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

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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-

Favourite Reads – Toddler Edition

I love me some books. If my father wasn’t reading a commentary prepping for a sermon, he was reading the latest Clive Cussler or a classic Zane Grey. Books were such a key part of my childhood, and have remained a perennially favourite activity.

So it always gives me a jolt of pure glee to see Abby gravitate towards books. She’s frequently ask for “All the books down, Mommy.” She’ll then sit and flip through book after book. We’re in a particularly fun stage where she tries to “read” books out loud – the memory on toddlers is pretty spectacular, and she can recite several books in their entirety.

I thought it would be fun to note some of our current favourites! When you read the same books every single day, some front-runners are obvious (although these are listed in no particular order):

Favourite Books

1. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes: This was one of the first books gifted to us when Abby was born, and was certainly her/our favourite during the first 12 months. Reciting this book (which we ALL know by heart now), was one of the surest ways to calm her down. It is just a sweet book (and I also love Mem Fox’s Time for Bed book – #12). A classic that should be on every kid’s bookshelf.

2. Usbourne Books: Enjoy them all; cute books, great tactile opportunities for kids. Short and sweet – always a plus. Abby particularly liked the plane book when Daddy had to take an airplane for business travel.

3. Dr. Seuss: I had a deprived childhood – we never owned a single Dr. Seuss book. I love the nonsensical nature of his books (and The Grinch is a holiday tradition). We have Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? which is lots of fun to read.

4. Oliver Dunrea books: These are adorable. We own Boo Boo, but have checked most of the rest out of the library.

5. Gallop: This was a fun Christmas gift from a friend. Each animal depicated is a scanimation, so by opening and closing the page slightly, the animal moves (the horse gallops, the monkey swings etc.,). It’s addictive…

6. Shoes: A periennial library favourite, this book is just sweet. When the last line mentions skinny-boned, wiggly toed feet Abby squeals every. single. time, likely because I use that as an excuse to tickle her toes.

7. When the World is Ready for Bed: The perfect bedtime book. I love, love, love this book, and so does Abby. Calming and cute, I read this every chance I get and can definitely quote it in it’s entirety. “When the world is ready for bed, the sky grows dark, the sun glows red. The little flowers shut their eyes, the night birds sing their lullabies…”

8. One Hippo Hops: A unique counting book that Abby has always enjoyed.

9. Sandra Boynton books: You have to live under a rock (or not have kids, I suppose) to not have heard of Sandra Boynton. Abby actually isn’t that into most of them, but she still loves Happy Birthday Little Pookie, which Daddy gave her – appropriately enough – on her birthday. It is precious, and I plan to read it to her every birthday from here on out.

10. Christmas Blessings: Of all the Christmas books we read this past year (and we read lots), Christmas Blessings is by far my favourite. Precious pictures and a great Christian-Christmas message.

11. Beautiful Oops!: A new addition to our repertoire, this has certainly expanded Abby’s vocabulary (she can now say opportunities and beautiful)! This is a great book at any age (you could gift this to an adult), and is quirky and cute.

12. Time for Bed: Another perfect bedtime book. Maybe that’s why we read it almost every night.