Friday, April 19, 2013

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is has become my Official Book to Read When Moving, though completely by accident. I read the book for the first time several years ago, in the midst of moving to a new city for a job. More recently, I reread the book while moving back for a different job. Reading the book while moving both times was a coincidence, but a fortuitous one. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a simple but beautiful book that makes me reflect on my own life, find beauty in everyday things, and also feel grateful for what I have.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
is considered a classic, and it was even included on the New York Public Library's Books of the Century under the category 'Favorites of Childhood and Youth.' Despite that, I've found that not many people are familiar with the title. In fact, I had never heard of it until a co-worker enthusiastically recommended it in 2011.

Very little actually happens in the book. There isn't a clear plot or story that can be summed up in a sentence or two. It is the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan and her family in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. Think Little House on the Prairie, but with urban poverty instead of frontier challenges. Smith, who grew up in Brooklyn herself, captures little details about life in a family that is just barely getting by. There is Katie, Francie's pragmatic mother who reads to her children from the Bible and from Shakespeare every night, hoping they'll get the education she did not, and Johnny, Francie's loveable father, an easy-going musician who struggles with alcoholism but is his daughter's greatest supporter.

Francie herself is a reader, writer, thinker, and dreamer. She often seems distanced from her peers, preferring her stories but very observant of life around her, finding beauty in unexpected places, but not glossing over the suffering and the poverty she's surrounded by.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is also story for people who love books, because the narrator, Francie Nolan loves books. Betty Smith describes the "magic hour" when Francie learns to read:
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived” (166-167).
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a quiet, slow-moving book, but it's made its way onto my list of favorites. I have a feeling that the book is partially autobiographical, with Francie's experiences being based off of Betty Smith's own childhood. Because of this, Francie and the people in her life are incredibly believable, well-developed characters. By the time I finished reading, I felt like I knew the characters personally.

5 stars

Monday, April 15, 2013

Books and Booze

From the onset, I identified with Rosie Schaap. In the introduction to "Drinking with Men", she quotes from a 1936 book by Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis, "We don't advise [going alone into a bar]. If you must have your drink, you can have it in a lounge or restaurant, where you won't look forlorn or conspicuous." I have a few problems with this: 1.) How is sitting alone in a restaurant less pathetic than sitting alone in a bar? and 2.) I find it sad that almost 80 years later, this same rule applies. In general, it's acceptable for men to stop by the bar on the way home from work, but if a woman is at the bar by herself people assume something's wrong with her or she was stood up.

"Drinking with Men" is a memoir told through Schaap's time at 11 different bars. Schaap describes herself as a "serial monogamist" when it comes to drinking establishments, basically living at one until one day it loses its charm and she moves on to another. We follow Schaap from trading tarot readings for underage beers on a commuter train to living as a foreign exchange student in Dublin to a new life she found in New York after 9/11. While discussing the disasters that were her academic career and marriage, she somehow manages to stay superficial. But by the end of the book, I felt like I knew her. Each vignette shows a different side of her personality. In the commuter train it was freedom, in her 20s she desperately wanted to be viewed as an adult, and at The Fish Bar in New York she found comfort in her adopted family at her time of need.

"You can drink anywhere...but a good bar? It's more than a place to have a few pints or shots or cocktails. It is much more than the sum of its bottles and bar stools, its glassware and taps and neon beer signs, It's more like a community center, for people - men and women - who happen to drink." (pg. 7)

Someday I hope to find a place in Fargo where I can feel like I belong. A bar that's not too big, too noisy, or too bright - someplace I can take my book and have a drink. Cheers!

3.5 stars

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Owl You Need is Another Book Blog

Welcome to Owl You Need is a Good Read, a book blog run by four twenty-something owls who live in the midwest and love books, libraries, movies, and more.

We already have:
  1. A shamelessly cheesy title
  2. Adorable pictures of us looking our best, so you know who's writing
  3. Lots of opinions about the books we read, just waiting to be shared

This is Zelda! Zelda definitely stand out with her bright pink feathers. She loves YA books and has a soft spot for thrillers. She's also a longtime Harry Potter fan.

Sonya is another owl you'd definitely want as your friend. She keeps busy with working and going to school full-time, but she still finds the time to read. She also enjoys YA and middle grade fiction, along with most adult fiction unless it is a bad romance novel or an over-the-top sci-fi novel.

When it comes to books, Nox thinks the darker and more twisted the book, the better. What she reads varies, but if the book has inventive murders or angst (especially of the too-smart-for-her-age teenage girl variety), you're on the right track.

Madeleine is the last of the book owls. Madeleine reads widely and enjoys  literary fiction, classics, global lit, fantasy, and of course, YA.  She's also currently making a rather slow attempt to read all the Newbery Medal winners in order, which is proving to be more difficult than it sounds!

Thank you so much for stopping by. We can't wait to get started. If you want to know more about us, click on Our Parliament or follow us on twitter at @TheBookOwls.