchen weekly email every Monday morning with (new) recipes so I actual didn't use her cookbook that often until the lockdown.

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    5. Grace,

      Cookbooks can be great comfort reads too. It is always fun to try a new recipe, right?

      Diana

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    6. Yes, it is usually a lot of fun to try a new recipe, Diana. Even recipe fails can be a learning experience!

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  6. How lovely to find solace in an old book, Debs. Like Grace, I rarely reread anything. I'm reading through all of Ann Cleeves, which provide the solace of great writing and brilliant storytelling.

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    1. Still, it is nice to have a comfort read, right?

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  7. Unlike Grace, I am a chronic re-reader. It doesn't matter how large my TBR pile gets, if I want to revisit an old friend, I just set it all aside and do it. Last summer I began to reread the Duncan/Gemma books and James Benn's Billy Boyle series, too. Last week I picked up where I'd left off (finishing And Justice There is None yesterday) and even though I've sent some off to my bestie in Rhode Island, I'll read a few more before I send her the next set. My next Audible is :Now May You Weep.

    Deb, is that what you meant by classic?
    BTW, I'll buy The Secret Garden this week. I've never read it.

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    1. In my defense, my TBR pile is over 10,000 books (no typo!). Frankly, I won't ever get close to reaching the bottom of that TBR pile, so no repeats are in my future.

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    2. I have so many books on my TBR list too. More like 600, not 10,000. Sometimes I am not in a mood to read a new novel and instead I want to read an old book that is always a comfort to me.

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  8. I have not gone to classics for comfort. But when I was a child I read HEIDI so many times I could almost recite it. After my mother's death a few years ago my childhood copy came back into my hands, and as I write it I can see it on a nearby shelf. The spine is broken and the cover over it half detached. It may just be calling my name....

    BTW, for those of you who like musical theater, there is a lovely stage version of THE SECRET GARDEN that was on Broadway in the 1990's. My son's high school did it about ten years ago. It is an adaptation worthy of the book, and the music is absolutely gorgeous. (Hearing my son and a friend sing the duet "Lily's Eyes" is a treasured memory!)

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    1. I loved Heidi, too, Susan. I hadn't thought of it for years. And I think there might be a video of the stage version of The Secret Garden?

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  9. I never read the Secret Garden and I don't know why. I don't remember ever seeing it on a shelf or being recommended. Now I feel my education has been lacking. I do like to reread books for another visit with old friends. One knows exactly what to expect and is never disappointed. I recently read, for the second time, Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilchard. It must have been 25 years ago that I read it and all I remembered was that I loved it. Very glad I read it again because there was nothing familiar at all. But I probably loved it even more than the first time because I had more knowledge of WW2 and life during that time.

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    1. I've never read Coming Home, Judi, but it sounds like something I would love.

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  10. Recently, I reread Martin Walker's entire Bruno, chief of police series, set in the Dordogne. I focused on the history (WW2 and more recent) of the area as well as the food, cave paintings, and buildings. Our visit was postponed till May 2021. Can't wait!

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    1. I have not read any of these! I have the first one in my to-read shelves, but just haven't managed to get to it. I really must.

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  11. I've never read The Secret Garden, I think because there was some (old) saccharine movie made based on the story and I decided to skip the book in my youth. Maybe I'll give it a try now. The Canterbury Tales--to remind myself that storytelling is something we have always done and that great stories, well written, are there when we need them.

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    1. Yes, yes, absolutely to your thoughts on storytelling.I am convinced "tell me a story" is a human need.

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    2. Oh, yes, isn't it wonderful to be reminded of the power of story telling?

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  12. I've read and reread THE SECRET GARDEN many times, and I always think of it when I come across gardens, both beautiful and neglected. Most of my childhood books were read many times, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, LITTLE WOMEN, HEIDI, THE JUNGLE BOOKS.

    Today I still reread: all of Debs', all of Louise Penney, all of Ann Cleeves just for starters. There is something so comforting about revisiting old friends. Besides, I have a terminal case of CRS, so I always forget whodunit anyway.

