Francie Nolan thinks that Brooklyn has a sort of magic. It’s unlike any other place in the world, even better than New York City. She lives in WilliamFrancie Nolan thinks that Brooklyn has a sort of magic. It’s unlike any other place in the world, even better than New York City. She lives in Williamsburg at the turn of the century with her beautiful but stoic mother who makes a living as a cleaning woman, her kind but often-drunk father who works intermittently as a singing waiter, and her younger brother Neelie who is her partner in adventure and misfortune. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie’s childhood, but also purely captures a long-ago moment in history. It’s the story of a poor immigrant family slotting pennies into a tin can bank in hopes of one day owning a piece of land. Francie’s mother invents a game called Arctic Explorer, in which the children pretend they’re lost in the far North waiting for rescue care packages to arrive when there’s nothing in the house to eat. But there are many moments of happiness as well. Francie loves to sit perched on her fire escape with a book in her lap, visiting the library every day to borrow a book. She loves the good days spent with her father, waiting up at night to hear him singing “Molly Malone” in the hallway and racing to the door to open it before the final note.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of those classics that somehow fell through the cracks of my reading history and I’m only getting around to now. I am glad that my first reading comes while I’m living in New York, because it adds an extra dimension to Francie’s life to know what’s become of the neighborhoods she describes and to read about the city in a bygone era. Pre-WWI New York is fascinating in its differences from today and Betty Smith seems to know just the right scenes to convey everyday life in a way that’s compelling and endearing. I found myself engrossed in scenes that described how Francie’s mother would go about paying for dinner and which shops they would visit and how they would haggle. These details might have seemed mundane at the time, but to read them now is truly a treasure. Smith has a beautiful voice that adds weight and dignity to the smallest daily concern.
You also care passionately for her characters since they are so uncompromisingly real. Francie loves her father more than anyone else in the world, but also is completely aware that he can’t support the family. A child’s love and adoration is mixed up with an adult understanding of the world. Francie and Neely are adult-children, all too familiar with hunger, poverty and unfairness. But their youth also gives them resilience and they turn out just fine.
Would I recommend? Yes! In the same vein as I Capture The Castle or Little Women, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of a girl growing up and evokes a particular place and time with stunning detail. A must-read American classic.
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Sometimes we have a longing for something that is simple. There are two kinds of simple I suppose. One is mindless and easy, while the other is poignaSometimes we have a longing for something that is simple. There are two kinds of simple I suppose. One is mindless and easy, while the other is poignant and sweet. Cannery Row is the latter. A short novel by John Steinbeck, the book tells the simple story of the California town of Monterey, a center of sardine tinning. Despite the title, none of the main characters are involved in the canning industry. Doc is a marine biologist who acquires animals for laboratories. He has a special fondness for classical records, burgers, and beer. Across the road is Lee Chong’s grocery store and next to that the local whore house. Up the hill live Mack and “the boys,” a group of drifters who take up odd jobs to earn enough for whiskey and food each month. Mack and the boys get it into their heads that something nice should be done for Doc, and resolve to throw him a party. But the execution is shakier than the conception. The boys set out on a frog collecting expedition to gather the money for the festivities and though their intentions are good, the outcome is likely to be a disaster. The whole cast of characters fall into the preparations for Doc’s celebration, for better or worse.
Cannery Row might be seen to follow in the view of Steinbeck’s most famous portrait of America, The Grapes of Wrath. Row is much shorter, however, and necessarily more focused. Mack and the boys are certainly funny–swerving only slightly off the road to run over a loose chicken, trading frogs for bottles of whiskey at Lee Chong’s, employing so many methods of training their hound that she never learns a thing. They are meant to be both a cautionary tale and an ideal. They are truly the heart of the story though. Their devotion is sweet and intentions are good, even if on the surface they are just a group of bums whose actions are likely to result in property damage and spoiled goods.
Would I recommend? Maybe. Steinbeck’s style won’t appeal to all. If you liked Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, you’ll certainly enjoy this and find it a much quicker read as well. If you’re new to Steinbeck, this book might actually be a good gauge as to whether you should dive into any of his more well known novels. It doesn’t have any of the dark gravity of the books I’ve mentioned, but it certainly has his voice and it’s a great showcase for his humor.
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Let’s start out by saying that there is a lot of debate over whether One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great book. Critics almost unanimously say it’Let’s start out by saying that there is a lot of debate over whether One Hundred Years of Solitude is a great book. Critics almost unanimously say it’s a masterpiece; after all, it did win the Nobel Prize. But many average readers I’ve spoken with find it boring, or give up several chapters in. I’m in the first category, though I understand why some people not might be moved by the book. It’s an acquired taste, a different type of literature than we’re used to. To me, Márquez is a modern Dickens. The appeal of his story lies in the characters, and just as in Dickens, his story is complex and spans huge amounts of time. Not everyone has a taste for Dickens; his books require a commitment on the part of the reader, and Márquez’s masterwork is no different. That said, I am officially moving this book into my Top 10 of All Time, a coveted position that I do not give away lightly.
Here’s why I loved One Hundred Years: It’s like reading a beautiful and sad dream. It’s extremely atmospheric, simply written yet emotionally complex. The breadth of the story is astounding, following the lives, loves, and deaths of six generations of the Buendía family and the town of Macondo, founded by the family’s patriarch Jose Arcadio Buendía. At first the most prominent family in town, over time the Buendías fall into decay until their great history is all but forgotten. It would be almost impossible to describe the twists and turns that the narrative takes, but the story is utterly captivating. It’s also one of the greatest examples of magical realism, which is what gives the story its dreamlike quality. Yellow flowers fall like rain, a woman ascends body and soul into heaven, rain falls for four years, a man is followed everywhere by swarms of butterflies, and men die from the intoxicating scent of the most beautiful woman in the world, but these are facts, not fantasy. It’s all part of life in Macondo and no one there would recognize these events as any more fantastic than sweeping the front porch.
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