I think I’d describe myself as a voracious reader. I read 50 books last year and I consider libraries my happy place. In fact, I have occasionally drug James into cool-looking libraries when we travel. Growing up, some of my happiest memories are walking down to the Fayette library from my grandparents’ house to browse and check out new books. I had to be called for dinner multiple times while I was lost in a book. On a family camping trip after my senior year of college, I shut myself into the stifling hot minivan parked at our campsite so that I could finish the last Harry Potter book with being constantly interrupted by my brother, who found my obsession with the series mildly hilarious.
But, when I started college, I realized I had missed out on a lot of classic literature. My friends were all talking about what they read in the their AP English classes (which my tiny high school did not offer), and I would nod and smile, reluctant to admit that I’d hadn’t read any of them. I recall reading a few novels in my 7th grade Reading Enriched class (The Odyssey, The Chosen, Christy), and I remember reading Catch 22 for a high school English book report, but otherwise, I remember reading stories from our high school literature books, along with some Chaucer and Shakespeare. I didn’t seek out the classics on my own, either, and I certainly don’t blame my English teacher, but I recently decided to read some of “those books that everyone reads in high school” as a sort of project.
The first book I chose was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I chose it because several friends recommended it when I put out a request for titles on Facebook, and because I liked the title (trees are pretty cool). But I really had no idea what to expect. It’s now been a few months since I read the book, but I really did enjoy it. I liked the glimpse into city life in the early 1900s–it was more than a glimpse, really. There are pages and pages of description about the stores Francie & her brother Neeley visited, stories of her uncle’s delivery horse who hated him, descriptions of Francie’s school, the street where she lived, and much more.
I also loved Francie Nolan, the book’s central character. Francie was delighted by the small things in life–a stale 5-cent pie from the bread factory, her father’s singing, a beautiful day. She was also determined to get what she wanted in life. When the teachers were cruel in her first school, she went to her father and asked for her help in getting into another neighborhood’s school in a nicer part of town. When she had to work to support the family instead of going to high school, she found a way to get straight into college courses without going to high school at all. I loved her determination and spunk.
All in all, I think it was a good first choice for me, and I can see why lots of people read this in high school lit classes. It gives a good glimpse into the early 1900s in New York City, it touches on issues of social class, gender dynamics, and immigration, and it tells the story of a family and all the choices they make. It’s not controversial, it’s not deeply thought-provoking, but I never felt bored, and I loved seeing the world through Francie’s eyes.
Up next….1984, I think.