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December 23, 2016

Marie Benedict: The Door to a New Life

Posted by emily

Marie Benedict’s debut novel, THE OTHER EINSTEIN (a Bets On pick), is the fascinating, untold story of Albert Einstein’s first wife, a brilliant scientist in her own right. Marie’s interest in telling the stories of the women overlooked by history was no accident. It was ignited by a fateful Christmas gift from a favorite aunt, THE MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a book that gives the women of the Arthurian legend voices and, incidentally, gave Marie her own. Here, she describes the power of a good book to change the course of a life.

Long after all the Christmas gifts were unwrapped and the decadent midday holiday meal devoured, as a child, I would sit amidst a pile of crumpled, shimmering wrapping paper, waiting for my aunt. Keeping my eyes fixed on the door, I would linger in the living room until footsteps clambered on the front porch, signaling the arrival of our last, and my favorite, holiday visitor. An English professor and rebellious nun, my aunt always came bearing my favorite Christmas present --- books --- and I would race to the door to greet her.

The books my aunt brought were not just any books. Specifically curated for every one of our family members, the books transported each of their recipients to unexpected and otherwise unimaginable worlds. After tearing off the wrapping (and giving my aunt a grateful hug, of course), I would turn the first page of my brand new book and step through a magical door --- like the children in one favorite she gave me, THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE --- into another land.

Little did my aunt know that her present of one particular book would lead me down an astonishing road not for the hour, the day, or even the week I spent between the book’s pages --- but for the rest of my life. One year, she gifted me with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s THE MISTS OF AVALON, a groundbreaking retelling of the Arthurian legend told from the point of view of the women in King Arthur’s life. This book opened my eyes to the hidden voices and truths lurking in history and legend --- particularly the buried histories of women --- and set me on an admittedly circuitous path toward a life of uncovering those unknown stories and memorializing them through fiction. Most recently, this led to my research into the incredible life of Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife and a physicist herself, and the role she may have played in the famous scientist’s most critical theories, a tale that I ultimately told in THE OTHER EINSTEIN.     

So when you are selecting holiday presents for friends and family, I urge you to consider books for their power and impact on their recipients. After all, I often wonder what path I might have taken if my aunt hadn’t given me THE MISTS OF AVALON that fateful Christmas. But please choose wisely, because your present may open the door to a new life.