    Up here on the tundra we have not only flattened the curve, but we are almost back to where we started three months ago, thanks to social distancing and masks. So we are moving into Phase 3 the end of the week, which means outdoor dining and pedicures! But I don't see my reading decreasing. Losing myself in a book is my way of coping with the current state of the Union.


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    1. Ann: CRS?? I don't think you mean Common Reporting Standard, do you?? Do tell...

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    2. Uh, at the risk of getting censored, CRS stands for Can't Remember S**T

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    3. Ha. Years ago my sister, now gone, gave me a square red CRS pin.

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  13. I love to re-read old favourites, and the top shelf of my bedroom bookshelf holds my treasured childhood reading treasures: horsy books, ballet books, nurse books. It's the horsy ones I especially love to reread; Jill, the main character, and her friends are kind, thoughtful and resourceful. Their adventures are always fun to immerse myself into, even though I pretty much know them off by heart. In addition, there is a Facebook group of fans of the Jill series and the members and the posts make for simple good fun every day. I visit there often, too.

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    1. I've never heard of those, Amanda. Were they Canadian?

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    2. No, British - very British, Deborah. The author is Ruby Ferguson and the first one is called Jill's Gymkhana. Originally published in the late 1940s. Jill's mother is a young widow, who earns her living writing sappy-sweet children's books of which Jill makes sarcastic comments throughout the entire series. However, they earn her mum enough money to keep Jill in ponies, so it's all good. Quite forward thinking stuff for that era, and still great fun to read these days.

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    3. What fun! My daughter would have loved these, too. We brought her Enid Blyton books whenever we went to the UK, as at that time you couldn't just order them!

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    4. Oh yes! Enid Blyton - I read both her boarding-school series over and over again, also. St. Clare's and Mallory Towers. Loved them!

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  14. I have a stash of favorite children's books that I revisit when I want something soothing, and "The Secret Garden" is among them. But my all-time faves are the "Freddy the Pig" books by Walter Brooks.

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  15. When I need comfort I go to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia books. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Magician’s Nephew are my favorites out of the seven books. Also Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

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    1. Mary, I just read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time last year. I still have most of my children's books, and I realized I'd never read it, when I was packing them for our move. A great adventure!

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    2. I loved a Wrinkle in Time - read it about ten years ago for the first time.

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    3. I read A Wrinkle in Time is 6th grade--our teacher read it to the class--and have loved it ever since. I went on to read all of Madeleine L'Engle's books, both for children and adults. She was a wonderful writer.

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  16. I am not usually a rereader but now I'm thinking about revisiting THE SECRET GARDEN which was the first book that truly mesmerized me. It's still so vivid in my memory after 50+ years.

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    1. Yes, I can see why. There is so much love poured into that book. My theory is that Burnett spent her happiest years in the garden at Great Maytham, but in 1907 it went up for sale. Although she could afford to rent the place, she could not buy it. She wrote The Secret Garden when she was resettled in New York, and I think it was her way of revisiting something she loved dearly.

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  17. I blame having a lot of author acquaintances and friends for not rereading books as much any more. Too many intriguing reads on offer!

    Usually I reread An Innocent Abroad, by Mark Twain, about every ten years, but I have not been able to make myself do so lately. It's so disheartening to realize that so many Americans are still so xenophobic, insular, and just plain dumb, well over 100 years later.

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  18. I *LOVE* The Secret Garden! I was so happy to see you writing about it today, Deb - there's a moment when Mary and Dickon who've found the gate to the secret garden manage to get inside, and she sees the ground springing to life while Mary herself is in her own way springing to life... it's such a beautiful passage... going right now to find my copy and reread. She also wrote The Little Princess, another of my all time favorites, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. All in all an amazing body of work.

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    1. Both Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Little Princess were popular in their time, and I think Burnett helped produce some of the stage adaptations. The Secret Garden, written much later, didn't make much of a stir. While I enjoyed the other two books, especially The Little Princess, I think The Secret Garden is by far the best.

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    2. Deborah, thank you because I did not know that Burnett wrote novels for grown ups too. Which makes me wonder if future generations will know Jennifer Weiner as the author of the LITTLEST BIGFOOT, rather than the adult novels that she wrote? I loved THE LITTLEST BIGFOOT.

