Sunday, May 18, 2014

These aren't the [books] you're looking for.

As often happens when I enter a book store, usually under the guise of purchasing a text as a gift or one for classroom use, I find myself unable to ignore the novels whispering "read me" as I pass. Though I try to navigate the shelved corridors as though with blinders on, focused on the sole purpose for my excursion, the temptation to look upon old familiar friends and new, unexplored pages proves too irresistible, and my eyes inevitably linger overlong on books that make their way into my arms and through the checkout line.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't it funny how books stick with you? They speak to you and are a part of your memories. Like you, Bettye Smith's words also touched me. Joy in the Morning, is still one of my favorite books. It was the first book my mother ever told me I should read and to this day it touches my life. There is not a happy ending, but the characters persevere. It reminds me that I need to read my favorites again.