I decided I had to get my hands on The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel, when I read that it was about the life of a woman in 1800s America obsessed with the study of mosses. (My botanical nerd alert immediately went to red.) The tale, which on a broader scale is about a woman’s quest to learn about life and its deeper meaning through knowledge, adventure, and love was one I knew I could dig into.
And the truth is, it’d been ages since I’d read for pleasure only. Such is the life of an aspiring publisher, who always has to keep part of her brain on the commercial aspects of literature. (Tragic, I know.) This book would be my selfish pleasure. A Christmas gift to myself. A much needed escape into another time, another life. I latched onto it like a baby starving for mother’s milk.
Imagine my delight (tinged with just a little worry) when the book opened with this line: “Alma Whittaker, born with the century, slid into our world on the fifth of January, 1800.” I felt these emotions because January 5th is my birthday! How similar would I be to this protagonist, I wondered. Quite, I’d find. The obsessive need to ask questions and search for answers traits fit. As did other not-so-glamorous ones. I found it funny that just a few years ago I tried to get some friends together to form a book club that took on challenging works. The book I proposed we start with–Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, which figures largely in The Signature of all Things. (Sadly, I was the only one hot for this idea.)
But enough about me. I connected with Gilbert’s book on several levels–lush and inventive writing, rich themes, solid story. I would write more but I don’t wish to reinvent the wheel. Gilbert has garnered a ton of rave reviews; I especially liked this one from The New York Times.
Sometimes it’s tough being a book lover with too much curiosity. I looked up information on Gilbert’s grandmother today because Gilbert dedicates her novel to “. . . Maude Edna Morcomb Olson, in honor of her hundredth birthday.” I wondered, since the book starts out with a birthday, and because this is the eve of January 5, if perhaps Gilbert’s grandmother was born on that day, too. I didn’t find the answer, but instead came across the cookbook penned by another of Gilbert’s female ancestors, her great-grandmother, Margaret Yardley Potter. Gilbert discovered At Home on the Range a few years ago when going through some old family books. She fell in love with this forgotten treasure and reissued it in 2012. (There followed, to be redundant, a ton of rave reviews.) Proceeds from its sale benefit ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that matches donors with young scholars trying to make it to college. When I started reading Gilbert’s lengthy introduction to this book, literary love struck once more. Darn that “Look Inside” feature on Amazon! It makes it so easy to fall head-over-heels, so hard to say no.
Sigh. A year older and a little poorer, but so happy and grateful for literary riches.