      Diana

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  19. I read The Secret Garden when I was a tween, because my mother recommended it. I read it again maybe 20 years ago because my mother had found a copy at a library sale and told me all about the fun she was having rereading it. I got a copy, and we reread it together. Perhaps it's time to find my copy and read it again.

    There are several novels I reread from time to time, because I like the characters so much. The other day, when I was completely fed up with the world, I reread one of J. D. Robb's In Death books just because it's so much fun to watch Eve kick ass with enthusiasm.

    But I don't have to reread to get that kind of comfort. I started Annette's Zoe Chambers series a while ago, and find I really enjoy going back to Monongahela County when the world gets crazy. Reading new adventures by characters who have become old friends is satisfying and comforting, too. Now, if only Duncan and Gemma could get off their duffs . . .

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    1. I second Gigi's "get off their duffs" encouragement for you, Deborah!

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  20. I'm very curious about Burnett now. I think I may have to find a biography.

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  21. I'll make this fast and read everyone's comments during lunch. I love The Secret Garden. I know I've read it a couple of times. I was the person under the tree reading books instead of running around so spent many as summer day reading lots of Nancy Drew then Dumas, Alcott, Twain. My advantage was that my grandparents had two copies of most classics, one for each of their sons so I just started reading my dad's and somehow they never made it back to my grandparents house. :-) When I was unemployed for a summer, I read the whole Anne Of Green Gables series. I'd never read all of them before. I did reread all of Julia's books before I cracked the spine of Hid From Our Eyes. Off to work, stay safe out there.

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    1. Deana, I didn't read Anne of Green Gables as a child, but discovered them in my twenties and read all the books. I wonder if there is anyone writing stories like that these days.

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  22. The Secret Garden is wonderful. I also enjoy some of Burnetts adult books that I read on Gutenberg. Esp. The making of a marchioness and The Shuttle. Fascinating and the villains are so vivid, really villains and not just people you don't like much��. My children's comfort read is the books by Janet Lambert. Written while she was traveling with her husband to Army posts. Such fun to read and there are lots of them

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    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Eileen, and I'll try Gutenberg for the adult Burnetts! I don't know Janet Lambert, so will look those up, too.

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  23. Deborah, I have the exact same edition of THE SECRET GARDEN. I loved that book. I was thinking of reading that book again. I have so many comfort reads. Many children's classics are comfort reads for me.

    ANNE OF GREEN GABLES

    WINNIE THE POOH

    ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

    BEATRIX POTTER STORIES

    And there are wonderful books like Charlie Mackey's THE BOY, THE HORSE, THE MOLE. The drawings. The stories. I am finding comfort in the simplicity of stories right now.

    Stay safe,
    Diana

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    1. Diana, I don't know the Mackey books. Thanks for the suggestion`!

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    2. Deborah, you are welcome! I sent you a DM.

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  24. Ah, did you all know there is a sequel to THE SECRET GARDEN titled RETURN TO THE SECRET GARDEN? Not by Burnett, but by Susan Moody, who also wrote a series of mysteries involving Bridge (Grand Slam, etc.). I've not read it, though it's on the shelf.

    I also have been rereading old favorites, doing "comfort reading" in these stressful times. After reading the first couple of Redwall books by Brian Jacques, I went for the real favorites, Ann McCaffrey's Pern books. While the author has a suggested order in which to read them, after reading the series a few times, I have my own preferred order, and that's what I'm doing. I started my fourth book last night, Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern. I have them all in hard cover, but print size on the older books may drive me to Kindle editions.

    Other very favorites and candidates for rereading are Rhys' Evans books, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Hammett's The Continental Op stories, Winnie The Pooh, any Mike Shayne novel, any Maigret novel or short story set, several of Agatha Christie's Poirot novels or short stories, and, yes, Hemingway.

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    1. Rick, I loved the McCaffrey books, but haven't read them in years! I may still have a few on my sci-fi/fantasy shelf, maybe in hardcover. Like you, I've discovered the print size on old paperbacks to be really daunting. My vision is actually better now than it was years ago, so I wonder how I managed to read some of those books...

