As we stand facing a new decade, I find myself looking over my shoulder.

The latest film version of Louisa May Alcott’s 19th century novel, “Little Women,” is out in theaters. I feel like the March sisters have been part of my life forever. And now, more than ever, I relish the chance to immerse myself in their world.

I suppose I sound entirely predictable when I say how strongly my younger self identified with Jo March, the tempestuous writer and Alcott’s alter ego. But I wanted to write too, and though I was shy and quiet, I had a temper. I tried to heed Marmee’s advice about controlling my anger. I worked to avoid blurting something out that I might later regret.

I’ve even managed to adapt that philosophy to the modern era, by never immediately answering a noxious e-mail. Waiting several hours or even overnight has served me well.

My first exposure to “Little Women” came while shopping with my mother, circa 1966, in Fall River, Massachusetts. The city had once been the greatest cloth manufacturing center in the country, but now the spindles in the great hulking granite mills were silent. Some were used in part for smaller factories or garment-making enterprises, and several housed discount department stores.

The Globe was one such establishment. As I wandered behind my mother and her shopping carriage, a book display caught my eye. The books were square, with glossy covers, rather than jackets. One of them was “Little Women.”

Now, we had several bookcases in our house and I went to the public library once a week with my father. My parents belonged to a book-by-mail club that regularly sent them mystery novels. Books were not seen as a luxury in our home. However, my mother was a veteran of the Great Depression and rarely gave in to shopping expedition whims.

Luckily, this book was a cheap edition — a Whitman Modern Abridged Classic. It probably cost less than $2. I’d like to think Mom knew that I would read it — likely many times, because once I found a story I liked I hated to let it go.

I begged. She relented.

And I fell in love. The main attraction was the idea of Jo, the literary girl. Even at a young age I knew bookishness was not an attribute to trumpet. I would sometimes pretend, in class, not to know the right answer to the teacher’s question for fear of being labeled a “smarty-pants.”

But in Jo, I found a friend who lived to read and write as I did. She showed me it was possible to grow up to be a writer. That it was OK to be different and to think for yourself.

The Christmas scene, in which the family visits their poor neighbors with food from their own table, was always one of my favorites. I wanted to do “good works.” I wanted to make a difference. It would take a few years, but I did begin doing volunteer work in junior high school. When I was in high school, I went back to the elementary school where I first read “Little Women” and helped out in a classroom.

I read the abridged edition several times without realizing it wasn’t the real deal. Then I received a beautiful copy of the complete book as a Christmas present. Now an adolescent, I was able to make deeper connections to the story. It was set in Concord, 60 miles or so from my home, where some of the opening shots of the Revolution had been fired. I could even recite the first two stanzas of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

Thoreau had lived there, in his cabin on the shore. I had been to Walden Pond and to the North Bridge, as well as the battlefield in Lexington. My parents liked to take day trips.

I would be an adult before I’d visit Orchard House, where the Alcott girls grew up.

With my greater grasp of history as a teenager, I realized Mr. March was away because he was serving in the Union Army, during the Civil War. In my later rereadings, I wondered why the war seemed so shadowy in the book. Why wasn’t it more of a presence? Alcott, after all, nursed wounded soldiers. She had seen the effects of the conflict firsthand.

But the book was written after the war, when people wanted to forget what had happened, and get on with their lives. Readers were eager to read about warm and loving families.

And can’t we all use a little bit of that right now? The irony of revisiting one of my fictional happy places in a cinema the day after a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration was not lost on me. We are living in dark times, indeed.

I am trying to be optimistic about the new year, the new decade before us. But in order to do so, I think I need to linger a while longer in the Concord of my mind, where Jo March is eating apples in the garret, and reading, and scribbling — and inspiring me still.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected].


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