2015 was my year of books. I read voraciously, particularly titles written by women that I’d noticed were disproportionately absent from my existing repertoire. At the height of my performance, I was tearing through two novels per week. It was an enlightening time.
Though there are plenty of things I should be reading (more on that later), 2016 has been depressingly slow. I’ve been in a literary funk, working late many evenings and pouring over political articles or planning winter blues-busting activities. I’ve not been reaching for books — companions that show me how to live and have proven time and time again to be an enormous source of solace and enjoyment.
It’s time to jump start my reading habit. To do so, I wanted to reflect on some of the great things I read last year. I picked up several excellent new titles and also checked off books that had been on my to-read list for a long time. Some of my favorites were The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (read this while living on the South Side of Chicago and looking out my Canaryville window onto the stockyards — very meta), The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (beautifully woven story about a brilliant turn-of-the-century scientist with curiosities and abilities far beyond her time), and Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (Chicago Tribune says, “Anyone who has ever had a hard time facing a perfectly ordinary day will identify.”).
The absolute best thing I read last year (and one of the top five best novels I’ve read in the whole of my life) was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. As I was reading, I was constantly having my mind blown and reaching out to bookish friends with my total shock at how rich and relatable this story was. I continually asked fellow readers, “Have you heard of this book?” “Have you read this?” For many of them, the answer was “Of course I have! How have you not?!” So it appears that I am very late to the party on this one. But just in case there are any other readers out there who are also behind the times, you really must pick this one up. For additional encouragement, here are post-reading thoughts on the book from my journal, written last September:
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – LOVED. 10/10. Francie’s story felt incredibly real and true and heartbreaking and beautiful and I just loved reading it. In so many ways I could see my own coming of age in it, even though my situation was in many ways vastly different. Aside from a wonderful story, the writing was beautiful and descriptive — exactly the kind that I most love. Francie’s father and her relationship with him was so fraught with adoration and heartbreak. GAH it was all of the things and I felt so much reading it. Also, her relationship with her aunts and her mom and her brother, all of it really drove home the importance of family. The fleeting relationships with her friends and her struggle to find her tribe resonated deeply. Also her love for books and the importance of solitude and time spent outdoors. All of that felt so real to me. AND the disillusionment of being back in the place of your childhood and seeing things with fresh eyes. Like how the tins in the beautiful tea and coffee shop she enjoyed were actually horribly nicked and the lovely golden scale she remembered was in reality wonky and cheap. Man, I loved this. I will definitely read it again and recommend it to all the people looking for a good and true read. And I think Betty has a book of essays or something? Gotta hunt down her other stuff. Big love for this lady.”
So there you have it! All the people have been notified — you must read this. Pick up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (and the other mentioned books!) at your local library or bookstore. Or, if those options don’t work for you, the books can be purchased using the imbedded Amazon affiliate links. (Or let me know you want to read them and I’ll mail you my copies.)