Sunday, May 18, 2014
These aren't the [books] you're looking for.
Such was the case today, when a small table boldly titled: "Books Everyone Should Read" grabbed my attention. The first thing I noticed was that many of the novels stacked five-deep are books I have recommended to my AP Literature students as having "literary merit" and, more importantly, as thought-provoking and beautifully crafted texts. Then, snuggled in between such masters as Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, I saw an old friend. Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has offered me inspiration and hope since my grandmother pulled her tattered copy down from her wall of books and offered it to me to read. Francie (the novel's young protagonist) and I shared quite a few traits and challenges, and though teaching English was nowhere on my radar as a middle-schooler, reading and writing would ultimately alter the course of my life and offer purpose and direction - just as they did for Francie. I wish I still had the copy that my grandmother lent me with its tattered cover full of character and memories, but I could not pass up the opportunity to purchase a new copy. At some point, a student will ask me what book I think he or she would like, and I will take this new copy from my classroom bookshelf, knowingly saying, "Read this. It is a great story of perseverance, resourcefulness, and hope - traits each of us needs to navigate life."
As for my second find, I cannot offer a testimonial about its merits...yet. I have read (and loved) other titles by Erik Larson: Isaac's Storm, The Devil in the White City, and half of In the Garden of Beasts (which I interrupted to read Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I'm also halfway through and am enjoying immensely...). I find Larson's writing style intriguing; he writes nonfiction in a narrative way about situations and people that already seem surreal. The result is the feeling of reading a good fictional novel but actually learning a great deal about history in the process. What more could any reader ask for?
Please feel free to leave me a message about any good literary finds you've recently made.