When I was about ten a pen pal came to visit from all the way across the country and I didn’t notice her for a few days after discovering a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins in her suitcase.
“Want to go swimming?” she would ask. “Want to ride bikes? Want to watch TV?”
No. I was reading. I was busy becoming an Austin. There were four kids in that family and in my family there was only me, but for the duration of the book and all subsequent readings, I owned those brothers and sisters. I had to make sure Vicki recovered from her fall off her bike, that Maggie didn’t get Suzie into too much trouble, that nobody froze during the ice storm. A beloved pen pal paled in comparison.
That’s what reading used to feel like: changing into something better, or at least different, for a short time. Becoming the characters. Changing forever.
You know I had to quote this. I was just so surprised to see someone else mention Meet the Austins this way.
I suppose it’s funny to list Meet the Austins as a Book that Changed My Life, but it was. (Perhaps the first?) I was 12, the book was a gift/prize from the school librarian for some aborted contest I’d entered (random!), and after meeting the Austins I was addicted to MLE to the point where seeking out all her books was a quest for me for a long time. (I even found/read the elusive Ilsa.) And, arguably, MLE was my entry into literary fiction. So, yeah, defining moment.