When I was browsing the library stacks the other day, looking for the next volume in Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I happened upon this: JoAnn McCaig’s Reading In: Alice Munro’s Archives.

And isn’t that just how it happens? How stacks of library books get out of hand? But how could I leave it there? With the Alice Munro Reading Project in  mind? When it was simply perfect it was to find it that day, because there was the most amazing quote that fit this week’s stories brilliantly and which begins with talk of how she started to write Lives of Girls and Women.

“I remember the day I started to write that. It was in January, a Sunday. I went down to the bookstore [Munro’s Books in Victoria, British Columbia], which wasn’t open Sundays, and locked myself in. My husband had said he would get dinner, so I had the afternoon. I remember looking around at all the great literature that was around me and thinking, You Fool! What are you doing here? But then I went up to the office and started to write the section called “Princess Ida”, which is about my mother.”

She goes on to say that the “material about my mother is my central material in life, and it always comes the most readily to me. If I just relax, that’s what will come up. So, once I started to write that, I was off. Then I made a big mistake. I tried to make it a regular novel, an ordinary sort of childhood adolescence novel.”

But, she says, then “about March I saw it wasn’t working. It didn’t feel right to me, and I thought I would have to abandon it. I was very depressed. Then it came to me that what I had to do was pull it apart and put it in the story form. Then I could handle it. That’s when I learned that I was never going to write a real novel because I could not think that way.”

Joann McCaig was quoting the Paris Review interview with Alice Munro (which dated to 1994) and I’ll be dipping in and out of that as the stories she discusses therein come up. But, for now, more quotes from Alice Munro, from “Princess Ida” and “Age of Faith”.

On Jubilee and Not-Jubilee:
“I hoped to travel as far as Porterfield or Blue River, towns which derived their magic simply from being places we did not know and were not known in, by not being Jubilee.” (PI)

“I missed the nearness of the river and the swamp, also the real anarchy of winter, blizzards that shut us up tight in our house as if it were the Ark. But I loved the order, the wholeness, the intricate arrangement of town life, that only an outsider could see.” (PI)

On listening to her mother and her mother’s boarder talk:
“It was the drama, the ferment of life just beyond my reach.” (PI)

On her mother:
“My mother had not let anything go. Inside that self we knew, which might at times appear blurred a bit, or sidetracked, she kept her younger selves strenuous and hopeful; scenes from the past were liable to pop up any time, like lantern slides, against the cluttered fabric of the present.” (PI)

“Had all her stories, after all, to end up with just her, the way she was now, just my mother in Jubilee?” (PI)

On Aunt Nile:
“She reached some extreme of feminine decorativeness, perfect artificiality, that I had not even known existed; seeing her, I understood that I would never be beautiful.” (PI)

On approval and disapproval:
“The question of whether God existed or not never came up in Church. It was only a matter of what He approved of, of usually of what He did not approve of.” (AOF)

On her visit to the Anglican Church, rather than the more-familiar United Church:
“The poverty, smallness, shabbiness, and bareness of the church pleased me, that smell of mold or mice, frail singing of the choir, isolation of the worshippers.” (AOF)

On finally and permanently disappointing her Household Science teacher:
“I was weak with relief and joy, in spite of public shame, I swept the floor conscientiously and then got my library book about Mary Queen of Scots and read, disgraced, but unburdened, alone at the back of the room.” (AOF)

On discussing faith with her younger brother:
“Owen turned his head and gave me a trapped look. He had nothing to hide, nothing to show but his pure-hearted indifference.” (AOF)

“Seeing somebody have faith, close up, is no easier than seeing someone chop a finger off.” (AOF)

Any of these stand out for you?

Lives of Girls and Women Schedule:
The Flats Road; Heirs of the Living Body MAR9
Princess Ida; Age of Faith (above)
Changes and Ceremonies; Lives of Girls and Women MAR23
Baptizing; Epilogue: The Photographer MAR30