The Small Rain.
The Small Rain, like so many first novels, is autobiographical, following the loves and coming-of-age milestones in the life of a piano prodigy named Katherine. She studies in Europe, trysts with her teacher, and the story moves along with beautiful pacing (and we all know how Review This! feels about some good pacing) and quotable quotes that fall beautifully into place. I read one of them at my father's memorial service in 1999.
"But there is something about Time. The sun rises and sets. The stars swing slowly across the sky and fade. Clouds fill with rain and snow, empty themselves, and fill again. The moon is born, and dies, and is reborn. Around millions of clocks swing hour hands, and minute hands, and second hands. Around goes the continual circle of the notes of the scale. Around goes the circle of night and day, the circle of weeks forever revolving, and of months, and of years."
This passage went right to the heart of what Madeleine L'Engle tried to tell the world for 88 years—that the world and the stories we tell really do mean something. To answer the question as to why anyone would tell a story, L'Engle once said, "It does indeed have something to do with faith...faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically."
It wasn't just L'Engle's creativity or her storytelling that got to me. When I read her 4-part memoir The Crosswicks Journals I discovered a real intellectual, a memoirist that could actually keep me interesting and teach me something about writing, spirituality, and balancing happiness with the oft-miserable and lonely writing life. Madeleine L'Engle is the reason I do a lot of what I do, and I couldn't be more grateful. So I'll post The Small Rain as my primary suggestion, but really with her you can't go wrong--she was one of the few writers that possessed enough heart and discipline to produce real beauty year after year.