Four Books That Make Me Happy

fourhappybooks

I have read a lot of books. I devoured The Chronicles of Narnia in fourth grade, made my way through high school requisites such as The Red Badge of Courage and The Great Gatsby, survived the deluge of required texts for my English degree that included The Canterbury Tales and excessive amounts of Shakespeare, and now read the books that I want to or that my current book groups choose. I have a great relationship with books and the books that follow are some of my favorites.

Have you read any of them? Would you put them on a favorites list? Or did you not like any of these?

As I made the list, I just didn’t realize that all of them have female protagonists. This surprised me.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: I’ve read this book twice now and it’s still my favorite. It’s Betty Smith’s classic story of a girl, Francie, growing up in Brooklyn. Her life is analogous to the Tree of Heaven that grows through the cracks in the cement and it’s a beautiful story of life persevering and conquering a broken world. The images still stick with me: Francie tucked inside the branches of the tree, reading her book from the apartment’s windowsill; visiting the library and wanting the librarian to recognize her as the little girl who consumes books; the jar that she and her brother bolted to the floor in their closet to save pennies; experiencing her little piece of New York. Reading it is a rich experience with life.

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901: I read this for a book group and loved it. I loved it because of the history behind it: the author based the story on her own family memoirs; I loved it because Sarah is a woman of spirit and fire living in the harsh Arizona territories; I loved it because Sarah is a smart kid, then a defiant young woman, and then a loving mother; I loved it because her life was joyous and tragic and all of it poignant. I would be impressed with myself if my own journals recorded life with such beautiful words and were filled with as much adventure, love, fear, and history. It’s the wild, wild west from the point of view of a strong woman.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog: the writing is absolutely gorgeous. In fact, it’s writing like this that hits me with the reality that I could never write a book with such beautiful prose and filled with great philosophy because this is how it should be done. I do not have this level of talent. The book is the story of families living in a Parisian apartment building, families that are both great and good, but not often both at the same time. There is Renee, the concierge of the building. She lives like an actress: playing her role. She understands what is acceptable as the concierge and keeps her passions and hobbies a secret, if they cannot consolidate with this role. Meanwhile, Paloma, is the little girl living in one of the posh apartments and is disillusioned with it all. On her thirteenth birthday, she will end her life. Are you ready for this?

Their Eyes Were Watching God: A classic. A boy that I liked leant me this book to read my senior year in high school. He gave it to me with a disclaimer: it’s slow going at first until you get used to the language. And it was true: it took me some time to adjust to the Ebonics of the natural language of the book’s characters, but then my eyes were opened to their beauty. It’s filled with love and cruelty and finds these strong characters who rise above those around them that are small of heart. Reading it will teach you a little about wit and pathos. Hurston’s novel was far ahead of its time because of its strong female protagonist, who is black.

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6 comments

  1. I haven’t read any of these, but I have heard of each one. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is the only one that I probably would not have known if not for you. It’s so hard to make a favorite list of anything, and literature is probably the most difficult, for me at least, to create. If we’re talking novels, it makes things a little easier, because I’m not as well read as you are. If we’re talking poetry, I really have no idea where to begin. I would start a novel list with the following, in no particular order:

    1. Cat’s Cradle
    2. Sons and Lovers
    3. Lolita
    4. Of Mice and Men
    5. The Underneath

    There’s some classic literature in there. I guess I’m a purist? I don’t know.

    If we’re talking poetry, then the sky is the limit. Any collection of my favorite poems would probably include these poets, again in no particular order:

    1. Ezra Pound
    2. Walt Whitman
    3. Stanley Kunitz
    4. Ted Kooser
    5. William Carlos Williams

    And there you have it.

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    1. I wouldn’t even be able to make a list of top five poets. I do like Walt Whitman. I wrote a paper on him in high school that I thought was clever. I went back to reread it and it wasn’t that great of a paper. For the longest time, I had a poem written in a journal, but I didn’t know the source. I loved the poem though. Turns out, it was by Ted Kooser. “if this comes creased and creased again…”

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  2. It’s always great to read book reviews. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was one my mom, older sister and I all read, way back in the day (the 70’s) and it’s one I have enjoyed reading more than once. Have you read “Joy in the Morning” also by Betty Smith? I love that one too, maybe even more because it’s much more cheerful. “These is My Words” sounds great so I will have to pick it up. “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” was one that depressed me. “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” was one I read when I was interested in the Caribbean. I enjoyed learning about the history and culture she described.

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    1. I haven’t read Joy in the Morning but I will now, thanks!
      Whenever I try to write book reviews, it doesn’t really do the book justice, but I wanted to try anyway. I think I’ll keep trying with some of the books I read in the next few months, see how it goes.

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  3. I liked “These is My Words” once I got past all the stuff that happens in the first 22 pages. Had mixed feelings about “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” and haven’t read the other two.

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