January 29, 2010

english 101 #1: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • About the author EB

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Welcome to English 101: The Harper Perennial Classics Book Club! Today’s book is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

As I think I may have said in the introductory post, I resisted reading ATGIB for a long time, scowling in the face of anyone who suggested it to me by saying, “but it’s about a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading! And you’re a young girl growing up in Brooklyn who loves reading!” But when I eventually read it, somewhere around age 13 or 14 (oh, how I wish GoodReads had been around to keep track of my reading back then!), I fell in love. I knew just how Francie felt, wanting to lose myself in the world of books because it was so much better than what was going on in the real world, though I was young enough that I don’ think I articulated it to myself that way. ATGIB was beautiful and sad (the scene where Katie lays her head on the table and sobs after the funeral stayed with me all these years), and I remembered it fondly.

I’m so glad I first read it when I did, because the most prominent thing about it this time for me was the all-consuming, unending poverty. Collecting junk to sell for pennies. Mixing old bread with water and other kitchen scraps to make meals. Feeling the concrete through the holes in your shoes. The Nolans are always cold; always hungry. They are barely surviving.

The first time I read ATGIB, the main thrust of the novel for me was Francie’s coming of age, becoming aware of herself as a woman and as a writer. This time, the main thrust was still Francie’s growing awareness—but rather, her awareness that the Nolans’ poverty is not acceptable, and, more importantly, not faultless, and that it is within her to live a better life.

Though, the main lesson of the book is still: Don’t marry a drunk! Seriously.

I’m dying to hear what other people thought, especially if they were reading it for a second time. Also, are there any ATGIB haters out there? It’s so universally beloved that I would LOVE to hear from someone who thought it was just “ehh.” Please discuss! Either here in the comments or on twitter (use hashtag #english101).

And remember, anyone who comments here OR twitters using #english101 will have a chance to win a copy of Brave New World, next month’s book! Do both and they’ll count separately. And if you blog about ATGIB in the next few days, please leave a comment with a link for more chances to win!

And check out Roaring 20s on Monday for another perspective on ATGIB.

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