a tree grows in brooklyn

Four Books That Make Me Happy


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.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Wrinkle in Time

In part to make up for missing a review last week and also to honor two of my buddies / ol’ pals who took my fabulous survey (link in upper right), it’s a two-for-one book review this Saturday! Woot woot! And these two books are ones that if you haven’t read, your life is SERIOUSLY INCOMPLETE so you better click on them and buy them immediately from Amazon so that we can be friends again. The first book is my ABSOLUTELY FAVORITE and Katie mentioned that she recently picked it up on a trip to B&N. (Katie is SO like me when it comes to visiting a fabulous bookstore; we can’t leave without armfuls of tasty literature and I heart it when she shares on her blog her latest bibliophile purchases.) The second book is one that I recently lent a copy to my niece, Annie. It’s also listed on Kow’s list of books she’s read on Goodreads.com. She rated it five stars out of five stars and I must say, I agree. (Kow is another girlfriend who I can ALWAYS count on for a good reading recommendation or to discuss one of the myriad novels we have devoured.)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published back at the start of the 20th century and follows the story of the protagonist, Francie, as she grows up in a very underprivileged Brooklyn family. She loves to go to the library; she loves to curl up with a book hidden beneath the branches of a tree outside her flat’s window; she loves to take in the lives of the people living around her. It’s a beautiful book because it takes you back to when you were a kid and still had the energy to take in everything happening around you.

When I was living in Pennsylvania for a summer while making an attempt at selling study guides door-to-door, I would reward myself for putting in so many hours or getting a couple of sales by going to the Chambersburg library, curling up in a chair by the window and rereading this book. It’s one of the books that gives me comfort because this little woman that Betty Smith created, Francie, shares with me her courage, hunger, practicality, observations and love of books. She is a literary figure that mirrors the Tree of Heaven, which grows up out of the cement cracks or cellar gratings in Brooklyn; struggling against the odds to survive and blossom. My parents gave me this book for Christmas when I was in high school and it’s one of the most cherished in my library.

A Wrinkle in Time is a book that most everyone my age read when they were in elementary school, or so I thought. Lately, it’s come up in conversation several times and the friends that I was talking to didn’t know it. Gasp! I forget that not every kid read it so eagerly and after finishing, quickly picked up the next Madeleine L’Engle book in their mom’s library until she had read all of those, then road her bike to the city library to check out more. I even wrote the author a letter and she replied. I think that I am long overdue to read some more L’Engle books.

I had to read summaries online to remember all of the details (clearly, it’s time for a refresher), but before long I started to recall how as a child, I loved the literary relationships with L’Engle’s characters in this book: Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin O’Keefe. They meet a stranger on a dark and stormy night who talks about a tesseract—a wrinkle in time. And then the adventure takes off through space and time, searching for Meg’s scientist father who disappeared while involved in secret government research on tesseracts. Just a warning to you, though… if you haven’t read this, be prepared to enjoy it so much that you, too, will want to read everything L’Engle has written and wish she was still alive so you could write to her with your admirations.

You know how there are some sweet memories that you will always hang on to? I still have mine of walking through the library in Sugarhouse and finding a treasure of L’Engle books—shortly after looking up the address in another big book downstairs of L’Engle’s publisher. I can almost smell the library now.