A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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This book captured me. The rich prose and good ol’ fashioned storytelling are all evidence as to why this novel is a classic. It reminded me (both thematically and stylistically) of another book that captivated my attention and which was, at least until I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, my favourite work of fiction – The Grapes of Wrath. While I am astounded it took me this long to stumble across this gem, I’m confident it will become a perennial favourite (I’m a staunch advocate of re-reading).

I have a little quirk (one of many, actually) – I cannot resist a good quote. I have a series of little notebooks where I record favourite lines – everything from Bible verses to classic literature to little diddy’s I come across in toddler reading material (lots of the latter lately). A Tree Grows in Brooklyn supplied overwhelming fodder for my quotes collection. The vivid description of characters and simplistic elegance of the narrative made every page “quote” worthy. Here are a few favourites, though, that I’ve isolated from the pages. Perhaps it will whet the appetite to go explore this classic…

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue…a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

*****

“The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? ‘To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

*****

“In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character.”

*****

“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way,” said Katie.

Aw, somebody ought to cut that tree down, the homely thing,” said the midwife.

If there was only one tree like that in the whole world, you would think it was beautiful,” said Katie.

*****

“It’s come at last,” she thought, “the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache. When there wasn’t enough food in the house you pretended that you weren’t hungry so they could have more. In the cold of a winter’s night you got up and put your blanket on their bed so they wouldn’t be cold. You’d kill anyone who tried to harm them…then one sunny day, they walk out in all innocence and they walk right into the grief that you’d give your life to spare them from.”

*****

“And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

On My Bookshelf – February 2013

On my Bookshelf_reduced

After three months of what-I’m-reading-these-days-silence, I thought it was time to remedy the void. In no particular order, here are some recent books that have graced my nightstand:

1. The Big Disconnect: Frankly, the contents of this book deserve their own post, because I found the thesis and take-home message especially pertinent. The book delves into the link (and growing trend) between technology and loneliness. Dense in parts, and ironically disconnected (the middle section is an unnecessary, albeit fascinating, history lesson), the take home message is still loud and clear – as technology inextricably weaves its way into the very fabric of our lives, seemingly to bring hyper-connectivity, we’ve become more and more isolated from people and reality. B+

2. Crazy Love: A call to total abandonment to God, this book was very reminiscent of Radical. While I found the writing style maddeningly simplistic, the message was clear – the American church (obviously applicable to North America as a whole, and thus Canada) has fallen away from the truth, generally reduced to meet self-seeking desires. A

3. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone: An admittedly guilty pleasure; my recent read-through of the first installment of this series must put me around the 10th time. Always entertaining, downright funny in parts, and less dark than the movie portrayals. Not everyone’s cup-of-tea to be sure, but always a solid hit in my books. A

4. 50 People Every Christian Should Know: This was an interesting compilation of mini-biographies, most being for relatively obscure Christians (but including spiritual “greats” like Spurgeon). By #30 I was waning, simply because I found the biographies really started to run together. A great resource though, inspiring, and very easy-to-read. B

5. Mister Pip: Unique. Unexpected. I understand why this book has won/been nominated for a variety of prestigious awards. Reminiscent of Lord of the Flies (a classic I greatly disliked), the book is set during a civil war on a remote island. Shan’t say more, but it’s a good one. A

6. A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy solider: A horrifying look at the life of a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Especially poignant since my parents entered Sierra Leone on their last trip to Liberia. I couldn’t put this book down, and finished it in two sittings (weeping by the end of it all). Difficult to read (emotionally), but gives such a perspective into war and the tragic loss of innocence. Not my favourite writing style, but the thoughts are articulately conveyed. A-

7. Love and Logic – Magic for Early Childhood: My only real parenting read these past few months. A simple book with refreshingly concrete examples. Some of the methods I don’t wholeheartedly agree with (timeout suggestions are a bit extreme) but the overarching theme of logical consequences is helpful. Again, the use of specific examples was wonderful; while they do discuss general theories, they frequently provide a “script” of sorts for dealing with common issues from bad eating habits to tantrums at the grocery store. A-

8. All Natural: A Skeptic’s Quest to Discover If the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier: When I got this book, I was convinced it would be a “skimmer.” One of those books where I read small, pertinent sections and dismiss the rest. I was surprised to be hooked – this was a well written, relatively unbiased look at the delicate balance between natural approaches and modern technologies (from C-sections to antibiotics, raw milk to clear cutting) – think of it as a broad Food Inc. Fascinating, a great writing style, and the perfect blend of research/first-hand experience. A

9. Happier at Home: The second in the Gretchen Rubin Happiness series, this was another good book. Simple suggestions for streamlining and de-cluttering our lives. Again, I don’t always agree with her premise, especially as she generally equates happiness as something WE can achieve on our own (ie: distinct from spiritual joy/happiness/fulfillment found in God). But I’ve implemented a number of her suggestions, and her anecdotes are memorable (and come to mind frequently). I did skim portions of the book, preferring to read the concrete examples she provided, but will re-read this again in the future. A-

On My Bookshelf

Point One: I suppose I should start by admitting I’ve already led you astray – none of these books actually find a home on my bookshelves. Why, you might ask? I’m cheap. That will likely emerge as a common theme if you stick around here any length of time. I’m happy to be (generally)  frugal, and one easy way to further my goal of stretching every dollar is to avoid the hefty price tag associated with buying books (see below for my exception).
Point Two: I LOVE to read. I had a voracious appetite for books as a child (likely fueled by watching my father inhale books…seriously, the man is a machine). This has waned over the last decade, mostly due to my need to read so much scholastic material. My enthusiasm for recreational reading was, not surprisingly, quashed after consuming tomes on Human Physiology and slogging through fourth-year Biometrics texts (yes, they were worse than they sound). Sure there were a smattering of English literature books in university, but even those required me to think critically, take notes, and churn out a term paper at the end. After my textbook-heavy undergrad, I simply moved right along to an intense journal-article-saturated Masters, and then a few months later…you guessed it (or maybe you didn’t)…I had a baby. So reading has, unfortunately, been a low priority for me. But that’s changed these past few months, as I’m making time for one of my favourite hobbies.

