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A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Greetings, fellow Book Lovers!
Today, I’m very excited to bring you, Chuck Rybak.
Chuck writes theSubstack where he explores such topics as education, poetry, books, arts & culture, weird projects, AI tourism, and anything else that he finds interesting.
Today, Chuck shares with us the experience of falling in, and out, and then back in again, of love with a book. Enjoy!
Have you ever reread a book, years after first taking it in, and felt completely let down by the experience? Let me tell you a story.
When I was in third grade (maybe fourth), our teacher would reserve 30 minutes or so each day, switch off the buzzing fluorescent lights, and read to us. Once the lights went down, it was a moment of transport—we traveled somewhere else. This is nearly the only thing I remember of my years in Buffalo’s “School #54” on Main Street. To further indict my memory, the only book I remember being read, because it took over my life from its first word, is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.
I remember staring intently at the cover while the teacher read, fascinating in its own right—three figures standing inside a series of circles that somehow represented time and its rippling mysteries (The cover is Ellen Raskin’s work, who wrote The Westing Game). The cover felt as alive and mysterious as the story.
When my children were younger, I read to them nightly, and I wanted them to have this same experience. I combed through the AbeBooks website looking for the same cover and edition that had so fascinated me. I found an old library edition and immediately ordered. I promised my children big things, that this was my favorite book and had changed my life.
Then a funny thing happened. I read them the book and, frankly, did not enjoy it. I am unsure of what our shared language is for this experience, maybe that it “doesn’t hold up,” a phrase that itself confuses me. Does this mean the book is a building that now stands in disrepair or ruin? Or maybe the story, unanchored, was blown tumbling across the road by the winds of time? In the moment, I remember being extremely disappointed by this “let down”—that somehow I had brought this imperfect thing into my children’s room, the same room where they had hung tightly onto each word of the Harry Potter series.
I was sad because maybe I didn’t love this book as much as I had thought. My past wasn’t my present. Were me and A Wrinkle in Time breaking up? If so, it must be because, of course, I’m so much more mature and wise to the ways of the world. I should have been prepared for this, as I had heard many people make the same claim about The Catcher in the Rye (“Now that I’m older, I don’t like Holden. He’s annoying. I sympathize with the adults.”) Then the A Wrinkle in Time film was released (starring Oprah Winfrey) which was widely panned, and thus things just got worse.
But then…a revelation. How greedy I was to want something to be perfect forever. How short-sighted I was to believe my feelings in the present negated my emotions in the past. I had forgotten the book’s title and its meaning. I am now a college professor (English, Humanities, & Creative Writing), and I often say to students, especially when they “don’t like” something, that “books are like people; sometimes you just meet them at the right or wrong time.” I use Moby Dick as an example—a book I failed to finish three times and absolutely hated. But the fourth time was absolutely the right time, and now I treasure Melville’s novel. I had met A Wrinkle in Time at the perfect moment in my life, as all I wanted from that moment onward was more like it—more reading, more adventure, more books. And now, as a teacher, I can trace this fortunate present back to that past using the very diagram A Wrinkle in Time uses to explain the concept of time’s wrinkle:
Now, I love the novel even more. I love it for what it was when I encountered it and what it did for me. In fact, this is now actually my dream as a writer—I want to write a work that people love at one time…but then don’t anymore. This feels more difficult than writing a canonical work whose reputation outlasts Ozymandias’ statue—to write something that grabs and means something to readers at the right moment, but not forever, to stick the landing, but just briefly. You know, sort of like most human relationships. It is perfectly fine for a book to be like “a person you used to know.” There are countless people that we used to know, and it’s good to pause and remember and have love for those who were the right people at the right time. It should be a national holiday.
So now I love A Wrinkle in Time for what it was, and thus it has become, again, what it is. It is unique to me in this way in my life as a reader: as the concentric circles on Raskin’s cover design pushed me further away from the epicenter I finally found the wrinkle, the realization that brings me across time and teaches me to avoid what I find to be a misguided, unimaginative mindset—that your feelings in the present are a linear evolution and better version of the past. They’re not. They’re just now. And sometimes, maybe even quite often, then was pretty great too.
Chuck Rybak lives in Wisconsin and is a professor of English and writing at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. His poetry collections, Tongue and Groove and </war> are available at Main Street Rag. His poems of his have appeared in The Cincinnati Review; Pebble Lake Review; War, Literature & the Arts; The Ledge; Southern Poetry Review; The Drift; and other journals. A collection of blog essays, UW Struggle, was published by The University of Minnesota/Forerunners in 2018.
Chuck has recently started The Declining Academic on substack, which he hopes will get him back into the swing of all things writing after serving as an administrator.
You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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