Laurie Hertzel is senior editor for books at the Star Tribune, where she has worked since 1996. She is the author of "News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist," winner of a Minnesota Book Award.

'A Wrinkle in Time' turns 50 today.

Posted by: Laurie Hertzel under Book news, Libraries Updated: February 13, 2012 - 12:17 PM

 

Here's the problem with genre fiction: The label. The label tells you what you think you know, and it can make you read crap, and, worse, it can stop you from reading something wonderful. 

When I was growing up, I read all the time, everything I could get my hands on--the classics ("Little Women," "Pippi Longstocking"); the other classics ("The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "A Midsummer Night's Dream"); poetry (I did; I was a dreamy kid who read poetry); contraband ("Myra Breckenridge," "Rabbit, Run"); and every cartoon I could find in The New Yorker (and sometimes I even read the stories).

But I did not read "A Wrinkle in Time."  That, I had heard, was about space travel. That meant it was science fiction. And I turned my freckled nose up at science fiction.

What a mistake. What a small-minded, wrong-headed mistake. One that took decades to rectify.

"A Wrinkle in Time" turns 50 today. And so the publisher, Square Fish, an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, sent me an anniversary edition. And I kind of idly picked it up over the weekend, thinking, "Hmm, I remember hearing about this when I was a kid. But I don't like science fiction."

And then I started reading (it has the world's best opening line: "It was a dark and stormy night." I kid you not.) and I could not stop reading.

Many of you already know this wonderful book, the adventure of bespectacled, messy young Meg, her peculiar but endearing little brother, Charles Wallace, and their red-headed friend Calvin. Yes, they do travel in space, and yes, I guess if you had to put a label on it you could call it science fiction, but please, let's not put a label on it. A label might prevent some other bookish child from reading it.

"A Wrinkle in Time" was written during the height of the cold war, and the war on communism, and the beginnings of the space program, and you can see elements of all of those things in the book, if you look. Meg and Charles Wallace are trying to find their father, a scientist who disappeared while working for the government on some top-secret programs, and they end up on an evil planet where everyone must obey rules and behave in lockstep with everyone else.

The children are aided by three mysterious old women--Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatchit, and Mrs. Which--who help them travel through time and space by taking advantage of "wrinkles" in the universe. But really, it doesn't matter where Meg is when she finds her father, or when Charles Wallace falls into danger, or when Calvin first kisses her. It could be anywhere. What matters is that it's a great story, with a gripping plot well-told, and with plenty of wisdom. We watch Meg reach inside herself to find strength and courage that she didn't know she had.

There are three sequels to this book--" A Wind in the Door," "A Swiftly Tilting Planet," and "Many Waters." They are all on my to-read list, now. Even though I don't like science fiction.

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