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    2. Rick, I know Susan Moody, although I haven't thought of her in years. I seem to remember vaguely that she wrote a sequel to The Secret Garden but I don't remember if I read it. If so, it didn't stick with me!

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  25. (I answered the question earlier, but seems to have gotten lost. Apologies if I am duplicating) The short answer to " do I re-read old favorites for comfort" is yes, absolutely. Perfect for winding down to sleep, being up unwillingly at 3 AM, any time of trouble. If I tried share titles, it would be a very long answer. I started out as a children's librarian and I have several shelves! Most of your favorites, and more: Melendy family, Lovelace, Eager, Daddy Long Legs,Sherwood Ring,Amazing Vacation (anyone else knowthat one? Really wonderful) Strangely, I did read and love Secret Garden as a child, and again in early adulthood, getting reacquainted with the classic. And then I guess I forgot about it. Thank you! Going off right now to find it. Pretty sure I have a copy somewhere...and who knows what else I might find while searching?

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  26. I loved The Secret Garden. My fourth grade teacher read to us every day and that was one of the books. I still have a copy but haven't looked at it in years. I mainly stick to books in my TBR pile. There are so darn many of them. But I will get the urge to reread a book because of the characters or setting.

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  27. I am like Grace, I have a lot of TBR's staring at me. I did do a bit of rereading John Scalzi early in March, then switched to Simon R. Green. His horror/fantasy/comedy works helped the mood, telling me things could be worse, sentient houses that eat their occupants anyone?

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    1. Coralee, I've never read Scalzi, but I'm a huge fan of Jim Butcher and Ben Aaronovitch. Would I like Scalzi's books?

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  28. For Tolkien fans, this book, just profiled in the Washington Post, sounds fabulous. I have ordered it!

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/lose-yourself-in-the-places-that-inspired-jrr-tolkien/2020/06/08/439dcb10-a683-11ea-b619-3f9133bbb482_story.html

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  29. I just counted, I have a small bookcase in the bedroom with my most current, top of the stack TBR books. There are 60 of them. Oh my, and here I am rereading. But strange times call for firm measures.

    Deborah, I think Scalzi and Ben Aaronovitch are apples and oranges.

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  30. Deborah, have you seen the Mina Lima version of The Secret Garden? All the words of Burnett, with incredible popups and interactives. I bought one for my 11 year old niece, then one for myself to go with my Tasha Tudor illustrated copy. You've probably been to their shop in Soho, but if not, add it to your list for your next trip to London. It's also a Harry Potter lovers delight!

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    1. Mary, I did not know about MinaLima!!! And part of my book in progress is set in Soho! thanks so much for the info!

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  31. (oh darn, my comment died. Let me try and recreate...)

    I've been doing virtually nothing but rereads since mid-March. (My usual score for rereads is 1 in 3)

    And lately, my reading is ALL THINGS KINGSOLVER.

    I started with The Bean Trees, then Pigs in Heaven, then Animals Dreams. Then Unsheltered (a new read!) and on and on.

    I can't help it. Kingsolver is my drug of choice right now. She takes her characters through political nightmares and tough realities, and she leads them--and us--into Hope. Yes, Hope.

    I need this woman.


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    1. I hate to admit I've never read Kingsolver!! Argh, so many books, not enough hours in the day!!

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  32. This is SO fascinating--and I am SO late! I will confess, and probably a good thing I'm a straggler today, I do not like that book at all. At. All.
    Now, take the Edward Eager books--those I loved, and still absolutely love. Half Magic, and Knights Castle? SO great. xxx

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  33. Love to reread. It's keeping me going as I find it hard to concentrate some days.
    THE SECRET GARDEN! I love it. I remember sitting on the living room sofa reading it and ignoring the world around me. At the wedding of a neighbor's child, many years ago, the bride came running up to me to say how happy she was we came and to tell me thank you so much for introducing her to THE SECRET GARDEN which made her into a reader. I wept. She was a latch key child and I had taken her to the library with me one afternoon before her parents got home from work. As a teacher I finished by 3:30 or 4. She's now a news producer in a small town out west.

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