Point Three: I’m a bit of an illegitimate reader. I skim (also learned from my father). I also quickly forget material after I’ve read it – retaining two or three central details, but subtle nuances are gone for good. These were great skills in university (well, the skimming bit, not the forgetting, although thankfully that generally only happened AFTER final exams), but now it means that while I enjoy a book while reading it, I am liable to forget most specifics quite quickly. I counter this with my recent initiative to take notes (although not generally on novels) while reading. This is something I utilized extensively in university and it gives me great satisfaction to be able to flip through pages of notes on a book.

I thought I’d highlight a few books I’ve read in the last few months. Forgive the self-help/child-rearing tendencies of many books, but that’s just my stage of life:

1. One Thousand Gifts // 2. The Happiness Project // 3. Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours // 4. Still Alice // 5. Bringing up Bebe // 6. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott // 7. Radical //  8. The Fish That Ate the Whale: America’s Banana King
1. One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp. I actually already discussed the book back here; this is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Her writing style – haunting and poetic – is wonderfully unique. She challenges the modern take on happiness, and counters with a call to “joy” – a state which is never dependent on circumstances, but rather on a commitment to gratitude to God for all the gifts He so graciously gives. I list a few of my favourite quotes in my previous post, but this is certainly a book best enjoyed with a pencil in hand. And despite my frugality – this book is on my Christmas list. I will admit, her writing style might not be so enthusiastically received by others, but I urge you to give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised!

2. The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin. I really enjoyed this book. It was a light read, but peppered with fantastic quotes (my favourite being “The days are long, but the years are short”). The author decided to tackle and improve personal “happiness” by focusing on specific (and topical – like marriage, family, money) resolutions each month. She provides some excellent – and concrete – steps to promote “happiness,” many in the form of streamlining one’s life. The main shortcoming of the book, in my mind, is the worldly take on “spirituality.” Happiness is, this book argues, something that can be achieved by human willpower alone – a conscious decision, which often involves some form of belief in a spiritual realm, though specifics are left to the reader. Ironically, Ann Voskamp argues believers can find joy (very different from happiness) in all situations because they know a good God is in control. Overall, though, this was an excellent read, and I plan to read her new book Happier at Home. Furthermore, I’m also enjoying her unique portrayal of Winston Churchill in this book.

3. Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours – Kevin Leman. This was a really good book. The main suggestion is implementation of reality discipline (ie: logical consequences for actions). I will admit being surprised with the overt Biblical framework around which this book was arranged – his premise: parents are in authority but God is the boss! He also stresses the importance of letting children fail, highlighting that everyone’s Christian life begins with failure – we come to saving grace not out of victory, but out of admitting defeat in our own ability. Another idea I found helpful was the suggestion to praise/criticize the action, not the child – don’t tell a child they’re a good girl/boy for cleaning their room, because this suggests if they didn’t clean their room they would be a bad boy/girl; something like “Thanks for your hard work, I appreciate it” would be more appropriate. Lots more good suggestions in the book.

4. Still Alice – Lisa Genova. This was a recommendation from one of my closest friends (who is coming to visit tomorrow – YAY!). It is a heart wrenching account of dementia – written from the perspective of a 50’s-something Harvard professor who has been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Very well written, and a unique portrayal of the disease since the reader can, at times, be lead astray by the forgetfulness by the narrator which distorts reality.

5. Bringing up Bebe – Pamela Druckerman. This book has been circulating all the talk shows and news networks in North America. For good reason I suppose – families, and society in general, are struggling with the ramifications of modern parenting. Bringing up Bebe contrasts North American ideals with the far-from-perfect, but perhaps closer-to-ideal style of French parenting. I found it an amusing read, in part because none of the information was new to me. The style of parenting the author recommends directly aligns with the (sometimes controversial) Babywise-style parenting that I’ve been implementing all along (and runs counter to the attachment-style parenting of this book…which I’ve also read).

6. The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott – Kelly O’Connor McNees. Easy read, nothing special. It is a fictional account of what “might” have happened to Lousia May Alcott (writer of the famous Little Women) during one particular summer for which there is little to no official documentation of her activities. No obvious complaints, but I did find it a bit slow and…it just didn’t engage me.

7. Radial: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream – David Platt. Another well-known book, and for just that reason I had steered away from ordering it. I have actually only finished the first few chapters, but so far it is engaging and convicting. He challenges modern believers to focus on what truly matters – salvation and reaching the lost. He criticizes: easy-believism (“We’re settling for Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves, when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves”), intellectual acceptance (“The gospel does not prompt you to mere reflection; the gospel require a response) and devotional-style preaching (“People are spiritually dead and only words from God can bring them to spiritual life.”). Having only touched the surface of the book, I certainly can’t speak to it’s entire content, but I am impressed by his unabashed view of the problems facing the modern church, and appreciate his Biblical response.

8. The Fish that Ate the Whale: America’s Banana King – Rich Cohen. This was a fascinating biography of Sam the Banana Man, who brought banana’s to the masses. Rich Cohen chronicles the savvy business tactics, ruthless and deadly rivalries, and ultimate rise and fall of one of America’s greatest entrepreneurs. Though well written, I will admit my interest was waning by the end. I think a more business-centric reader than myself would have been riveted by all the details, but it was a bit weighty for me. Excellent book, though.