Review: Gift from the Sea

“Don’t wish me happiness. I don’t expect to be happy all the time… It’s gotten beyond that somehow. Wish me courage and strength and a sense of humor. I will need them all.”

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
128 pages
Published by Pantheon Books, 1955
Genre: Essays, nonfiction, nature
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I’ll definitely be coming back to this one at least once a year for the foreseeable future.
Reviewed by Indiana

I was lucky enough to begin reading this beautifully written book in what I thought was the perfect place: on a beach in Alaska.

Apparently, I was wrong. Lindbergh dismantled my assumption with her first line:

“The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think.” But she goes on to say that she too fell into that blissful assumption: “I should have remembered that from other years. . . One never learns.”

So much is packed into Gift from the Sea that if you miss even one line, you’re cheating yourself. Written in the 1950s, Lindbergh—who was married to the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, starts the book simply as a reflection for herself: “I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular pattern of living, my own individual balance of life, work and human relationships. . . I had the feeling, when the thoughts first clarified on paper, that my experience was very different from other people’s. (Are we all under this illusion?)”

Told through the perspective of her rambles on the beach during a rare vacation in Florida, Lindbergh talks through various aspects of the human experience. Using shells and oyster beds as metaphorical inspiration, Lindbergh discusses how fast life seems to be moving in today’s world (keep in mind this was the 50s) and how Western society can be a draining place to be—she was way ahead of the “Self-Care” trend.

Lindbergh writes that no matter what is going on in one’s life, spending time alone is important. Feminism, in her view, had been great in a mechanical sense and in a legal sense. But there was still something missing from the demands made by those in the movement: “Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think, unwittingly lost.” Women still do not demand time to have what Lindbergh refers to as their “creative springs” refilled.

She looks to the moon shell to remind herself that she can’t allow this to happen: “You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give my husband, my children, my friends, or the world at large.”

Her writing is at once humble and poetic and there’s no doubt that there are aspects of Gift from the Sea that will seem completely new to me when I return to it years down the line. Critics have claimed that the book is like the new Room of One’s Own. Maybe that’s true, and I certainly enjoyed that book as well. However, Gift from the Sea is down to earth in a way that I don’t think Virginia Woolf’s works are.

I highly recommend picking this one up—even if you plan to read it on the beach.

If you want to learn more about Lindbergh’s incredible life, check out this NPR story:


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