Passionate readers understand that a wonderful book — one that resonates strongly — can leave a lasting impression. Can, in fact, sometimes change your life. That is the premise, and in fact that glue that binds, of A Girl Walks Into A Book (Seal) by writer and essayist Miranda K. Pennington.
The author was a voracious reader at 10 when her father gave her a copy of Jane Eyre. It was not love at first sight. Pennington found the book alternately tedious and challenging. At times, she actually threw the book down, hearing “the pages skitter as they hit the linoleum.”
Initially, writes Pennington, “I wrote off Jane Eyre, as unpleasant and unfair, a dull story about a plain girl’s awful life.”
But the book was so satisfyingly weighty. Even as I hurled it off the bed, it seemed like a book that should matter. I kept picking it back up…. Eventually I found that I liked it, despite its darkness, despite Jane’s trials, which I took personally. To despise Jane was to despise me. By the time I finished it, I had come to love Jane Eyre.
Pennington’s encounter with Jane Eyre leads her ever more deeply into the Brontë canon, one she finds guiding and instructing her as she moves through her journey through life.
A Girl Walks Into A Book is smart and entertaining. Part memoir, part literary criticism, part lengthy examination of how books can impact and embrace us. The first half of the book is flawless and a wonderful exploration of the importance of books and reading. Pennington is a sharp and thoughtful writer and she hits all her marks as she brings us along. In the second half, though we see a lot of a significant and failed past relationship — more memoir, now, less literary examination — and the Brontë connections are less present and meaningful.
In the end, though, this does not take away greatly from a very worthwhile literary journey. And, in any case, Pennington warned us going in. “This is a love story,” she tells in the very first line. “Charlotte Brontë and her sisters loved to write, and I fell in love with their words on the page, and I have been looking for that kind of love in and out of books ever since.” Judging from A Girl Walks into a Book it has been a worthwhile journey. ◊
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.